In Other Words

Diary of an Occupation

Entries from the journal of a well-connected French economist, written during the Vichy years in Paris.

-/AFP/Getty Images
-/AFP/Getty Images

From Charles Rist, In So Corrupt an Age: A Journal of the War and of the Occupation, 1939-1945, translated from the French by Michele Aynesworth, supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Une Saison Gâtée: Journal de la guerre et de l’occupation, 1939-1945 is a rare historical document. In its pages, French economist Charles Rist gives a day-to-day account of life in France during the German occupation from the viewpoint of a figure who moved in the highest circles of government, banking, and business, with intimate connections to the Resistance movement (via his son Jean, who was killed fighting with the Maquis in 1944) and to Jews (including his daughter-in-law and two granddaughters). At the same time, he counted among his acquaintances U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and diplomats from numerous countries. Owing to his position, family background, and fluency in several languages, Rist was ideally placed to make an excellent witness. 

Sunday, 26 October 1941

Thus I saw Marshal Pétain alone. I found him reading the letter agreed upon with Darlan and Romier. I stressed the importance of the passage regarding adherence to the terms of armistice, pointing out that what this meant was protecting Bizerte. "Yes," he said to me, "that’s fine … unless there’s a diktat from the Germans, but I told Leahy that I would warn him if my policy changed"! He then spoke of my mission [to the U.S.]. "We must gain time." He signed the letter. I asked him how I would correspond with him. He said, "Everything that goes through the Admiralty is known to the Germans. You can keep me informed by letters passed via the American diplomatic pouch." Then he showed me the collection of his speeches. "You will give one copy to President Roosevelt on my behalf. The other is for you. Before you leave, come by and I’ll sign it for you." He appeared to attach great importance to some sayings about government that conclude the book. "I wanted to put down my deepest thoughts, like Pascal and others." He gets up and leads me to a table bearing an album of Épinal prints. The album, made in his honor, features the great stages of his life. He leafs through it, showing me the cartoon-like illustrations one by one, commenting on each. "I’m going to send it to Pershing," he told me. The whole thing was painful, oppressive, this extraordinary display of senile vanity and childish remarks at a time when we should have been speaking solely of French policy, to which I tried in vain to lead him back.

Saturday, 20 December 1941

A week of horror, filled with executions and the roundup of Jews. One hundred people were apparently shot on Monday at Mount Valérien. Every day we learn more names of those arrested last Friday: doctors, engineers, etc. Impossible to know where they are — maybe Drancy, maybe Compiègne. They say that trains have already been sent east from Compiègne, doubtless to Russia, in accordance with General S’s warning of reprisals. Count C. assures me that the French government agreed to allow these reprisals to target the Jews so as to spare the rest of the French. Some articles even more disgusting than usual by Abel Bonnard and Jean Luchaire sounded the bugle call for the kill. The depths to which some of our people have fallen confounds the imagination.

Tried to discover the whereabouts of Mlle Spitzer’s father. Impossible to learn anything. The poor fellow should have fled long ago. He has allowed himself to be taken through a kind of inertia. Met Max Lazard at the Statistics Society. He says he wants to stay, in spite of the urging of all the committee members, who are begging him to go underground. Courage? Fatalism? Pride?

I’ve spent the last three days taking steps to keep my Jewish daughter-in-law from suffering consequences for not having declared herself. From now on notaries and bankers must report the Aryan or non-Aryan status of people receiving an inheritance!


For the next translation, click here.

From Charles Rist, In So Corrupt an Age: A Journal of the War and of the Occupation, 1939-1945, translated from the French by Michele Aynesworth, supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Une Saison Gâtée: Journal de la guerre et de l’occupation, 1939-1945 is a rare historical document. In its pages, French economist Charles Rist gives a day-to-day account of life in France during the German occupation from the viewpoint of a figure who moved in the highest circles of government, banking, and business, with intimate connections to the Resistance movement (via his son Jean, who was killed fighting with the Maquis in 1944) and to Jews (including his daughter-in-law and two granddaughters). At the same time, he counted among his acquaintances U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and diplomats from numerous countries. Owing to his position, family background, and fluency in several languages, Rist was ideally placed to make an excellent witness. 

Sunday, 26 October 1941

Thus I saw Marshal Pétain alone. I found him reading the letter agreed upon with Darlan and Romier. I stressed the importance of the passage regarding adherence to the terms of armistice, pointing out that what this meant was protecting Bizerte. "Yes," he said to me, "that’s fine … unless there’s a diktat from the Germans, but I told Leahy that I would warn him if my policy changed"! He then spoke of my mission [to the U.S.]. "We must gain time." He signed the letter. I asked him how I would correspond with him. He said, "Everything that goes through the Admiralty is known to the Germans. You can keep me informed by letters passed via the American diplomatic pouch." Then he showed me the collection of his speeches. "You will give one copy to President Roosevelt on my behalf. The other is for you. Before you leave, come by and I’ll sign it for you." He appeared to attach great importance to some sayings about government that conclude the book. "I wanted to put down my deepest thoughts, like Pascal and others." He gets up and leads me to a table bearing an album of Épinal prints. The album, made in his honor, features the great stages of his life. He leafs through it, showing me the cartoon-like illustrations one by one, commenting on each. "I’m going to send it to Pershing," he told me. The whole thing was painful, oppressive, this extraordinary display of senile vanity and childish remarks at a time when we should have been speaking solely of French policy, to which I tried in vain to lead him back.

Saturday, 20 December 1941

A week of horror, filled with executions and the roundup of Jews. One hundred people were apparently shot on Monday at Mount Valérien. Every day we learn more names of those arrested last Friday: doctors, engineers, etc. Impossible to know where they are — maybe Drancy, maybe Compiègne. They say that trains have already been sent east from Compiègne, doubtless to Russia, in accordance with General S’s warning of reprisals. Count C. assures me that the French government agreed to allow these reprisals to target the Jews so as to spare the rest of the French. Some articles even more disgusting than usual by Abel Bonnard and Jean Luchaire sounded the bugle call for the kill. The depths to which some of our people have fallen confounds the imagination.

Tried to discover the whereabouts of Mlle Spitzer’s father. Impossible to learn anything. The poor fellow should have fled long ago. He has allowed himself to be taken through a kind of inertia. Met Max Lazard at the Statistics Society. He says he wants to stay, in spite of the urging of all the committee members, who are begging him to go underground. Courage? Fatalism? Pride?

I’ve spent the last three days taking steps to keep my Jewish daughter-in-law from suffering consequences for not having declared herself. From now on notaries and bankers must report the Aryan or non-Aryan status of people receiving an inheritance!


For the next translation, click here.

Charles Rist (1874-1955) was a French political economist, Bank of France administrator, and businessman. Excerpt used by permission from the Rist family.