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.