Editor’s Choice October 2006

The Path of Least Resistance

What to read this month
Bad Faith, by Carmen Callil (Knopf).

In Germany and the countries it occupied, the Nazis had a knack for dredging up and empowering a host of weaselly charlatans, most of whom were inveterate anti-Semites and not a few of whom were degenerates, pimps, pornographers, thieves, or bully boys. But for their viciously effective patrons, most of this crew would have languished at the bottom of Europe’s demimonde. But vaulted to positions of power (at least over the weak), they helped wreak terrible damage.

Louis Darquier, who served from 1942 to 1944 as the commissioner for Jewish affairs in France’s collaborating Vichy government, epitomized these effluvia of Nazi rule. A mountebank (he bestowed upon himself a noble title), an improvident sponger constantly on the run from his creditors, a wife-beating womanizer, and a braggart, the gallivanting, monocled Darquier cut a ridiculous figure even among the rabble of 1930s French far-right anti-Semites.

He had, however, some powerful benefactors even then, including the Nazis, who clandestinely helped fund his Jew-baiting propaganda before the war. After their conquest of France, they elevated him, though they found him an irksome blowhard, and eventually succeeded in foisting him onto the Vichy government, even though Marshal Pétain, its ultratraditionalist head of state, despised him. As a functionary Darquier was indolent and ineffective (and one of the very few who managed to put on weight during the war). He hated Jews, but essentially left the tedious work of administering the Final Solution to France’s highly competent civil servants—most infamously René Bousquet, Vichy’s head of the police, who was later shielded from prosecution by his friend François Mitterrand, the French president. Still, Darquier spearheaded the hateful portrayal of Jews in the media and academe; he also looted Jewish property with abandon and sold certificates of Aryanization to the highest bidder. On his watch France’s Jews were forced to wear the Yellow Star, and 12,884 of them—including 4,051 children—were hunted down in the notorious roundup of July 1942 and sent to internment camps, from which most were ultimately dispatched to their deaths at Auschwitz. After the war he escaped to Spain, where he lived unmolested and unrepentant (he famously told an interviewer that at Auschwitz the Germans had gassed only lice) until his death, in 1980.

Callil, one of Britain’s most lauded editors and publishers, came to her subject in a terrible fashion: as a young, unhappy woman, she was treated by a leading Jungian psychiatrist who, in 1970, killed herself while Callil was under her care. That woman, Callil learned a few years later, was Darquier’s daughter, whom Darquier and his alcoholic Australian wife had abandoned as an infant in England in 1930 during one of their low-life sprees, and who at adolescence had become acquainted with her father’s repugnant past. Callil arrestingly weaves the sad story of Anne Darquier’s ultimately failed efforts to reconcile herself to her Larkinesque condition with the history of Darquier’s grungy life, the chaos and political passions of the waning years of the Third Republic, and the sleazy intrigue and backbiting of the Vichy regime.

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Benjamin Schwarz is the former literary and national editor for The Atlantic. He is writing a book about Winston Churchill for Random House. More

His first piece for the magazine, "The Diversity Myth," was a cover story in 1995. Since then he's written articles and reviews on a startling array of subjects from fashion to the American South, from current fiction to the Victorian family, and from international economics to Chinese restaurants. Schwarz oversees and writes a monthly column for "Books and Critics," the magazine's cultural department, which under his editorship has expanded its coverage to include popular culture and manners and mores, as well as books and ideas. He also regularly writes the "leader" for the magazine. Before joining the Atlantic's staff, Schwarz was the executive editor of World Policy Journal, where his chief mission was to bolster the coverage of cultural issues, international economics, and military affairs. For several years he was a foreign policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, where he researched and wrote on American global strategy, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and military doctrine. Schwarz was also staff member of the Brookings Institution. Born in 1963, he holds a B.A. and an M.A. in history from Yale, and was a Fulbright scholar at Oxford. He has written for a variety of newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Foreign Policy, The National Interest, and The Nation. He has lectured at a range of institutions, from the U.S. Air Force Special Operations School to the Center for Social Theory and Comparative History. He won the 1999 National Book Critics Circle award for excellence in book criticism.

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