Photo Exhibit Shows Happy People Under Nazi Rule A recent exhibition of photographs in France has proved controversial. The exhibit deals with the Nazi occupation of Paris, but its pictures were of apparently happy people going about their lives as normal — not a country under brutal military occupation.

Photo Exhibit Shows Happy People Under Nazi Rule

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It's been 63 years since the end of World War II in Europe, but in France some of the wounds are still raw. A photo exhibition is depicting life under the Nazis. It's drawing a lot of criticism. Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: The exhibit of 270 never before seen color photos show a carefree Paris, even a Paris at leisure, despite the Nazi occupation, they show gay crowds at the Longchamp horse race track. Girls smiling behind sun glasses in the Tuillery Gardens. A couple eating cherries on a park bench beside their baby pram. The exhibition is being held in the historical library of Paris, in the Marais, the heart of the city's Jewish quarter. Yet the photos show next to nothing the plight of Parisian Jews during the war. Library Director Luc Passiene (ph) says that's because they were taken by collaborationist photographer Andre Zucca, who worked for the German magazine "Signal."

LUC PASSIENE: (Through Translator) The real Paris was not a simple place. But it's true the photographer made the choice to capture the Paris that was living. This was also the image expected by the German propaganda machine, and that's why these photographs shocked people.

BEARDSLEY: The outrage led some Paris officials to call for the exhibit to be closed. The Paris mayor refused to bow to censorship but new labels were added giving many of the photos more context, and a warning now greets visitors. Andre Zucca, it says, has opted for a vision of Paris that leaves out the suffering, exclusion and misery of the occupation, including bread lines, the rounding up of Jews and public executions.

BEARDSLEY: France seems to be obsessing about it's wartime history this spring. In April, two television documentaries explored President Francois Mitterrand's connections with the French collaborationist government based in the southern French town of Vichy. Prominent war historian Henri Rousseau (ph) says France has been examining its wartime past since the 1970's.

ROUSSEAU: Vichy has become a permanent national debate in the last 30 years. What's happening today is simply a new episode. It's not at all the idea that suddenly there would be a kind of awakening or on the contrary, people want to cover up what's happened during the war.

BEARDSLEY: But Rousseau says there is now a debate between those who think France should keep apologizing for some of its history, and those who take a more nationalist tone. In 1995, former President Jacques Chirac was the first French leader to say that Vichy had not been an aberration of French history but a part of it and to apologize for the French role in helping the Germans round up and deport Jews to Nazi death camps. Nicolas Sarkozy, the first French president born after the war says he wants France to be proud of its history. He's emphasized the role of the resistance and the French who fought against the Nazis from exile with wartime leader General Charles de Gaulle. Rousseau says Sarkozy maybe going to far.

ROUSSEAU: He said (French spoken), "the true France was not in Vichy." But if the true France was in London, the real France was in France and in Vichy. So you can't simply say well, we have to forget that. This is ridiculous to say this today. Especially for a French president.

BEARDSLEY: Unidentified Woman: (French Spoken)

BEARDSLEY: You have the impression that there were two sides of Paris. People living side by side in the same city, yet living on different planets, says Rapaport. Jews were being hunted down by the Nazis and had to wear the yellow star while others were living comfortably, says Debilei (ph). Even with the new labels the women find the photos shocking. But they say it's important to see them, still they're glad the exhibit's title has been changed from "Parisians Under the Occupation," to "Some Parisians Under the Occupation." For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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