French version here

Violette's story

Paris - life during the occupation

Photograph of Violette in 1943 There were days sadder than others, with curfew beginning at 6-7pm, when people climbed onto the seats of the underground trains densely packed to return to their home. These days alternated with those full of hope, because one listened secretly to news from BBC London 'les Francais parlent aux Francais'.

The words of Hitler had no impact; even his gesture of the return of the ashes of the son of Napoleon Buonaparte on a somber Sunday in winter left us indifferent.

The low point of deprivation was in 1944 when gas and electricity often failed. As I was 'Mecanographe' (early electric-typewriter secretary) at that period, I worked during the night. In order to do that, I took the last underground at 9-10pm and returned by the first at 6-7am. We would be given a 'casse-croute' (snack) at midnight made of a dish of white beans boiled in water (eugh!) and this, for 5 or 6 weeks. The newspapers had only a page, perhaps a half. No white machine-paper, but an inferior pink sort.

Altered or forged coupons were sold for a great price and to increase the value in weight of the bread coupons for example, one of our employees was scratching out figures and drawing others all day long. I bought some for us, for my family in the countryside and even for a baker friend so as to satisfy his clients and his miller!

In Paris also, life continued, and for these 5 years parisian women, very sophisticated despite the situation, made miracles; with hardly anything one could still dress well; we turned and remade our dresses and coats; with articulated wooden soles we had magnificent high-heel-shoes; some coated their legs with a paste that gave the impression of wearing silk stockings, and for more accuracy traced a darker line imitating the seam of the stocking. Hairstyles and hats were fashioned from tulle scaffoldings, veils, flowers, and recycled feathers. With 4 or 5 old hand-bags, one could have a big one made, very chic.

In brief, Paris was still Paris. Sophisticated women confronted with studied indifference the German 'gray mice' - women-soldiers in uniform. The theatres, the cinemas, cabarets in Montmartre were full, in spite of air raid alerts when one went to the closest shelters. No light? It didn't matter, the theatres opened their ceiling and the actors played by the light of the day.
The German Occupation also loved the beautiful shows. I remember a morning at the Opera when the stalls and the 1st 2nd and 3rd balconies were occupied solely by green uniforms. When we left afterwards the swastikas reminded us of the reality, if one had been able for a second, to escape it in this superb place that is the 'Opera de Paris'.

Violette Wassem
July 1997

Violette has written other stories about this period :

This story has been translated by her grand-nephew Alexandre.
You can ask her some question if you click here to write to him.

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