Vichy France signed its 1940 armistice with Hitler’s Reich with stipulations that included, formally, French armed forces in German-occupied territory to be moved to unoccupied territory and discharged. The provision proved a dupe to the French soldiers, allowing them to allow the Nazis to surround and herd them into camps, where they only thought they were awaiting their discharges.
Good luck with that.
Hitler actually planned to use those surrendering French troops for cheap labour on behalf of der Fuehrer’s eventual decision to smash the pact with Stalin and invade the Soviet Union. Accordingly, those French troops were loaded onto packed trains to packed camps near the former Polish border, and most will not see France again until World War II ends at last.
But they will not go unheeded or unheard. Among the captured is French painter Jean Helion, who has published (in America) an eyewitness record of his camp’s conditions—including deeply detailed observations of the captured French as slave labourers, their cruel captors, and Helion’s own courageous escape (through eastern Germany, Belgium, and Lisbon, before traveling to the United States to lecture on his experiences) with the aid of camp comrades and with external resistance network members whom he could never thank publicly, until long enough after the Third Reich passed into history.
Reviewing the 2012 republication of They Shall Not Have Me, Martica Sawin (in The Wall Street Journal) would write:
Before the war, Hélion had been a dedicated partisan of nonobjective art. The austerity of his abstract ideal carries over to his writing, which is lean and free of histrionics yet laden with sharp-eyed perceptions. During his POW experience, Ms. Rosenthal suggests, he may well have been mentally storing material for paintings to come. Once back in his studio, abstraction gave way to the human figure and ordinary objects: boldly painted newspaper readers on park benches, ungainly nudes and shop windows filled with loaves of bread. His prison-survival experience of a brotherhood of the common man underlies the culminating works of Hélion’s career, a series of large triptychs dealing with the life of the street and marketplace, painted in France in the 1960s and 1970s. In these monumental works his earlier aim, to seek “a magnificent concordance between modernism and classicism,” is fully realized as he pays tribute to the humanity with whom he shared those nightmare years.
TUNE IN TONIGHT:
Words at War: They Shall Not Have Me (NBC, 1943)
Tonight Helion’s (Les Damon) memoir is afford the same lean, histrionic-free treatment he has given his experience, though you can imagine well enough how tempting it might be to have given in to the histrionic temptation. Though the sound treatments at times suggest surrender to it, the tight script and sober acting slaps the suggestion aside deftly. Stay with it.
Additional cast: Nady Christian, Virginia Rolfe, John Berry, Peter Kell, Lon Clark, Joseph De Santis, Tom Hoyer, Norman Lloyd, Herbert Ratner, Maurice Tarplin. Announcer: Jack Costello. Music: Morris Mimorsky. Director: Joseph Losee. Writer: Kenneth White.
Further Channel Surfing . . .
Duffy’s Tavern: An Insurance Policy for Finnegan (NBC; AFRS rebroadcast, 1944)
It Pays to Be Ignorant: Why is Marriage Like Taking a Bath? (CBS, 1944)
The Whistler: Still Death (CBS, 1948)
Broadway is My Beat: The Tom Keeler Murder Case (CBS, 1951)
Dragnet: The Big Slip (NBC, 1953)
Bob & Ray Present the CBS Radio Network: One Fella’s Family—By the Seawall (Seabee S, 1959)
WORLD WAR II
Kaltenborn Edits the News: On Hitler, Stalin, Poland, and Romania (CBS, 1939)
Still considered the dean of American news commentators, Kaltenborn addresses Romania’s prime ministry succession and its new military-inclined government, with that country vulnerable to the Third Reich from the West and the Soviet Union from the northeast, before discussing British and French remarks regarding Hitler’s duplicities as exposed by the invasion of Poland, President Roosevelt’s address on American neutrality and the current arms embargo—including possible inclusion of materials that could be made into munitions even if they’re not yet used that way, and a swelling sense that the United States may be yanked into the war no matter the president’s current public position . . . not to mention Roosevelt’s circumspection regarding whether he will run for an unprecedented third term of office.