Voices in
The Dark

Esoteric, Occult & Secular Voices
In Nazi-Occupied Paris
1940 - 44

William Patrick Patterson

Part II
This sometimes frustrating, sometimes fascinating, often bewildering peek into Gurdjieff at work is interlarded with Patterson's extended take on WWII: the German fighting machine, the techniques of the SS for control of Paris and its population, the preparations of the allies for invasion, the characters who were part of the Resistance and the government in exile, and the very real world of Paris during the war years.

He gives ample space to the harsh realities of this period. 40% more people died --- mostly old people, or children --- than in the four years immediately preceding the German invasion. But at the end of the occupation, came a time of bloodletting that matched the worst of the German excesses. "The number of French killed by the French," reports the author, "through High Court trials, court-martials, rigged tribunals and summary executions, equaled or exceeded the number killed by German occupiers as hostages, deportees, and slave laborers."

As a final aperçu, there are extended quotes scattered about in the narrative history (or even dropped into the middle of the meetings with Gurdjieff), mostly drawn from writers of the time --- Resistance fighters, collaborators, ordinary citizens --- immediate reactions to the horror of living in Paris under German rule. All readings, without exception, contrast starkly with the back-and-forth of the Gurdjieff meetings, or the author's dispassionate and pithy narrative history.

There is, for instance, a short essay by a handsome young American, whose job came to be that of picking up gay German officers. After a night of love-making, just before they got up, he would jam an icepick into the neck of his recent conquest:

    My hands are strong [he wrote]. I never used a gun or a grenade. I did not trust them as weapons and I felt they would expose me to danger. I killed in private, quietly.

There are snippets that give the feeling of the futility of resisting or even make sense of the why --- why some quickly turned traitor:

    Collaboration with Germany was generally accepted as a paying proposition: people still believed that the English would rapidly be beaten and the French from 1940 onwards certainly only reasoned (if reason it can be called) with short-term interests in mind.

How did the Paris juveniles react to the war and occupation? Not unlike the Mexican "zoot suiters" of California of exactly the same period:

    A number of the young rebelled by adopting Zazous or "hepcat" look. The name Zazou came from a song sung by Charles Grenet with a chorus of Je suis swing, zazou, zazou. The boys dressed in baggy jackets down to the knees, the long stovepipe trousers with cuffs gripping the ankles, and platform shoes deliberately unpolished, the round collars of their shirts held together by a straight stickpin under a linen or wool necktie, their hair always slicked back with salad oil, and whatever the weather they carried umbrellas.

Finally, there were the jokes --- terrible horrible jokes:

    The only conduit of news was the radio. The constant barrage of propaganda over Radio Paris and Radio Vichy soon had Parisians listening to the neutral Swiss radio which broadcast military communiqués and the BBC. The popularity of the English broadcasts is shown in this joke that made the rounds of Paris:

    "Did you hear what happened!" a man asked his friend. "Last night at 9:20 p.m. on the rue de Clichy, a Jew killed a German officer, cut open his chest, and ate his heart!"

    "Impossible!" cried his friend. "And in three ways. One, a German does not have a heart; two, a Jew does not eat pig; and three, at 9:20 p.m., everyone is listening to the BBC."

Or this, speaking of the early days of the Occupation.

    They came at night. We heard strange noises and voices. It was the Germans installing guns in our garden. So it was that one night I heard that language which I came to hate to such an extent that it is impossible to express ... They entered our garden; just like that. They seemed to belong to another race. It was a Panzer division. The soldiers were very tall --- almost six feet --- and dressed entirely in black with skull-and-crossbones insignias. They were superb, like angels of death --- complete different from our friends, our comrades, from all we knew.

Finally, there are these supernaturally bitter, restrained, carefully chosen words from the "Fourth Letter to a German Friend" by Camus:

    We have saved the idea of man at the end of this disaster of the intelligence, and that idea gives us the undying courage to believe in rebirth ... We paid so dear for this new knowledge that our condition continues to seem desperate to us. Hundred of thousands of men assassinated at dawn, the terrible walls of prisons, the soil of Europe reeking with millions of corpses of its sons --- it took all that to pay for the acquisition of two or three slight distinctions which may have no other value than to help some of us to die more nobly.... We have to prove that we do not deserve so much injustice.


    In this night of Europe filled with the breath of summer, millions of men, armed and unarmed, are getting ready for the fight. The dawn about to break will mark your final defeat. I know that heaven that was indifferent to your horrible victories will be equally indifferent to your just defeat. Even now I expect nothing from heaven. But we shall at last have helped to save man from the solitude to which you want to relegate him. Because you scorned such faith in mankind, you are the men who, by thousands, are going to die solitary. Now, I can say farewell to you.

--- L. W. Milam

Go back to Part I

Go Up     Subscribe     Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH