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Hitler’s occupation of France presented writers with a difficult, often dangerous dilemma: keep silent, collaborate, or resist the Germans and their Vichy allies. A new exhibition at The New York Public Library explores how Sartre, Gide, Cocteau and dozens of other public intellectuals responded to Nazi rule. Personal correspondence, photographs, manuscripts, books and posters — most displayed for the first time in the United States — illustrate the contrasting, often complex response by writers to the country’s defeat and the Vichy regime. Between Collaboration and Resistance: French Literary Life Under Nazi Occupation is on view at the Library’s D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall from April 3 to July 25, 2009. Admission is free. The exhibition is accompanied by a companion volume presenting more than 650 archival documents, an April 3 symposium featuring leading French and American scholars, and screenings of rarely shown French films created during the Nazi period.
The period of the Vichy regime, which lasted from 1940 to 1944, was a tumultous time for French literature. A number of the best-loved writers of the twentieth century produced some of their finest works, such as Sartre’s No Exit, and the intellectual foment helped inspire more than two hundred films and numerous literary and artistic works, many of them clandestine. The exhibition features original copies of illegal underground publications by resisters such as Mauriac, Camus and Aragon, along with the writings of Nazi-favored authors like Céline and Drieu La Rochelle and brilliant efforts by Sartre and other resisters to circumvent the censors.
“Some writers worried about whether they were collaborating even by writing a book, because it would seem that life was normal in Vichy France. Others wanted to show that France still lived through its arts,” says co-curator Robert O. Paxton, Mellon Professor Emeritus, Columbia University. “It’s the moral ambiguity of what seemed like ordinary actions by a writer – such as publishing a poem – that makes Vichy such a fascinating period for the arts.”
Unlike other defeated European countries, France struggled under two dictatorships: the Nazis and their Vichy collaborators. The exhibition explores the deep divisions between left and right, highlighting a perhaps surprising amount of sympathy for the Nazis and the homegrown fascism of Vichy. Original letters and documents, drawn from the Institut Mémoires de l’édition contemporaine (IMEC) and The New York Public Library’s collections, also show the exile experience of Jewish intellectuals such as Hannah Arendt, who escaped to America and artist Otto Freundlich, who died in the Holocaust. One of the most remarkable items is the manuscript of Irène Némirovsky’s Suite française, which became a recent worldwide bestseller after its discovery by her daughter half a century after the writer’s death at Auschwitz.
This exhibition was conceived by IMEC director Olivier Corpet, who presented it with curator Claire Paulhan at Caen in 2008. It has been adapted and reshaped for an American audience by Dr. Paxton. Objects are drawn largely from IMEC, supplemented by materials from The New York Public Library, the Mémorial de Caen, and other private and public collections.
The exhibition opens in the shadow of World War I, with the depiction of a large military cemetery reminding viewers that 1.3 million Frenchmen were killed just two decades before. It chronicles the political instability of 1930s France, with a weak Third Republic, economic turmoil, and the rise of Hitler just over the border causing much agitation between left and right.
The Vichy regime is depicted as an enthusiastic enforcer of fascism in France, rather than simply a puppet to Hitler. The Germans were able to save resources by occupying only part of the country, allowing their ideological ally to rule the rest. Tales of crossing the Demarcation Line, faced with dangers from crooked “passers” and German patrols, are a ubiquitous subject in diaries and letters of the Occupation period, and in later fiction about it. Some of the exhibition’s most fascinating materials deal with how resisters were able to get information across the line and past the censors. In order to write loved ones, authorities distributed pre-written postcards with phrases (such as “I am in good health”) that could be checked off. A 1940 postcard shows Louis Aragon scribbled some extra information to the wife of Jean Paulhan, including the coded phrase “Cousin Mercadier can go to Pierre’s house.” This may have referred to the Aragons’ plan to stay with the poet Pierre Emmanuel in Dieulefit (Drôme).
The exhibition explores the violent fate suffered by many writers during this period. The price for literary resistance during the Occupation was imprisonment or death. And bitterness ran high against those who took Vichy’s side: after the war, four collaborationist writers were shot, and dozens were imprisoned and blacklisted. Others, such as Céline, fled France.
For those who joined the Resistance, there were more than 1,000 homemade, mimeographed publications, often printed secretly in the middle of the night by printers who risked — and sometimes lost — their lives. Included are copies of such clandestine publications as Combat and Les Lettres françaises, to which Camus and Sartre, respectively, contributed.Sartre’s activities during the Vichy period serve as an interesting example of the complex response by writers to difficult politics: his underground writings, a newspaper clipping depicting him sitting at Café de Flore, press commentary and correspondence help to illustrate how the writer-philosopher navigated space for himself both below ground and above, where he put on two plays. There were also the “Little Magazines,” published legally in the Unoccupied Zone, which pushed the limits of censorship. One of the most famous,Max-Pol Fouchet’s Fontaine, published a stirring poem by Paul Eluard in 1942, entitled “Liberty,” which showed the wartime evolution of literary style away from aesthetic artifice and toward simple, straightforward poetry.
“The deep political divisions of the Vichy period are always interesting to study on their own merits, but especially as an influence on the literature of Sartre, Gide, and other major twentieth-century authors,” said Paul LeClerc, President of The New York Public Library. “In spite of censorship and other forms of suppression, some writers of the period produced masterpieces of enduring worth.”
Other highlights include card files containing index cards of banned books written by Jews, Communists or those critical of the Nazis; letters by Céline from Denmark, to which he fled after the war, complaining about his treatment by Jews, and a handwritten note about Hannah Arendt by a member of the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars. The German Jewish philosopher, then totally unknown, was described as “swarthy, intelligent, sparing of words, courteous, efficient.”
French and German newsreel extracts, drawn from the 1969 Max Ophüls film The Sorrow and the Pity, will be screened in the exhibition. The April 3 symposium takes place at The New York Public Library’s Celeste Bartos Forum, Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Participants include prominent scholars from the United States and France. For more information about the exhibition and a link to the symposium schedule, go to www.nypl.org and click on “Exhibitions.”
A companion film series featuresfilms produced in France under the Nazi Occupation, including Marcel Carné’s masterpiece Les Enfants du Paradis [Children of Paradise] and rarely screened works by such directors as Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jacques Becker, and Marcel L’Herbier. Films will be presented at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts every Tuesday in June at 2:30 p.m.
Between Collaboration and Resistance: French Literary Life Under Nazi Occupation will be on view from April 3, 2009, through July 25, 2009 in the D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall (First Floor), of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan. Exhibition hours are Monday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday through May 17, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Sundays Memorial Day through Labor Day and all federal holidays. Closed April 12, May 23-25, July 3-5. Admission is free. For more information, call 917.ask.nypl or visit www.nypl.org.
As part of the Lake Champlain Quadricentennial celebration, Adirondack Architectural Heritage is presenting a new tour series, Architecture of the Champlain Valley. The series features half-day walking tours of eight towns along the lake, led by experienced and professional guides. Tours will be at 9:30 am and 1:00 pm on Saturdays in May and June unless otherwise noted.
May 2- Willsboro: One of the oldest settlements in Essex County, Willsboro has a rich history connected to agriculture, paper industry, stone quarrying, shipbuilding, and tourism.
May 9- Keeseville: Keeseville is a town with a long history as an industrial community that manufactured products from wood and iron ore using the power of the Ausable River.
May 16- Essex: Essex prospered during much of the 19th century as a shipping and ship building port, and today, as a National Historic Register District, contains many wonderful examples of various styles of architecture.
May 23- Elizabethtown: As the county seat, Elizabethtown boasts a large historic government complex, and a number of buildings that reflect the town’s social, political and economic importance.
May 30- Port Henry: Port Henry and the surrounding town of Moriah have the longest industrial history of any community in the Champlain Valley, beginning with iron mining and manufacturing in the late 1700s.
June 6- Ticonderoga: Historically associated with military events, Ticonderoga developed as an industrial town connected to paper manufacturing, and today offers more than three dozen buildings listed on the National Register.
June 20- Wadhams (10:00)/Westport (1:00): The hamlet of Wadhams lies just north of Westport on the Boquet River, and was once known for its industrial pursuits which supported the outlying farms. Though industry and agriculture played a role in the development of Westport, it has gained most of its identity as a summer resort town.
June 27- Ironville: In the town of Crown Point, the settlement of Ironville is the site of the Penfield Homestead Museum and was once the center of a thriving iron industry.
Attendance is free of charge, but advance registration is required. Reservations may be made by calling AARCH at 834-9328.
Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) is the private, non-profit, historic preservation organization for the Adirondack Park region. This is one of over fifty events in our annual series highlighting the region’s vast architectural legacy. For more information on membership and our complete program schedule contact AARCH at (518) 834-9328 or visit our website at www.aarch.org.
Captain William T. (Chip) Reynolds of the Replica Ship Half Moon (and Director of the New Netherland Museum) forwarded the following notes on the Half Moon’s progress and events this 400th year:
1. Half Moon in the News/Major Winter Work Projects
Recent articles in the Albany Times Union and the Troy Record provide a good summary of work on the Half Moon over this past winter. This past season major efforts have followed two paths: first, to expand and improve our programming (with new artifacts, educational curricula, interpretive brochures, and programming); and second, to make physical improvements to the Half Moon (renew the rig, rebuild the forecastle, improve the engine room, and rebuild the reduction gear). [Read more…] about Half Moon Update – Flitsbericht Halve Maen 2009
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A new feature, every Friday morning I’ll be bringing you the best of the blogosphere. I’ll be keeping it to New York history, or stories and trends of national scope that are relevant to new York history. The usual Top New York History News Stories feature will continue at noon on Fridays. Enjoy!
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The Iroquois Indian Museum in Howes Cave, NY has announced the opening of their 2009 exhibition: “Native Americans in the Performing Arts: From Ballet to Rock and Roll.” America’s first Prima Ballerina, Maria Tallchief; Grammy winning singer/songwriter, Joanne Shenandoah; founding member of the Village People, Felipe Rose; and legendary Rock musician, Robbie Robertson are a few of the Native American performers featured in this dynamic new exhibition. [Read more…] about New Exhibit On Native American Performing Arts Opens
Native American Institute of The Hudson River Valley will host ten scholars who will present papers on all aspects of Mohican culture on April 4, 2009 at the New York State Museum in Albany.
The Native American Institute of the Hudson River Valley (NAIHRV) specializes in the study of the native Algonquian people, or Mohicans, who were long settled along the river. Described by Hudson’s crew as “loving people,” they greeted the explorer in a friendly manner and later played an important role in the survival of the new colony.
The NAIHRV is a nonprofit organization of interested volunteers, educators, archaeologists, historians, and researchers devoted to promoting an awareness of Native Americans in general and the Mohican Nation in particular.
Here a note I received from the New York State Museum’s Marilyn Douglas, who is coordinator of the New Netherland Institute:
Bill Greer’s novel, set in 17th-century New Amsterdam, is now available from the New Netherland Institute online shop @ $10.95 plus $5.00 for S&H. (The S&H will be added at check-out.) You can access this new addition in the shop (scroll down on home page to broad horizontal band and click on online shop) at “latest products” or click on the books tab. Click “more” to read a description.
While you’re there, browse a bit! The shop, with its number and variety of products, is becoming an important aspect of the website and a good place to search for special gifts. While a work of fiction, The Mevrouw Who Saved Manhattan paints a real portrait of life in New Amsterdam. It presents a window into Dutch culture during the Golden Age of the Netherlands and how that culture transplanted to the wilderness of the Hudson Valley. The thread of Jackie’s life reflects the central theme of the Dutch period, the rebellion of the common people against their rulers, the Dutch West India Company and its Directors, a conflict that historians argue laid the foundation for the pluralistic, freedom-loving society that America became.
Bill Greer is Treasurer and Trustee of the New Netherland Institute.
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