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A Legacy of Shame

French Narratives of War and Occupation

Ruth Kitchen

A Legacy of Shame is the first in-depth study of shame in French narratives of the Second World War and the Nazi Occupation of France. Wartime shame continues to be a recurrent theme in literature and film and is an ongoing topic of cultural and political debate and yet the problem of shame has only been mentioned incidentally by cultural critics. In the concluding lines of Le Syndrome de Vichy, Henry Rousso locates the ‘syndrome’, the continual return of wartime memories in the present, in the postwar desire to restore national unity and identity. This book proposes that beneath Rousso’s syndrome lies a disintegrated sense of shame. Although this shame is painfully exposed in narratives, it remains unacknowledged as a collective, national memory and has consequently continued to trouble postwar constructions of national identity and history. By investigating narrative expressions of shame and theories of shame produced by the events of this historical moment, the book examines the issues that this legacy presents for cultural history, collective memory and, implicitly, for postwar national identity.

This book is the winner of the Peter Lang Young Scholars Competition in French Studies 2011.


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Chapter 4 Shame and Collaboration: The Laws of Forgetting


Shame and the Law During the summer of 1944, a new legal concept entered the French stat- ute: national degradation or indignité nationale. National indignity was pronounced on all those who had directly or indirectly voluntarily aided Germany or her allies, or harmed the unity, liberty or equality of the French nation in some way.1 The judgment and penalty of national degradation was handed out by the chambres civiques, a court created purely for the judgment of this new of fense. This concept is of central importance to the discourse of shame as the penalty removed the rights of citizenship for what were deemed to be dishonourable and unpatriotic acts against the nation.2 While it was automatically added to any sentence already given out by the Cours de Justice or the Haute Cour, the chambres civiques alone sentenced 48,484 people to national degradation.3 1 Anne Simonin confirms that 61.6 per cent of those sentenced to indignité nationale were members of either le Rassemblement Nationale Populaire (RNP) de Marcel Déat, le Parti Populaire français (PPF) de Jacques Doriot, le Parti Franciste de Marcel Bucard or the Groupe Collaboration. Anne Simonin, Le déshonneur dans la République: une histoire de l’indignité (Paris: Grasset, 2008), 528. 2 ‘A sentence of national degradation meant the loss of civic rights such as the fran- chise; prohibition from employment in inf luential positions in areas such as the civil service, banking, or journalism; exclusion from of fice in professional organizations; loss of...

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