Book Questions Artists’ Role in Occupied Paris

The OPC and La Maison Francaise of New York University, with the support of the Florence Gould Foundation, will present a Book Night with Alan Riding on Tuesday, October 26 at New York University’s Maison Francaise, 16 Washington Mews (at University Place). A Reception starts at 6 p.m. with Talk at 7 p.m. Books will be available for purchase and signing. RSVP by calling the OPC office, or e-mail, or log on to the website >>



When the Nazis marched effortlessly into Paris on June 14, 1940, they changed the rich cultural life of the City of Lights. Artists, especially Jews and leftists, faced difficult choices and many careers and lives were cut short.

OPC member Alan Riding captures these times in the new book, And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris [Alfred A. Knopf]. The book recounts Parisian life under Nazi occupation and the forced compromises of French writers, artists and performers under Hitler’s rule. There were moral and artistic choices for those who stayed and were forced to decide whether to resist, collaborate or compromise. Riding introduces readers to a panoply of writers, painters, composers, actors and dancers who kept working during the occupation.

As Riding shows, Paris continued to be Paris. Nightclubs and brothels catered to German soldiers. Theatre, ballet, film and music all continued, albeit under the surveillance of the German authorities. Both Maurice Chevalier and Edith Piaf sang before French and German audiences. Pablo Picasso, whose art was officially banned, continued to paint in his Left Bank apartment.

Artists faced personal and nationalistic quandaries. Were they saving French culture by working? Were they betraying France if they performed before German soldiers or made movies with Nazi approval? What were the consequences after the war for those artists that “collaborated” or made an accommodation with the enemy? Does the artist have an obligation to be a “role model” or should creative work be outside of any political consideration?

Riding was the European Cultural Correspondent for The New York Times for twelve years based in Paris. Previously he was bureau chief in Rome, Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City. Riding is also the author of Distant Neighbors. He continues to live in Paris with his wife, Marlise Simons, a writer for the Times.

Photo: Naka Nathaniel