The World Hitler Never Made

In 2008, 270 photos Andre Zucca took during the Nazi Occupation of Paris was shown collectively to the public for the first time. They were deliberately pedestrian: velo-taxis waiting for customers, bicyclists, well-dressed citizens strolling along the boulevards and in the parks, commuters in the Metro, crowed cafes, nightclubs and swimming pools full of young fashionable people. But all these photos challenged the collective memory reinforced by movies and books: the Paris under the Nazi Occupation was a dreary place, black-and-white hell of hunger, of Nazi round-ups, of torture, humiliation and resistance. Zucca, on the other hand, showed a Paris that got on with life and without great hardship.

But that Paris was a myth. Andre Zucca — respected prewar photographer for Paris-Soir and Paris-Match — was working for the German propagandists under the Occupation. Zucca himself was not a Nazi, but he felt no hostility towards the Germans either. But his previous employers shut down, Zucca took a job with the German propaganda magazine Signal, which provided him extremely rare and valuable rolls of Agfacolor film. His assignments were narrowly-defined and difficult but Zucca didn’t stage any of his photos — his casual, carefree, and nonchalant Paris existed:Joseph Goebbels wanted Paris to be “animated and gay” to show off the “new Europe”. Coco Chanel entertained the Nazis; Serge Lifar, Edith Piaf and Herbert von Karajan performed. Theatres, opera houses, nightclubs, cinemas and brothels were kept busy. (Orgy-like parties flourished, right next to the Louvre, and included champagne baths in an era where the most of the world was on food rations).

Yet, in Zucca’s photos, the absent traffic, swastikas, Nazi uniforms and yellow Stars of David — the insignia that Jews were forced to wear — subtlety suggest everything was not well in the Occupied Europe. The film itself — uniquely in color in a time when no one but the Nazis could get color film — tells another tale: the photos were sunny and cheerful because every films required bright sunlight. No matter what inferences you draw from these photos, this much is certain: while they may not lie, photographs never tell the whole story.

Zucca was arrested after the 1944 liberation but never prosecuted. He worked until his death in 1973 under an assumed name as a wedding photographer in a small town of Paris.

8 thoughts on “The World Hitler Never Made

  1. “Yet, in Zucca’s photos, the absent traffic, swastikas, Nazi uniforms and yellow Stars of David […] subtlety suggest everything was not well in the Occupied Europe.”
    There are few motor vehicles indeed, but all the rest are pictured.

  2. It’s like this was translated from another language or something. What are you saying, exactly? And is this supposed to be a sentence? “The film itself — uniquely in color in a time when no one but the Nazis could get color film — tells another tale: the photos were sunny and cheerful because every films required bright sunlight.” I don’t see anything to suggest the Nazi-supported color photos are any different from the b/w non-propaganda pictures of the era… ??

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