Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Day France Changed

My post yesterday about Chanel being a spy during WWII made me realize how much everything changed for France in that short time. At the time I write about the English used to winter on the Riviera, living a lavish lifestyle with yachts and hundreds of pounds lost at the casino. It was still the France of lax morals, mistresses, champagne and savoir faire. Then the Germans marched in, people who resisted were shot, most people were starving, Jews were rounded up and sent off to a fate nobody believed at the time.

It's easy to be judgmental about those who chose to collaborate. I could never have betrayed a countryman or woman to the Gestapo. I could never have willingly helped the Germans but might I have entertained German officers in the hope of getting a little more food for my children? I really don't know because I haven't had to make those choices.

It's easy to judge Chanel too. She had lived in the gutter. She knew what it was like to be starving. And she had worked all her life to build the house of Chanel into the fashion icon it was. So if she had a chance to live well, to be able to re-open her fashion house in Paris, she probably jumped at it without too much thought. And after the war she paid for it, tried as a collaborator. She escaped the fate of many French girls who had done nothing more than be friendly to lonely German boys far from home. They had their heads shaved and were cast out from society. She had enough connections to keep going, although there was prejudice against her fashions for a long time to come.

This is day 13 of my month of French fun and facts, to celebrate the release on Sept 6th of Naughty in Nice, which features Chanel and other celebrities of the Riviera (including Mrs. Simpson)
Leave a comment for a chance to win a prize at the end of the month.


  1. Corrie ten Boom, in The Hiding Place, describes a magnanimity to be emulated. Nonetheless, the near idolatry to which certain collaborators were/are treated is, to me, very troubling when those who, faced with the same horrible fates, made more courageous choices are all but forgotten. And, as history is supposed to teach, perhaps our children need us to make judgments even while we should point out that we were spared the choice.

  2. I'm fascinated by your descriptions and discussion on Chanel, and Julia. So much we only learn years later! I am grateful that we have (thus far) lived in peace on our continent, but when I reflect on myself and my friends and how we might act under duress, I know that I know people who would sell others out, or would never sell others out, even at great personal jeopardy. Much depends on one's philosophy, and fortitude, I guess.
    Grateful, as Liz V. said above, 'that we were spared the choice.'

  3. My mother was a child during WWII and experienced everything firsthand - the starvation, the bombings, the aftermath which lasted 4 long years until she could escape, being among the first to travel out of the country. What happened was unbelievable. No one could know what it was like until they lived it. Here in the States, we do not know half of the story. We were not told.

  4. Well, I think that everything should change, actually it's a way created in order we don't get bored, for that reason I think that all changes are perfect because we have to experiment new sensations.