SISTER CITY ASSOCIATION
SISTER CITY ASSOCIATION
AT A GLANCE
Welcome to the official website of the Boston/Strasbourg Sister City Association (BSSCA). We have fostered the relationship between the sister cities of Boston, Massachusetts, USA, and Strasbourg, Alsace, France for 60 years! Boston and Strasbourg began their association in 1960 thanks to the inspiration of Strasbourg native, Charles Munch, then conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The BSSCA has entertained Strasbourg mayors, sponsored numerous student exchanges, sent Bostonians to the European Parliament, scientists to French laboratories, business students on internships, and enabled bakers, firemen, community gardeners, artists, and musicians to visit their sister city.
We welcome all people who are interested in fostering this relationship to become members of our organization. Please click here to complete our New Member Application and start enjoying the benefits of membership.
BSSCA 60th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
As part of its 60th anniversary, the BSSCA sponsored an international art project called Art on Science: 26 études. For more information, see the article below and a link to the auction of some of the pieces. The exhibit will be on display in Strasbourg at Librarie Kléber through October 30, 2020. The above article ran in last week's DNA, the local Strasbourg newspaper.
LA BELLE STRASBOURGEOISE
Boston/Strasbourg's own Marie Maurer took the top prize in Club Innovation et Culture France's recent national competition reinterpreting works from French art collections. A retired teacher living in Strasbourg and long-term member of the BSSCA, Marie reinterpreted La Belle Strasbourgeoise, an 18th century iconic painting by Nicolas de Largillière. For more details, see the full article.
Past & Upcoming Events
When France Fell:
The Vichy Crisis and the Fate of the
You are invited to read the WSJ review below by Ronald Rosbottom and note DECEMBER 8 your calendar. On that date New England Historic Genealogical Society and Boston/Strasbourg will have the privilege of an in-person talk by Dr. Neiberg.
Those who have had the excellent opportunity to hear Dr. Neiberg’s talks on France and WWI will now be able to add original insights on WWII and the complicated story of Vichy to their study of French history.
In 1940, American isolationists wanted Marshal Pétain’s government to be treated as neutral. The British thought otherwise. Almost 50 years ago, Robert Paxton published his influential “Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944.” The book awakened readers to the shock of how close France came to becoming an authoritarian nation. It also introduced many people to the strange regime—officially called the État français but still referred to today as Vichy France—that continues to resonate in the collective memory of that important nation. (Vichy was the town in central France from which the new regime governed.)
Centered meticulously on the nature, practices and decline of the Vichy quasistate, Mr. Paxton’s study made little mention of the Vichy government’s extensive diplomatic relations with the U.S. Now, Michael Neiberg’s deeply researched and forcefully written “When France Fell: The Vichy Crisis and the Fate of the Anglo-American Alliance” adds to the narrative by shedding light on an embarrassing period in American diplomacy. Relying on archival records, including files opened after Mr. Paxton’s book came out in 1972, Mr. Neiberg offers a mesmerizing account of how the U.S., as it anticipated another European war, stumbled through attempts to neutralize Vichy France. Mr. Neiberg unabashedly claims that “this story does not always reflect well on the behavior of the United States government; it therefore tends to run counter to the usual heroic and triumphal stories about the war that normally dominate our memories.”
The unanticipated and devastating fall of France in May and June 1940 stunned America. France had been considered the stalwart nation that would keep a resurgent Germany boxed in between Britain and the U.S.S.R. France’s very large army, its sophisticated air force and its renowned Maginot Line—a network of massive underground fortifications that spanned from Switzerland almost to the Belgian border—were supposed to be barriers to Nazi Germany and help put the world at ease. When France was defeated in a mere six weeks, only the narrow English Channel was left separating Britain from the German army, and America suddenly felt dangerously vulnerable. “The entire architecture of American grand strategy collapsed,” Mr. Neiberg writes. Diplomatic panic ensued: What if Britain fell as quickly as France? How much should the U.S. help its key ally in the struggle against an army that had almost destroyed the British Expeditionary Force that summer at Dunkirk? The U.S.—with minimal armed forces and materiel, having cut defense budgets since the end of World War I—had to come quickly to terms with a bleak European outlook.
In the armistice agreement that ended the French-German conflict, the French acquiesced to a division of their nation, roughly west to east along the Loire Valley at the center of the country. The northern portion of France, as well as its entire Atlantic and North Sea coastlines, was to be controlled by the Germans, while the south was to remain “unoccupied” and administered by the new Vichy regime. As a further insult, the long-contested provinces of Alsace-Lorraine were absorbed into Germany. The Germans knew that they did not have the forces to occupy all of France, especially if they planned to invade Britain and the U.S.S.R. Yet they needed French labor, materials, agriculture, railroads and equipment to continue their objective of controlling most of Europe.
The June armistice allowed France to save face. The new state would be led by Marshal Philippe Pétain, a World War I hero who, though feeble of mind and body at age 84, was still revered by a large majority of the French. For most of Vichy’s existence, Pétain’s prime minister would be the canny politician Pierre Laval. The Germans essentially honored this agreement until November 1942, when the Allied invasion of North Africa caused them to move southward quickly to protect their Mediterranean borders.
One of the more salient arguments made by Mr. Neiberg addresses the tension between Britain and the U.S. during this period. The two countries were close allies, but each was suspicious of the other’s plans to confront Germany and its French puppet state. Mr. Neiberg deftly explains the confused politics and diplomacy that bedeviled the war against the Nazis. The Americans, at least some of whom held out hope of staying out of the war, worked tirelessly to convince the Vichy regime to remain neutral, ignoring the regime’s barely clandestine affiliation with Germany. Vichy was never neutral; the French did not trust, even despised, the British; and the U.S. found itself caught between the two, endeavoring to resolve a tension that had no solution.
Mr. Neiberg stresses America’s resistance to the appointment of Gen. Charles de Gaulle as head of the “Free French,” headquartered in London. De Gaulle was considered—by the British as well as the Americans—an arrogant, irascible character, yet he was a wily and fervent French patriot. The Vichy government was delighted that the U.S. did not trust de Gaulle, thus providing more fodder for its attempts to keep the Americans at bay. It wouldn’t be until 1944 that de Gaulle “would move [securely] into the Allied house, however difficult a lodger he may remain.” America’s ambassador to the État Français, Adm. William Leahy, remained in France until the late summer of 1942. President Roosevelt would not invite de Gaulle to Washington until July 1944, after D-Day—an invasion that was kept secret from the French leader until the amphibious boats pulled up onto Norman beaches.
Mr. Neiberg argues unequivocally that the U.S. was not only devastated by the sudden defeat of France, but also driven by a paranoia concerning its other European relations, and thus desperately solicitous of the new Vichy regime. “As had happened in the early months of 1917, the shocking events of summer 1940 revealed that neutrality and isolation as strategies had made [the United States] less safe, not more.” The American public, as well as its leaders, including a baffled President Roosevelt, were terrified that the next to fall would be Britain, the last bastion of European protection. Roosevelt had decided to run for an unprecedented third term in 1940, and he did not want to be seen as a war president in a heavily isolationist nation. The state of American diplomacy was parlous, as the Nazis established a firm and apparently permanent foothold in most of Western Europe.
Mr. Neiberg, a professor at the United States Army War College, has published more than a dozen works on the relationships among the Allies during both world wars, illuminating how these nations acted differently—and often contradictorily—with the Axis Powers. He is a vigorous writer, armored with carefully focused research, yet he has the clarity and assurance of a journalist. His work is beneficial to specialists and eminently accessible to laypersons.
A few years ago, I was speaking at a bookstore about the fall of France and the establishment of the Vichy state. I concentrated primarily on the occupation of Paris, but referred here and there to the Vichy government. At the end of the presentation, after many questions had been asked about the occupation, and as the audience filed out, a middle-aged man came to my lectern. Almost embarrassed, he said, “You mention Vichy often. What was Vichy?” Michael Neiberg has given us a fine history of how that question befuddled American diplomacy for four years.
Mr. Rosbottom is the author of “When Paris Went Dark: The German Occupation of the City of Light, 1940-1944” and “Sudden Courage: Youth in France Confront the Germans, 1940-1945.”