The weather’s turned colder, the holiday season’s fast approaching, and we’re devouring end-of-year book lists and recommendations. After all, when it’s freezing outside, what’s better than tucking into an engaging book? And when it comes to holiday shopping lists, books make the best gifts.
Interested in World War II history? Keen to learn more about Occupied France after the recent release of the Netflix adaptation of All the Light We Cannot See? Allow us to recommend a fascinating book that tells the unknown story of the medical community in Paris during the Nazi Occupation, and the brave doctors who worked for the Resistance.
Meticulously researched, Ellen Hampton’s Doctors at War: The Clandestine Battle Against the Nazi Occupation of France is a page-turning account that’s as much for avid scholars as it is for general readers.
Hampton began researching the doctors’ stories as part of a project on the history of the American Hospital of Paris, which “had earned its reputation as a solid partner in aiding France during WWI, when American volunteers showed up to serve as ambulance drivers, nurses, and doctors long before the United States entered the war.” What she found is that the stories of the medical resistance — the intelligence gathering, the sabotage, the doctors who were arrested and deported to concentration camps — had never before been assembled for the public.
The book is populated with intriguing characters, many navigating an awful moral labyrinth. Dr. Louis Pasteur Vallery-Radot, the grandson of the great scientist, organized a clandestine Resistance Health Service, stockpiling medical supplies and creating false identity papers. Dr Charles Richet was deported to the Buchenwald labor camp after fighting against the strict food rationing imposed by the Vichy government, “warning in 1943 that 10 million French were in a condition of ‘slow famine,’ and 2 million threatened with starvation.”
Doctors of War includes a forward by Patrice Debré, grandson of the resistant doctor Robert Debré, whose wartime journal was an important source for Hampton in her research. Debré’s words connect the work of the resistance physicians with today’s doctors, working on the frontlines of the Covid-19 pandemic — and the inevitable conflicts between medicine and governments.
A former lecturer at Sciences Po in Reims and the Université de Paris II Panthéon, Hampton is the author of another WWII book that sheds light on the little-known women’s army ambulance unit. (Click here for Janet Hulstrand’s review of Women of Valor: The Rochambelles on the World War II Front.)
Purchase Doctors of War at the link below.