Trip to the dark France of Nazism and collaborationism

The crime novel writer Hervé Le Corre, aged 66, approaches a curving alley in the old part of Bordeaux, his hometown and where he has always lived. He stands next to an abandoned building. On the second floor there is an old illuminated sign, from the fifties or sixties, that says “Hôtel Les voyageurs” (Travelers Hotel). Le Corre points out: “There.” And he adds: “I came to this neighborhood when I was young because a friend of mine lived nearby. It was, at the time, a dangerous area, with people from the underworld, and I was very attracted to it. That is why I placed here, in that hotel, the start of After the war . Glad at least the sign still stands. It’s a good name for a hotel, isn’t it? The novel, recently published in the Red and Black collection by Reservoir Books, runs almost entirely in this city, is limited to one year, 1957 , particularly convulsive in the history of France —and Bordeaux— and addresses two elements that are still traumatic for the French: collaborationism and the Algerian War.

In the hotel in question where the history corrupt policemen, who in their time helped the Nazis to persecute Jews and members of the resistance, interrogate a poor devil who hides information that he spits with sticks. From there, a violent plot develops in which personal revenges and historical wounds converge that never end and are the consequence of a part of society helping the worst enemy at the worst moment. Soldiers from the Algerian War, depraved policemen, Spanish exiles from the Civil War, victims escaped from an extermination camp, hidden Nazis, resistance fighters and simple collaborators parade there.

Le Corre was very clear about where to place the action. And he did it for two reasons: “The first, because, being me from here, everything was more comfortable for me.” The second is more important: “Bordeaux was one of the places in France that most collaborated with the Nazis and has suffered what I call organized amnesia. This was made clear by the study of the slave trade – the origin of the city’s prosperity – which has always been very difficult because the personal files of the great bourgeois families were always hidden. And with what happened in World War II, the same thing happens. The mayor of the time, Adrien Marquet, was openly collaborative and in the office of Police Commissioner Pierre Poinsot, Jews or members of the resistance were systematically tortured to help the Gestapo. The great bourgeois wine families also frequented the cocktails of the Nazi authorities. Also, there was no liberation of the city here. The German Army simply withdrew. And then a blanket of silence spread. ”

It’s hard to imagine all that today, in this lively and beautiful city crossed by trams and pedestrian streets, full of bicycles and open-air restaurants . Le Corre is a great guide, and rescues from every corner or from every portal a story of betrayed resisters or collaborators who at the last minute went over to the good side simply because they sensed that it was also the winning side.

“The bourgeoisie were not interested in talking, they were too involved, the communists were also in favor of maintaining that the resistance had won the war and history. De Gaulle was in favor of leaving judges, policemen and officials in their posts, without asking much so that the State would get back on track without too much interruption, taking advantage of inertia, without wasting time, since he was afraid that the The state will collapse and end up at the hands of the communists. ”

Hervé Le Corre, en una imagen cedida por la editorial.
Hervé Le Corre, in an image provided by the publisher.

For this writer, who has published in Spain, in the same collection, two other works, these historical traumas are never settled . “It is normal that tragic moments continue to cause controversy. Among other things, because there are political tendencies that feed them back. In France, for example, the extreme right, which is very powerful, maintains that that period was not so negative or so bad, defends Marshal Pétain and fosters a kind of anti-Arab and anti-immigration racism that was born in the Algerian War. There is a postcolonial racism that is still alive, that still persists in the political debate. ”

Le Corre was throughout his life, until his retirement, a teacher in a public school of French and French literature. And he always sought to instill in his students, in addition to grammar and indigestible French spelling, the principle of pleasure in reading. He follows it himself before embarking on each book: “I love immersing myself in an era, learning everything. I really enjoy doing it. I am a soldier or member of the resistance, without suffering any risk. This is priceless. I don’t believe in engaging literature or in the practical utility of novels. Yes in your enjoyment ”. Remember, by the way, the day a student borrowed the first volume of a novel from 650 pages that he had talked about in class and that a few days later, after devouring it, he asked for the second one. By handing it over to him, he says, he felt proud of himself and of his task.

The main character of the novel is a corrupt, selfish, violent, cruel policeman, a collaborator without ideology and an expert careerist in jumping from one regime to another taking refuge in his contacts and in his pure selfishness. “There are many like him in history. There are everywhere. And thanks to them, to the selfish, dictatorships prosper. They are people committed only to their personal interests and that is why they become the best allies of totalitarianisms. ”

He highlights the presence of the Spanish in Bordeaux (and therefore, in the novel ). And he points out that this city in the south of France became, after the Civil War, a refuge for Republican exiles. Then he remembers that the first demonstration he attended in his life, in 1972, was one called by Spaniards against Franco. And he adds: “Here, when Carrero Blanco was killed, it was celebrated in the street, they drank in the street and they danced. I’ve seen that ”. Then he remembers again: “There was a vieux anarch, an old anarchist named Sánchez who let us use his linotype to print our pamphlets …”

Then some boys from 12 or 13 years playing with each other and Le Corre stares at them and seems to be remembering more things from his youth. But no: “I don’t miss it, but you know? Being a teacher of boys of those ages was a phenomenal job. ”

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