Kaplan, Alice. The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach. Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press, 2001.
Word Count: 708
A Rare Specimen of Nationalist Collaboration in Robert Brasillach
In 1942 in France there existed a certain writer devoid of integrity. Once a member of a politically diverse group of gifted academics, Robert Brasillach drifted into the sphere of a close family friend, Maurice Bardèche, and then through conservative society in France to Nazism. In The Collaborator by Alice Kaplan, two major implements of innocence are offered in addition to an intimate history of the writer’s career and trial. The career of the writer is difficult to reconstruct; even such important facts as the nature of his sexuality have been lost to history.
Apologizing for denouncers of the Resistance and anti semites is serious. By the millennium, the case of Robert Brasillach had attracted attention as a case in which French Justice was too harsh, and great in its reach (234). Enough stress cannot be placed on the seriousness of the actions of Brasillach that resulted in the death of writers. Facts have not changed since the event of the trial.
In the early moments, Brasillach appeared to be one of the greatest minds of France. Even in a POW camp, though his mind had begun to experience the creeping poison of anti semitic indoctrination, he demonstrated a genius intellectual prowess, writing novels in their entirety before other inmates without edits (40). The work of Alain-Fournier inspired him to write in “tight, voluptuous little paragraphs” in his early novels and essays (5). Sitting adorned with all of the splendor and “iron jewels” of a prisoner, he wished during his trial to appear a quiet and humble writer of novels and romantic work, and to shed the subsuming odor of collaborationist denunciation, murder, and pillage that his actions cloaked him in (190).
At that time, with a bleak outlook, the attorney of Brasillach, Jacques Isorni told him that they could only “remain steadfast and hope” (185). Unable to prove innocence of the crimes that resulted or contributed to the deaths of fellow Frenchmen, the legal case rested on the impropriety of the proceedings. With his offensive retaliation to the accusations of Marcel Reboul, the prosecuting attorney, Isorni subtly pointed to the Prosecution’s historical quest to convict black marketeers of the Resistance. This fails exactly because the black market in occupied France was frequently run by Germans themselves, and many of the targets of Reboul’s court had been Germans through the war (102).
Isorni’s own work in the Special Committee defending Jews helped serve a contrast of collaborative administrative roles. It would not be until much later that speculation was offered that this was a trial about crimes against the “humanity of the pen” (218). At the time of the trial, concentration camps had shocked the nation, those defending in such cases as the Brasillach trial as well. In his last days the poetry he writes is despondent and both sexual and racial postures atypical of a racist denunciatory Nazi are presented (189). The guilt of the defendant can be supposed, and there seems to be an understanding of the justice in the verdict at the end of the war in this literary and social critic.
Brasillach himself had few pieces of credible defense. He quit his job at the denunciatory Je Suis Partout, but too late to be considered an act of resistance (152). His work selling classics may have been miscast in the trial, but a trial does not consist of the facts that fall, but those that stand. Brasillach is a man who sat up straight at the docket and defended collaborationist nationalism in the light of the holocaust and Nazi defeat.
Kaplan’s treatment of the life is light by necessity, and with about 100 pages devoted to the trial, she focuses on what is known rather than what is forgotten and lost of his life. As a historian, she exhibits a restraint in tackling a difficult case that has seduced many into sympathy for the Nazi at trial. This is not done by political maneuver or conjecture, but a simple and logical progression through the facts of the case that are known.