This presentation was orginally given at the Grolier Club in New York on the occasion of the exhibition held there in 2015. The slides that accompany this presentation are available here.
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen
I’m very happy to be talking to you today because I know that I am in the company of people who love books. And that is what underlies this collection of French books, published after the liberation of Paris in August 1944 and before the end of 1946, on the subjects of the war, the occupation and the liberation.
I started collecting them in 2001 and gave the collection to Cambridge University library in 2012 because it is a collection intended for academic study, and I am continuing to add books to the collection. We live in Cambridge and I can see the University library from my window; it is a 10 minute walk and extremely convenient for me to have the collection there. I also have a close relationship with the library going back 35 years as my publishing company which sold almost exclusively to libraries was based in Cambridge and the company’s archive is in the Library.
Last year, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Paris, the University Library held an exhibition of the books, which I curated. This has now come to the Grolier Club with 49 items including three not included in the Cambridge exhibition, two of which have been acquired since the exhibition.
I also collect photo books, and this collection got started when Michael Dawson, the Los Angeles antiquarian book dealer, from whom I had bought a lot of books, sold me a book of French wartime photographs À Paris sous la botte des Nazis.
This is the talismanic book of the collection which is why there are two copies in the exhibition. It is a book of photographs of Paris during the occupation and was published just a few weeks after the end of the liberation of Paris though preparation for publication had started in May 1944. The photographs are by an internationally known photographer Roger Schall and the book is published by his brother Raymond. It was an immediate bestseller, selling at one time a remarkable 1000 copies a day, going through 5 editions.
Apart from the photographs, the quality of this book and the fact that it had been published so soon after the liberation of Paris impressed me. My own interest in the history of the book goes back to the microfilming of the archives of British and American publishers in the early 1970s and starting the journal Publishing History in 1977. I also had a publishing company in Paris for 12 years.
I included these wartime books in the photo books collection but later on spent a week in the Bibliothèque Nationale looking for more material, and decided to start a new collection of the books published in the period immediately after the liberation of Paris in order to see how the French used the medium of the book to express what had just happened to them. So these are French books, though a significant number were published in Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, by the Maison Française in New York and in other countries like Mexico and the Argentine.
I had bought photo books from Jean-Louis Lanoux, a dealer who had a very lovely bookshop in the Boulevard Haussmann selling illustrated books and fine bindings; He quickly understood my new interest and when I visited two or three times a year there would be a cornucopia of books magazines and pamphlets waiting for me and I would sift through them, choosing the ones that I wanted and was able to buy early on some really wonderful, ephemeral titles. It also so happened that a well-known Paris dealer Picard was emailing monthly lists which contained a lot of the books that I was interested them. Jean-Louis has now retired and Picard has entirely moved away from this area.
But while more than 50% of the books in the exhibition have been bought from dealers in Paris we are now buying more from dealers via the internet. The nature of book collecting had been changed radically by the Internet. If you are collecting traditional antiquarian books searching through the Internet may not produce much; you already know which dealers you have to go to. But I am collecting in an area in which the books are not considered to be collectable and here the presence of thousands of dealers’ lists on the Internet makes finding the books easier than it has ever been. But you have to know which books you are looking for. I spent three years reading through volumes of the French National bibliography Biblio for the years 44 to 47 and marked up the books that sounded as if they were about the war, the occupation and the liberation, and had them typed up into a database. We are using this database as our finding list to acquire the books and generally we are getting an average of between two and three books for every five that we search for, so that’s about a 40 to 60% success rate first time round. The list totals over 3,000 books but we are also finding books from dealers’ lists that are not in the database so we know the total must be well over 3,000. We have around 1,000 at present. I think we will get to 2,000 in the next few years but I think that the last 1,000 plus will be very much harder to find.
I would now like to show you some of the books in the exhibition and then discuss some issues that have arisen out of making this collection, particularly relating to the very complicated and difficult history of this period in France, and, finally, leave enough time for your questions.
The single most striking thing about the collection is the quality of the books themselves. You could say that this is the most important discovery, that very fine books on beautiful paper were being published within days of the liberation of Paris.
Here is an example
This lovely little book was printed on 31 August 1944 when the liberation of Paris was winding down. So amongst the chaos and bloodshed a printer went to work to produce this book with it’s evocative frontispiece by the surrealist artist Valentine Hugo and a poem by Paul Éluard who was a friend of the author’s husband. Madeleine Legrand had been arrested and put into Fresnes prison in Paris for a few months and then suddenly released without explanation and in fact driven home by the Gestapo.
At the liberation of Paris the Germans abandoned Fresnes prison and the journalist Henri Calet went in and recorded the graffiti on the walls of the cells
After the Liberation of Paris the French used the prison to hold collaborators. The most famous being Robert Brasillach. Until 1943 Brasillach had been the editor of Je suis partout, the extreme pro-Nazi anti-semitic magazine which had actively promoted the murder of Jews and political figures but he had been replaced as being too lenient. After he was tried and sentenced to death there were many artists and writers who pleaded to de Gaulle for leniency but Brasillach’s own defiant attitude did not help. He was executed on 6 February 1945. He was 35 years old. Brasillach’s cell 344 must have had graffiti although it is not described by Calet, because Brasillach wrote poems while he was in prison, one of them was called the names on the walls.
The first edition of his poems to be published was anonymous and a second edition a month later in November 1945 is this edition here.
When he was 21 the young precocious Brasillach had written an article criticising André Gide and suggesting that he was now an old man and might as well be dead. This became known as Gide’s obituary and Brasillach reprinted it in a collection of essays in 1944. This copy is hors commerce (not for sale) and is printed on a different paper especially for André Gide and probably came from his library. It makes it more than just a book but as a gift to an old enemy it becomes an object with a particular resonance. One tantalising aspect of this is that we do not know who published either the anonymous edition or this subsequent edition.
This is a very different, the first book published in France by an Auschwitz survivor. Lewinska was a Polish Communist; she was not Jewish. In September 1945 Roger Martin du Gard, a Nobel laureate wrote to André Gide, ‘Have you read the book by Mme Lewinska on Auschwitz? You must read it. We have to come with her into the depths. Otherwise it will be too quickly forgotten. That cannot be, we do not have the right to forget’.
But as Ruth Kitchen writes in the catalogue, by early 1946, the French public wanted to forget; the number of survivor accounts was huge and saturation had already been reached. This is reflected in the number of prisoners’ books in the collection, probably more than a third. But they are nonetheless very moving and none are more extraordinary than the books of drawings and paintings from the camps.
In the exhibition there is a book published a few weeks after Lewinska’s of drawings by Leon Delabre, possibly the first book of drawings from the camps. But in Buchenwald there were three artists working, Favier, Mania and Boris Tazlitsky.
Both Favier and Tazlitsky drew portraits of Julien Cain who had been the Jewish director of the Bibliothéque Nationale before the war; survived and returned as a very effective and long-lived director after the war. This is by Favier. It is remarkable that the three artists and their extensive works all survived, as did Cain, but, as you will see in the exhibition, there are also portraits of those who did not.
Other books relating to prisoners are the large luxury volumes published to raise money for the families of either men who had been killed in the war or who had been prisoners.
The title page of Épreuves de l’Ombre which was published to raise money for the families of printers some of whom are named in the book but also for those unknown printers who had lost their lives
It has this wonderful frontispiece by Galanis which could have been printed in the 18th century and an equally striking modernist illustration
by Jean Chièze
There were also galas held in Paris after the liberation to also raise money for prisoners and in the collection we have a number of lavishly produced programs which were clearly intended to be kept as souvenirs.
This is perhaps the most evocative image of all, another beautiful lithograph by Valentine Hugo in a programme for a gala held, probably in 1945, for architects who had been prisoners of war. The program is lavishly produced on two different papers with lots of advertisements paid for by construction companies in Paris. Anthony Beevor and Artemis Cooper in their book Paris after the Liberation write about the celebrations and balls that took place after May 1945 and we have always assumed that these galas were all post- Liberation, that is, until we bought a program with an elegant cover a few weeks ago, which is not in the exhibition. This is it
It is the program of a gala organised by the Mutual Society representing maitre d’s, waiters, restaurateurs, barmen and bellboys. The elegant cover and the entire contents are drawn by Paul Colin.
I was amazed to find that the gala had been on May 16 1944, well before for the D-Day landings or the liberation of Paris so we now know that these galas were actually taking place during the occupation. Celebrations included a boxing match, and Fernandel and Charles Trenet were amongst the artists who took part
But the blatancy of the advertisements is shocking. They suggest that if you are wealthy enough you can go to the Auberge Armaillé for a proper meal or if you know the maitre d’ at the right restaurant he has a supply of Du Barry Armagnac. And this in 1944 when most of the population of Paris was seriously malnourished and near starvation.
This takes me back to Roger and Raymond Schall. They published several more books including Un An, A year, a book of Schall’s photographs of Paris through 1945 with captions and commentary by the journalist Babelay. It is a more thoughtful book than A Paris sous la botte de Nazis.
This opening shows the scandal of food supplies which continued well after the end of the war and which created a great sense of injustice that quickly replaced the optimism of the liberation.
The ubiquitous poet Paul Éluard, whose poems you will see throughout the exhibition also became disillusioned by the state of France after the great optimism of the Liberation.
This is his most famous book A rendezvous Allemand ; a second edition in March 1945 by Éditions de Minuit who had published clandestine editions during the occupation. The poem on the right ‘Charniers’ is about Auschwitz. As the news of the camps and other developments such as the Nuremberg trials became known, Éluard responded by writing new poems which would then be included in the next printing so the bibliography of these successive editions is complicated. This particular copy was given by Éluard to Renée and Georgette Magritte, the painter and his wife with the inscription, ‘in witness to an affection young like the world’.
But within the next two years both he and Aragon, the old communists and ex-surrealists, had fallen out of favour, they suddenly seemed old fashioned, and were replaced by poets like Jacques Prévert.
But how can one not love this beautiful book of a single poem by Éluard reproducing his handwriting including crossings out and corrections, with illustrations by Jean Hugo, the grandson of Victor Hugo and the husband of Valentine.
You will remember that the Germans had mined the bridges of Paris and threatened to blow them up if they were attacked. The poet writes,
‘no one can destroy the bridges which lead us to sleep and from sleep to our dreams, and from our dreams to eternity. Enduring city where I have lived, our victory over death’.
The most famous clandestine book was Le silence de la mer which had been translated into English by Cyril Connolly in 1944 and was widely read in the UK and in the US. You will see the two copies in the exhibition, the second clandestine edition and a much more lavish illustrated edition published after the war.
I want to show you this photographs by the photographer Pierre Jahan taken in his apartment in 1944, holding a copy of the clandestine edition. There was no electricity and he had to use sunlight to make the print. He writes on the back of the print.
‘No hiding place survives a thorough police search . . .however, it was prudent to slip copies of Editions de Minuit books into the back rows of one’s library’.
In 1942 Pierre Jahan had photographed statues of bronze and other metals that had been torn up throughout Paris and dumped in a yard to be melted down. In 1946 he published Le Mort et les statues with text by Jean Cocteau. It is one of the most beautiful photo books of the 1940s and was in my photobooks collection. It is set in Peignot, the idiosyncratic typeface designed by A M Cassandre and named after Charles Peignot, the owner of Deberny and Peignot, the largest typefoundry in France.
From a collector’s point of view one of the most interesting books in the collection is La Femme Tondue by Anna Prinner, a Hungarian artist who came to Paris in 1928 and changed her name to Anton.
She was friend of Picasso and André Breton. She self published her book which is a cry of protest against the abuses suffered by the women who had had their heads shaved for consorting with Germans. It is an edition of 600 copies of which 100 copies have a set of eight plates like this: The plates echo the agony and the outrage of the text.
It has never been reprinted.
My favourite book is Le Livre Noir 1939-1945 by Jean-Louis Chancel. Chancel was a professional illustrator but also an important resistance leader who was awarded the Legion d’honneur, and the OBE by the British. It is a book of 30 loose plates and no other artist chronicles the miseries of France during these years with such excoriating passion.
Chancel sums up in one image and three words, ‘Les Tondus inconnus’, the sense of guilt felt by the 900,000 French men who returned from prison in Germany after May 1945 and who had been away from their families, some for as long as 5 years. It was this guilt which was projected on to the women whom they thought had betrayed them by becoming too close to the Germans.
There are eight of his plates in the exhibition. This is another. Collaboration.
The French book dealer Henri Vignes has written in the catalogue that while there are many collectors of clandestine books there is no collection in France of books of this immediate post-war period. He calls it the amnesie chauvine; that there is still in France a lack of interest in a period which was so difficult; the period of the épuration or purge in which 12,000 French men and women were killed by other French men and women. But I also think that it may be that the books of this period have simply not been recognised as being interesting and of a high quality in their printing and illustration.
It makes one think about the role of the collector. Which comes first? Can the creation of a collection like this lead to a reassessment of the value and importance of a particular group of books? I don’t know, but we will find out as this collection is now accessible to students and scholars not only in Cambridge but from other institutions, and when we publish an online bibliography which we hope to do before too long the collection will become better known internationally.
In the introduction to the catalogue of the Cambridge exhibition I write rather defensively that the collection is primarily for the history of the book rather than the history of the period. I now realise that the two cannot be separated. You cannot isolate the books and treat them as objects of study without understanding how they came into being who the people are who produce them and indeed what they say.
In this period in particular there are great complexities. One begins to appreciate the difficulties faced by the French when one finds so many heroes have a shadow
Because of A Paris sous la botte des nazis I regarded Roger Schall, as one of my heroes for his marvellous photographs of the Germans in Paris. I did then discover that he had also published during the occupation several books of views of the monuments of Paris and of France, under the imprints of Verlag Schall, Odé and Kremer; with captions in German and obviously directed at a German audience. Furthermore, in the catalogue of a large exhibition of liberation of Paris photographs at the Musée Carnavalet which is on until early February, the curator Catherine Tambrun writes that A Paris sous la botte des Nazis was not well received in all quarters and that while Schall continued as a commercial photographer after the war until the 1970s he no longer took part in exhibitions of photographs. I asked her why this was so and her view is that Schall was probably paid by the Germans to take photographs during the occupation. The most obvious destination for such photographs would have been the German propaganda magazine Signal. I have been through virtually all issues of Signal and cannot find any photographs that might have been taken by Schall. There is a modern book on Schall and his photographs of Paris which states that while he had a licence from the Germans to take photographs he did not do so for the Germans but worked for magazines like Marie Claire and I have talked to his granddaughter who knows very little about his books. The Carnavalet catalogue lists all the photographic agencies in Paris during the occupation as well as individual photographers and the extent to which they were collaborators or not. Five years is a long time; people had to earn their living; publishers needed to publish; photographers needed to take photographs and they had to meet the conditions of not only the Germans but their own Vichy government.
Jean Giraudoux, one of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century died of natural causes in early 1944. His widow published this book after his death.
It is one of two beautiful books of essays by Giraudoux published in 1944 and 1945 by Éditions du Rocher but I wonder whether the motive for publishing them was to repair his reputation sullied by his too close association with the Germans. Brasillach said at his trial that he had seen Giraudoux at lunch at the German Institute in Paris. Nonetheless it is a powerful essay written by Giraudoux in protest at the peace agreement signed by Vichy in 1940. This is a copy printed specially for Giraudoux’s great friend and colleague the actor and director Louis Jouvet with an inscription by Giraudoux’s son in which he writes, ‘companion of my father in his death as in his life’.
And then finally, a true hero; the important Resistance leader Pierre Brossolette who committed suicide while being tortured by the Gestapo.
This is his biography by his brother in law. The family led by Mona Ouzof, daughter in law of the author and well-known historian has campaigned for years for the ashes of Brossolette to be transferred to the Panthèon where the ashes of Jean Moulin, Brossolette’s opposite number in the South, have already been for many years.
Last year President Hollande proposed that they would be reinterred in the Pantheon in 2015 and everyone was delighted, or were they?
A French friend of mine came to the exhibition in Cambridge and said it was an outrage that the two should be together in the Panthèon. He said that they had been bitter enemies and there had been such rifts between them that it had endangered the whole resistance movement. He sent me an article on these lines from Le Monde in 2013. I later had dinner in Paris with Brossolette’s grandson and granddaughter – she had come over to Cambridge to see the exhibition. They of course hold entirely opposite views. And so 70 years later we still have these intractable differences of opinion.
I wonder if one of the reasons that the French stayed silent after the war was not only a sense of guilt and an amnesie chauvine but that it was just too difficult to talk about the things that had happened, even with friends, without disagreement and ill feeling.
But this is a collection of books by people who at that sensitive, difficult time chose not to remain silent but wanted their views and experiences to be read by their contemporaries. These are the books that may have been forgotten soon after but are still there for us to remember them now.