Law and Human Suffering: A Slice of Life in Vichy France
Journal of Law and Literature, Forthcoming
25 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2016
Date Written: July 25, 2016
This essay discusses three diaries from the Vichy era, the period of the Nazi Occupation of France: Jean Guéhenno’s Journal des années noires 1940-1944, Hélène Berr’s Journal, and Jacqueline Mesnil-Amar’s Ceux qui ne dormaient pas. Guéhenno was an educator and writer who entered the Resistance in 1940. His diary offers deep moral reflection as well as accounts of the dishonorable peace Vichy imposed and the ignoble servitude to which the new collaborationist French State and the Nazi occupier subjected France. In the final pages, as Leclerc’s army marches into Paris, with a victory he understands to be thanks to the help of the Allied forces, Guéhenno dares to rekindle his former faith in humankind. Berr was a young university student born into a wealthy old French Jewish family, the daughter of a famous scientist. Sensitive and generous-spirited, she lived an unusual life inasmuch as her family seemed to suffer no material hardship throughout the years that culminated in their deportation in the spring of 1944. Among the memorable events of her diary is her experience of the first day she was forced to wear the yellow star. Finally, Mesnil-Amar’s diary spans just one month at the end of the war in France, the month in which her husband has been detained and is about to be deported on the last train to leave Paris. The diary evokes her embracing of Jewish identity as a result of being identified as Jewish by anti-Semites. The lyricism of her writing approaches poetry in a work that is both a retrospective and a love letter to her husband. These diaries show us a slice of life of the times, but they also spur us to reflection on law and humanity, their limitations, potentials and fluctuations.
Keywords: Vichy, diaries, France, Second World War, Nazi Occupation, Resistance, WWII
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