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by Jean-Paul Sartre

Translated from the French with an introduction by Lisa Lieberman

Paris Under the Occupation


Arriving in Paris, many English and Americans are surprised to find us less thin than they imagined. They have seen the elegant dresses that appear to be new, the suits which, from afar, still seem fashionable; rarely have they encountered that paleness of face, that bodily decline that normally signifies starvation. Their solicitude, since it has been deceived, turns to rancor: I believe that they are dismayed not to find us conforming to the pathetic image they had formed of us in advance. Perhaps some of them even asked themselves, in their heart of hearts, whether the occupation was as terrible as all that, if, all things considered, France did not take advantage of the defeat to stay out of the game and now hopes to regain her place as a great power without having merited it by great sacrifices; perhaps they have thought, along with the Daily Express, that the French, in comparison to the English, didn’t do so badly during those four years of war.

It is these visitors I wish to address. I would like to tell them that they are wrong, that the occupation was a terrible trial, that it is not at all certain whether France can recover and that there is not one French citizen who has not envied the lot of their English allies. But, as soon as I begin, I become aware of the difficulty of my task. Once before I have known this shame. I returned from being imprisoned [in Germany] and was interrogated on the prisoner’s life: how can you recreate the atmosphere of the camps for those who have never lived there? It would have sufficed to give them a flicker of reality to have plunged them into despair, a light touch to make everything appear laughing and gay. The truth was not at all what one calls the “mean” between these two extremes. It requires much invention and art to be rendered, much good will and imagination to be understood.

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