A new book which suggests that the German occupation of France encouraged the sexual liberation of women has shocked a country still struggling to come to terms with its troubled history of collaboration with the Nazis.
Like a recent photographic exhibition showing Parisians enjoying themselves under the occupation, the book's depiction of life in Paris as one big party is at odds with the collective memory of hunger, resistance and fear.
"It is a taboo subject, a story nobody wants to hear," said Patrick Buisson, author of "1940-1945 Années Erotiques" ("erotic years"). "It may hurt our national pride, but the reality is that people adapted to occupation."
Many might prefer to forget but, with their husbands in prison camps, numerous women slept not only with German soldiers — the young "blond barbarians" were particularly attractive to French women, says Buisson — but also conducted affairs with anyone else who could help them through financially difficult times: "They gave way to the advances of the boss, to the tradesman they owed money to, their neighbor. In times of rationing, the body is the only renewable, inexhaustible currency."
Cold winters, when coal was in short supply, and a curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. also encouraged sexual activity, says Buisson, with the result that the birth rate shot up in 1942 even though 2 million men were locked up in prison camps.