No Place to Lay One’s Head
Vintage, $34.99 pp, 299 pp, 9780143784111
When German forces invaded France on 10 May 1940, the French signed an armistice that facilitated limited French sovereignty in the south, the section of the country not yet overrun by German troops. On 10 July 1940 the French Parliament elected a new, collaborationist regime under former general Philippe Pétain. What little sovereignty Vichy managed to maintain ended in November 1942 when the Germans occupied the rest of France. At this point, Vichy became largely a puppet regime for the rest of the war. The nature and extent of the Vichy government’s collaboration with the Nazis, in particular the French police’s role in rounding up and deporting French Jews, remains a national wound and a subject of ongoing historical debate.
Much of this controversy revolves around the fate of individuals such as Françoise Frenkel. Polish by birth, she undertook an arts degree at the Sorbonne before 1914 and an internship at a bookshop on Rue Gay-Lussac before moving in 1921 to Berlin, where, together with her husband, Simon Reichenstein, she established that city’s first French bookshop. While her husband fled to Paris when the Nazis seized power in 1933, Frenkel remained in Berlin, determined to keep her bookstore open as long as possible. On the eve of war, in July 1939, she finally left for Paris. With the German invasion of France, she fled yet again to the Southern Zone. So began three years of life on the run and in hiding, her experience paradigmatic of the thousands of Jewish non-nationals attempting to find safe haven from the Nazis in what had once been a welcoming France.