Saturday, July 28, 2007

Pg. 69: Hanna Diamond's "Fleeing Hitler"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Hanna Diamond's Fleeing Hitler: France 1940.

About the book, from Oxford University Press:
As Hitler's victorious armies approached Paris, panic gripped the city and the roads heading south filled with millions of French citizens, fleeing for their lives, with scant supplies and often no destination in mind. All hoped, as famed author Simone de Beauvoir wrote in her diary, "not to be taken like a rat in Occupied Paris."

In Fleeing Hitler, historian Hanna Diamond paints a gripping picture of the harrowing escape from Paris, highlighting the hardships people suffered in their desperate flight, and underscoring the impact this exodus had on life under Vichy rule. Using eyewitness accounts, memoirs, and diaries, Diamond shows how this ordeal became for civilians and soldiers alike the defining experience of the war. She tells how, in the Paris region alone, close to four million people left their homes and fled south, swelling the numbers of refugees until is was impossible to direct the flow of humanity. The result was total chaos with an enormous price to pay in terms of human misery and suffering. Many lost their lives as this vast caravan of predominantly women, children, and the elderly faced truly harsh conditions, and even starvation. Then, after the German offer of peace, as the traumatized population returned home, preoccupied by the desire for safety and bewildered by the unexpected turn of events, they put their faith in Marshall Petain, who was able to establish his collaborative Vichy regime largely unopposed, while the Germans consolidated their occupation.

The first time this important story has been told in the English, Fleeing Hitler captures in moving detail the devastating flight and early days of occupation after the fall of France.
Among the early praise for Fleeing Hitler:
"A fascinating story, rich in biblical drama, and one that has not been previously told in English. [Diamond] is excellent at describing the political machinations that culminated in Paul Reynaud's resignation ... [a] valuable book."
--Walter Cook, Tribune

"Gripping reading."
--Max Hastings, Sunday Times

"Hanna Diamond...tells the story vividly and even-handedly. [This] book benefits greatly from the vast number of eyewitness memoirs."
--Allan Massie, Literary Review

"A vivid and poignant account... a forgotten moment of the devastation of war brought to life."
--Robert Gildea, author of Marianne in Chains

"Diamond has an excellent eye for the striking detail ... as a work of history, this book is an invaluable account of the fall of France, seen through the lens of the sufferings of its citizens."
--Carmen Callil, Financial Times

"For many French people in 1940, the arrival of the German army meant 'the collapse of civilization.' Seven decades later, the specifics of that collapse are largely forgotten; this book is a remedy. Diamond's book ably addresses these long-ago events, which merit remembrance."
--Kirkus Reviews
Read Diamond's account at the OUP blog about "how difficult it was to get into the French psyche" even though she has lived and taught in Paris for many years and has spent her career researching the lives of the French people.

Hanna Diamond is Senior Lecturer in French History and European Politics at the University of Bath. Read about her other publications and research.

The Page 69 Test: Fleeing Hitler.

--Marshal Zeringue