Public Library Showcases French Writers Under Nazi Occupation

July 2, 2009 Updated: December 29, 2015

NEW YORK—Vichy, France. It is a name that probably brings loathing to many French who grew up learning of it as a national shame, but it has also become an inescapable part of the country’s history.

This is exactly what the exhibition “Between Collaboration and Resistance: French Literary Life Under Nazi Occupation” aims to portray: the pathos and the tension between the side of France that chose to collaborate with Hitler’s Nazi regime, and the side that chose to stand up and fight back, not only against the Nazis but also against the weak yet authoritarian Vichy government.

The exhibition is being held at the New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Gottesman Exhibition Hall and will run through July 25.

Free guided tours are offered explaining the exhibition, which includes a wide range of media such as photographs, letters, and newspaper publications from both occupied and unoccupied France.

The tour guide said that this is a unique exhibition to the New York Library since 85 percent of the material is not from its own archives, rather from a research institute in France.

Bernadette, a tourist from Australia came along on the tour. She enjoyed the tour and was amazed to see the original draft of a book she had just finished reading, Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky.

“It’s really moving seeing this manuscript that she left,” said Bernadette.

The handwritten print of the manuscript is extremely small, reflecting the scarcity of paper during the difficult time period where, according to the library’s information, even “the most privileged were hungry and cold.”

Other displays showcase beautiful scraps of wallpaper used by writers and ration books— “basically describing how to prepare food from practically nothing,” according to the tour guide.

This tension is brought to life again, six decades after it all ended. Whether you are a history buff or just looking to experience something new, “Between Collaboration and Resistance” is an exhibition you might not want to miss.

Tours are Monday through Saturday at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m.