Exiles in Their Own Country

Hanna Diamond examines the mixed experiences of the French men and women of every social class who fled their homes in the mass exodus from the Nazis in 1940, and those who took them in.

In May 1940 as people from northern and eastern France took flight homes, just one thought was uppermost in their minds, to head south and west away from the German armies. The military situation continued to deteriorate and on June 10th, the government left the capital. In their wake thousands of Parisians joined the columns of refugees already clogging up the roads. By the time the Germans entered the capital, just one fifth of the normal population of Paris remained; mainly the elderly, the infirm and those who could not afford to leave. This mass exodus swelled the numbers of displaced people to such an extent that for a few weeks, more people were on the move in France than at any time in history. 'In the space of four days, France had jumped backwards six centuries, finding itself at the gates of a medieval famine' wrote one commentator.

 

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