In the summer of 1944, not long before France was liberated, German soldiers grown desperate in the face of allied opposition rounded up the entire population of the village. 642 civilians were murdered. The men were shot point blank. The women and children were herded into the small church in the square, undoubtedly weeping at the sight of their men and rightly terrified at what was now in store for them. Then, when they were all inside and the door was barricaded fast, the church was set on fire. Nobody survived. “Today,” relates Black, “the village stands as it was after the devastation”, a grisly monument in the history of a country often plagued by a lack of cohesion, a deep-rooted distrust of government and an anarchic mentality.
Black leaves the reader in no doubt that, after the Germans were defeated and driven out of France, the history of those dreadful years was rewritten to cover up the high level of collaboration with the Nazis and to glorify the courage of the Resistance fighters who had meanwhile stood their ground but were not perhaps as numerous as the French nation would have liked. The celebrations of victory were followed by “a popular fury, called the Epuration (purge), directed against collaborators. Possibly up to 10,000 were killed and 40,000 detained.” The Vichy government naturally was top of the list. “Pierre Laval, the Vichy prime minister who was convicted of plotting against the security of the state and collaboration, was executed by firing squad.”