Diary of the Dark Years, 1940- 1944: Col­lab­o­ra­tion, Resis­tance, and Dai­ly Life in Occu­pied Paris

Jean Gue­hen­no; David Ball, anno­ta­tor and trans.
  • Review
By – January 1, 2014

Writer, crit­ic, and teacher Jean Gue­hen­no’s Diary of the Dark Years, 1940- 1944 is an astute­ly observed record of how the French, espe­cial­ly French intel­lec­tu­als, respond­ed to the Nazi occu­pa­tion of Paris and to Mar­shal Petain’s col­lab­o­ra­tionist regime in Vichy. Gue­hen­no was a mem­ber of what came to be called the Intel­lec­tu­al Resis­tance” to the Nazi occu­pa­tion. His diary is both a sear­ing indict­ment of those French intel­lec­tu­als who col­lab­o­rat­ed with the occu­piers as well as his reflec­tions on the bru­tal­i­ty of the Nazis when it came to fer­ret­ing out those opposed to the occu­pa­tion. Along the way, Gue­hen­no shares his thoughts about why so many French­men allowed them­selves to dis­card the repub­li­can ide­al of Lib­er­ty, Fra­ter­ni­ty, and Equal­i­ty, for Gen­er­al Petain’s reac­tionary Work, Fam­i­ly, and Nation, whose sub-text called for the replace­ment of democ­ra­cy with the French ver­sion of Hitler’s total­i­tar­i­an state. Sub­se­quent­ly, his diary sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly records the man­ner in which the Vichy gov­ern­ment extend­ed their ver­sion of the Nurem­berg Laws to France. 

In Gue­hen­no’s diary entry for Octo­ber 19, 1940 — fol­low­ing the pro­mul­ga­tion of the Statut des Juifs, the first in a series of anti-Semit­ic laws — he writes, Now we’re anti- Semi­tes and racists… I think of my good Jew­ish friends… so gen­er­ous and intel­li­gent. But that’s just it: they’re tak­ing revenge on them for their intel­li­gence. I feel full of shame.” In a lat­er entry, dat­ed June 16, 1941, he notes that the gov­ern­ment, in issu­ing new decrees against the Jews, jus­ti­fies its actions in a Jesuit­i­cal style,” and that they cyn­i­cal­ly blame the Jews for the growth of anti-Semi­tism because of their sup­port for lib­er­al­ism, their unso­cia­bil­i­ty and their inas­sim­i­l­able nature.” Address­ing the law that reduced the num­ber of Jew­ish stu­dents admit­ted to the uni­ver­si­ties, Gue­hen­no writes, no doubt they will take care to keep only the most stu­pid. It is in the log­ic of the law and the only way defi­ni-tive­ly to pre­serve the nation from… the intel­li­gence of that race.”

The diary expands our under­stand­ing of how dem­a­gogues like Hitler and Petain were able to con­vince mass audi­ences, includ­ing intel­lec­tu­als, to dis­card basic human rights and fol­low the path that led to com­plic­i­ty in genocide.

Relat­ed content:

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

Discussion Questions