June 1940. The city of Paris was taken by Nazi troops as the Third Reich took over half of the French territory. Strategic bombings and the disregard of Hitler’s order to raze the City of Lights to the ground not only assured the future of western cultural and artistic heritage, but also gave way to a golden age of the Parisian high class few people knew about.
Contrary to the version brought forth by French patriotism, the humiliation of defeat and the hostile climate did not affect the whole population of Paris. While over 2 million French Jews, communists, government officials, as well as other assumed enemies, succumbed to Fascism and were sent to concentration camps, the French bourgeoisie found unsuspecting freedom amidst the occupation.
The installment of the Wehrmacht and thousands of the Schutzstaffel brought forth an unprecedented sexual liberation. This phenomenon expanded the limits of the Paris’s red district of Pigalle to the whole area. The scent of persecution ended when the German militia took care of all its enemies. From then on, fascist decadence and French freedom created a pleasure paradise for the Third Reich. Famous Parisian cabarets, brothels, and cat houses began an era of nonstop party.
The bohemian lifestyle of the Belle Époque was nothing compared to what would happen between 1940 and 1944. Nazi soldiers of all ranks, as well as officers, were wooed by the French bourgeoisie and led down a downward spiral of pleasure. In one of the 145 establishments that operated during the German occupation, 22 of these businesses were entirely devoted to the Wermacht.
At Le Chabanais, One Two Two, La Fleur Blanche, Le Sphinx or la Rue des Moulins, the brothels where Toulouse-Lautrec, Manet, or Degas found their muses a few decades earlier, became just some of the spots frequented by high ranking Nazis. Surrounded by lavish decoration, overflowing bottles of Champagne and the best wines, flowers, and jewelry, the Germans captivated French ladies who, in order to please, would dye their hair black, learn songs in German, or even dress as officers with swastikas.
Orgies were frequent amidst the cocktails and military uniforms. Aside from the high class ladies and call girls, working-class, farmers, and other marginalized women became targets to the desire of the thousands of occupying soldiers. The parties and sexual excesses only intensified as the allied forces got closer.
After the liberation of Paris in August 1944, the second golden age of cabarets came to an end. High society salons and other brothels were closed down. A strong persecution towards women accused of having affairs with Nazis began. These women would be captured, beaten, their heads shaved, only to then be forced to walk naked on the streets with swastikas painted on their skin, while people yelled all kind of insults at them.
The end of the war brought forth a new world order and left hundreds of stories, as this one of Paris, almost forgotten.
Translated by María Suárez