Daily Archives: 3 February 2008

Controlling Access to Food and Warmth

From The Unfree French: Life Under the Occupation, by Richard Vinen (Yale U. Press, 2006), pp. 216-217:

Shortages created a new sort of society. German power depended partly on the ability to control access to food and warmth…. People gathered wherever they could conserve energy, keep warm and, perhaps, get food. Cinemas were popular, though young men who might attract unwelcome interest from the Germans increasingly avoided such places. Library membership doubled. Many people simply stayed at home: Colette said that the best way to survive the occupation was to ‘stay in bed’. Bourgeois Parisian families abandoned parts of their apartments to gather in a single heated room. Georges Simenon characteristically saw commercial possibilities opening up as people huddled together on cold, dark nights. He asked Gallimard to produce an advertisement that read: ‘This winter you will reread all the Simenons.’

Urban consumers, especially women and children, spent hours queuing. On 13 December 1940 Liliane Schroeder queued for twenty minutes to buy some Brussels sprouts and then for another half an hour to buy apiece of black pudding. In the provinces, people started queuing at three in the morning; in Paris, some concierges rented out places in their courtyards or doorways during the night-time curfew to those who wished to be the first to queue outside shops in the morning. It could be soul-destroying to wait for hours in the bitterly cold winters of 1940-41 and 1941-2 only to find that there was nothing left in the shop. In 1943 Marcel Ayme published a story entitled ‘En attendant’. It is set during ‘the war of 1939-1977’.

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