3. Robinson in Paris: January-June 1940
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C H A P T E R T H R E E Robinson in Paris: January-June 1940 τοπ nnnram mman xrbpn bpn -Daniel 5:271 HITLER'S ARMIES invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, having an­ nexed Austria and taken Slovakia the year before.2 On September 3, to make good their treaty obligations with the Poles, England and France simultaneously declared war on Germany. But instead of war, only dip­ lomatic skirmishes followed, and neither the English nor the French offered more than token opposition, thereby allowing the German army to occupy and subdue Poland. For the next six months, Europeans tried to persuade themselves that the world could live with totalitarian, ex­ pansionist Germany and still return to peace. Meanwhile the drdle de guerre (or "phony war" as U.S. Senator Will­ iam E. Borah dubbed the pause in aggression) created a bizarre mix­ ture of apprehension and ennui. As Simone de Beauvoir wrote in her journal, "this war seems a phantom war—not the least hint of the shadow of a German is perceptible."3 By the end of 1939, many Europeans and most French had been lulled, if only temporarily, into a state of nervous indifference about Germany and its true intentions. Claude Jamet, an army lieutenant, wrote disarmingly: "Et la guerre? Frankly, one isn't in­ terested in it. One does not think of it. Does it really exist?"4 1 "T'kel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting." Robinson quoted this passage from the Book of Daniel in an account he wrote (in Hebrew) of the few brief months he spent in Paris during the spring of 1940, including a vivid description of his escape as France fell to the Germans that June. Although at least part of this was written several years later, it is listed in the bibliography as Robinson R-1940, the year in which the events it describes occurred. The English translations throughout are by Sheila Rabin. 2 For a detailed study of the initial months of World War II, especially the events leading up to the fall of France in June of 1940, see Chapman 1968. Other general accounts include Home 1969 and Werth 1940. 3 De Beauvoir 1960, p. 444. Throughout the war Simone de Beauvoir kept a record of her daily life, one that seems to have continued without much change in 1939-1940, despite the dramatic events of those years. Other personal accounts of Paris before and during the German occupation that have been used here include Amouroux 1961, Bardoux 1957, Baudouin 1948, Boothe 1940, Gide 1946, Langeron 1946, Murphy 1964, Porter 1942, Sartre 1984, and Spears 1954. These serve to corroborate the general de­ scriptions found in Robinson R-1940, or add details to the account he provides. 4 Home 1969, p. 102. Robinson also logged his impressions of the drdle de guerre during the spring of 1940, and was particularly struck by the French refusal to consider 60 — Chapter Three In February Jean-Paul Sartre echoed these sentiments in one of his diaries: "Everything has become simplified, everything grown relaxed."5 But at the highest levels, this lack of urgency would soon prove disastrous . Typical of the shortsightedness and poor judgment of those in command was a remark made all too casually by General Billotte to some of his corps commanders. In response to complaints about the lack of arms for their men, the general showed no concern at all: "Why bother yourselves? Nothing will happen before 1941."6 FROM PALESTINE TO PARIS: JANUARY 1940 In hindsight, only a startling naivete can explain why Abraham Robinson and Jacob Fleischer, inJanuary of 1940, could have thought it prudent to leave Palestine for Paris. No one, it seems, seriously questioned whether or not the French capital was a safe place for two Jewish students from Jerusalem once war had been declared in September. On the other hand, considering the escalating violence in Palestine, Paris may actually have seemed a better, perhaps even safer alternative, and without question it must have seemed an exciting prospect.7 In January, Robinson and Fleischer sailed for Marseilles, with a brief stop in Alexandria. Any misgivings Robinson may have had about the war would have been in sharp contrast to the total lack of concern he observed among French soldiers returning home on furlough from duty in Syria. He was amazed at the extent to which the French simply regarded the war as "a source of some...