Book review: Uncover the hidden history of WWII Paris | Entertainment

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I have been to France several times and have several good friends there. They shared many interesting places and historical aspects of their country. But until this book, I didn’t know that during World War II there were three Nazi-run prison camps inside Paris.

This historical novel centers on Capucine Benoit, who, with her father, runs a small shop creating luxury fans of rare feathers for artists in the City of Lights. When she and her father, an outspoken communist, are arrested, he is sent to Auschwitz. But she convinces the Nazis that she has interior design skills and ends up at the Levitan department store.

Once owned by a Jewish man, the store is now a showcase for looted furniture and home furnishings. Nearly 800 Jewish prisoners live in a windowless top-floor attic. The men unload crates of household items every day. The women clean and polish the pieces for display. Nazi officials, often accompanied by their mistresses, roam the exhibition hall and demand goods for their Paris apartments or to be sent back to Germany. Capucine is in charge of helping choose furniture, rugs, curtains and artwork for some of these apartments. In doing so, she is allowed out of the Levitan on occasion, but always under close supervision.

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While Capucine works, she often thinks of her daughter Mathilde, who lives with her grandparents. As a young woman, Mathilde begins to question these relatives and their links with the Nazi regime. One of Mathilde’s best friends is now in a relationship with a handsome Nazi officer. Another friend risks her life on a daily basis to help the Resistance, and involves Mathilde in this dangerous work.

Both Capucine and Mathilde find ways to perform small acts of courage, trying to help others and take small steps against a determined enemy. Neither knows if the other is alive, or if he himself will survive the hardships of war: lack of food, brutal punishments and the constant threat of deportation. Love, memories and the will to live accompany them until the end of the war.

In reality, there were three of these department store prisons in Paris. The other two were Austerlitz and Bassano. Blackwell used a mother-daughter story to share with readers this mostly unknown chapter of history. It is a powerful and captivating tale.

Penny A Parrish is a freelance writer in Stafford County.

Penny A Parrish is a freelance writer in Stafford County.


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