Monday, 13 January 2014
Suite Francaise and Colloboration
Following on from the amazing Auschwitz and After by Charlotte Delbo, I read Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky . Némirovsky was a Jew who then wrote about the German invasion and the responses of different people to the occupation.
It's a compelling book in which one's sympathies are allied to those who preserve their humanity through their daily relationships with both the Germans and their French compatriots. It's deeply critical of bourgeoise France, of those who seek to preserve their privilege and power, culture and wealth using the rhetoric of patriotism and class.
Instead, the real dignity lies with those who live, love, and resist - with the occupying forces and against them. The astonishing thing is the manuscript was written at the time of the German occupation. And that Nemirovsky was deported to Auschwitz where she died in 1942. As such, the book (which was unfinished with only two out of an intended five volumes completed) is incredibly human and stands in some ways against the post-war rhetoric of collaboration and in particular the scapegoating of women who slept with German soldiers. Maybe that would have changed in the later volumes but you get the feeling that Nemirovsky had priveleged insights into the institutional workings of wartime France (or any other country for that matter).
In Suite Francaise, the people who stay human are the novel's equivalents of the women who had their heads shaved in the picture above by Capa. And the ones who are guilty are those who spout the cultural and class rhetoric of the Republic and engage in deep collaboration with the Germans; these themes were to have been developed in further volumes which were outlined but never written.
But then isn't that the point of Capa's picture in the end - that the only people who have any dignity are those who stand in the foreground of the pictures, that however much ideology you spout, to be human you have to be human. And in the picture above, with her love for her child, the shaven-headed woman is the only human being human.