Americans in Paris by Charles Glass

Posted by on Aug 1, 2012 in Book Notes

Americans in Paris by Charles Glass

Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under the Nazi Regime, Charles Glass, (The Penguin Press, 2009)

Americans in ParisIn the late 1930s, nearly 30,000 Americans lived in or near Paris. As the prospects of war grew more ominous, many left. But when Germany attacked Poland on September 1, 1939, there were still some 5,000 remaining who chose or were obliged to stay on. The number had dwindled to less than 3,000 by June 1940, when the German army arrived in Paris and set up its occupation regime. Life was not too bad for these Americans until Germany declared war on the US on December 11, 1941, and their status changed from “neutrals” to “enemy aliens.” Then they became subject to much harsher treatment.

The Americans who lived under the Nazis constituted a very diverse community: businessmen, painters, musicians, writers, diplomats, rich, poor, with political affiliations across the spectrum. Many were arrested and interned, some were forced into slave labor, some were executed. Some collaborated with the Vichy regime or the Nazis, some kept a low profile and tried to survive as best they could under harsh economic and scary military circumstances, while others risked their life to resist the occupiers and assist the Allies until the liberation of Paris in August 1944. Some survived, others did not.

Charles Glass, in his Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under the Nazi Regime, (The Penguin Press, 2009) describes the background and general profile of this episode, and focuses on a handful of characters whose lives illustrate the diverse experiences of their fellow countrymen. We learn of a millionaire determined to carry on with his business in both sides, a woman determined to keep her English-language bookshop open while aiding Jewish refugees, a surgeon in the American Hospital who helps down Allied pilots escape back to England, a countess with family ties both to President Roosevelt and the Vichy government whose fiercest loyalty is to the American Library of Paris, and many more. This book sheds light on a little-known but complex corner of World War II.

The book review above was originally published in a feature titled “Book Notes”, published in the August, 2012 edition of Amitié, the newsletter of Normandy Allies, Inc. This note was written by Walter Ford Carter, member of the Normandy Allies Board and the team that leads its history-study experience each summer. Walter, the son of Captain Elmer Norval Carter, a US Army battalion surgeon in the 29th Division who was killed in action on June 17 1944, is the author of No Greater Sacrifice, No Greater Love: A Son’s Journey to Normandy.

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