Vichy in Sigmaringen

October 21, 2010 Topic: History Region: FranceGermany Tags: BusinessLabor

Vichy in Sigmaringen

Recounting Vichy writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline's arrival in Germany at the end of World War II. 


[amazon 0300132905 full]Ensconced at present in Munich, where I'm teaching this semester, I could not help but recall a description of a moment near the end of World War II that occurred less than three hours' drive from here.

It was the arrival of French novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline—Journey to the End of the Night, Death on the Instalment Plan—at Sigmaringen Castle in southern Germany, to which many French collaborators removed as the Allied armies, after D-Day, pushed on Paris. The collaborators feared retribution at the hands of Resistants. Céline was a famous anti-Semite, semi-Fascist and somewhat lukewarm collaborator (he often wrote critically of Vichy and the Nazis; a very confused, and confusing, character).


It was described by a fellow collaborator, Lucien Rebatet:

"One morning the rumor spread through Sigmaringen: 'Céline has arrived.' A memorable stage entrance. Still shaken by his trip through a devastated Germany, he wore a bluish canvas cap, like a locomotive emgineer's circa 1905, two or three of his lumber jackets overlapping, filthy and ragged, a pair of moth-eaten mittens hanging from his neck, and under the mittens, in a haversack on his belly, Bébert the cat, presenting the phlegmatic face of a native Parisian who's seen it all before. You should have seen the faces of the hardcore militants [i.e., collaborators] and the rank-and-file militiamen [presumably members of the Milice, the hated Vichy gendermerie] at the sight of this hobo: 'That is the great fascist writer, the brilliant prophet?' I was speechless myself."

The incident is recounted, and the quotation reproduced, in Frederic Spotts's The Shameful Peace, How French Artists and Intellectuals Survived the Nazi Occupation (Yale University Press, 2008).