Saturday Reading and Research | March 07, 2015

These past two weeks I have been very interested in the life during the occupation of France, thanks to my grandmother who shared a bit of what she lived during those years.

Doing some quick reading on the Internet, I found a radio program ( a daily show about history ) and the guest was Arnaud Benedetti who last October published a book called I served Pétain ( unfortunately it is only available in French but might be translated later according to the author ) which is basically an very long interview with a man called Paul Racine who is the only person still alive ( 101 years old ) to have been close to Pétain and to have worked with him. So we have the story of this man and the analyzes of the historian because well, Paul Racine is not very objective but he makes some very fascinating points that are rarely discussed.

The book has not yet been delivered to me but I managed to read bits here and there on the Internet and the summary is extremely intriguing ( home made translation, please forgive me ) :

Paul Racine is the last witness of Marshall Pétain's cabinet during the Nazi occupation of France. Paul Racine will be 100 years old in 2014. Severely wounded in June 1940 on the Belgian front, he took office in the secretariat of the French State in 1941. Under the authority of Doctor Menetrel, he takes care ( among other things ) of the propaganda and the prisoners of war. For four years, he lives with the intrigues, the conflicts and the blips of Vichy. He shares the daily life of Pétain and his circle and met the main figures of the collaboration from Laval to Darlan but also more surprisingly many actors of the Resistance such as François Mitterrand or General Groussard. In a crepuscular atmosphere, he saw the armed evacuation of Pétain by the Germans in August 1944. His testimony is all the more exceptional that he gives a particular attention to the complexity of a period that never stops interrogating us. Paul Racine has not forgotten. Seventy years later, the young Frenchman that he was draws us the tragic scenery of men fighting each other in the clash of History without avoiding any of the most terrible questions the time. Be it about the roundups, the repression of the Resistance, the Compulsory Work Service or the diplomacy he talks very freely about the regime he served and opens us to questions that keep gnawing at historians. In November 1942, why did Pétain refuse to leave for Algeria ? Why during the first days the Marshall believed the Americans would at one point or another enter the war and win ? Finally, why did accept to sink every day more and more into submission ? Who are these men forming his entourage ? And who are these men whom from the inside of this loosing regime would help and flip into the Resistance ? And he, patriot left for dead on the field of battle and moved by a deep hatred for the occupying force, why did he serve Pétain ?

I really can't wait to start reading the full book. It is simply a point of view that is almost never talked about ( in French schools and culture at least ). It's a shame though that it has not yet been translated in English, I know people who would enjoy it.

/r/AskHistorians Thread