“In troubled times, people reveal themselves”

“In troubled times, people reveal themselves”

You dedicate your latest podcast series to General Leclerc. Why him?

Due to the 80th anniversary of the Landing and the Liberation of Paris and, beyond that, one observation has become clear: in France, 1,467 streets, avenues and squares bear his name, but we do not really know the man who, with the help of the French Forces of the Interior, liberated Paris.

What did you find out about him?

His ability to move his lines. Coming from a Maurrassian right, anti-republican and even anti-Semitic, Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque became aware of the diversity of French society, notably through the republican melting pot of the Second Armored Division that he commanded. Over the course of the conflict and in contact with De Gaulle, rather than sticking to his positions, he moved towards the Republic.

He certainly does not bring about a total revolution – let’s not make him a hero without nuance – but his thinking evolves.

Your podcasts Facing History have over 20 million listeners! What does this number say?

That there is an appetite for the history of the 20th century, in a mixture of curiosity, a desire to understand and to appease concerns related to the present, to a world that is at once French, European and international and increasingly fractured. Questioning the past allows us to remember that we have emerged from serious events. And to return to fundamentals. In our positive characters, Léon Blum or the five women in our choral series The resistance fightersloyalty to their values, including courage, probity, attachment to the Republic and fundamental respect for human dignity, kept them standing in the storm. Perhaps the listeners are also looking for this.

How does one of your projects come about?

Our podcasts attempt to shed light on the present in the light of the past. To do this, we choose characters who allow us to travel through an era, to highlight parts of society, to embody history by making room for flesh and feelings. Their trajectory can fuel reflection, a debate… Attached to civic values, they are either deeply republican or hostile to the Republic. This is why Blum rubs shoulders with Pétain or Céline.

No character scares you?

As I take refuge behind history, which is not a court, let us remember, it is quite simple. Of course, some subjects are more delicate to deal with, such as Jean-Marie Le Pen, the national obsession, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, the journey of no return Or The ghost of Philippe Pétain.

Your portrait gallery includes political and literary figures. Two of your passions?

I am passionate about politics and I keep abreast of its current events. This interest comes from my father. Polling stations, election nights, news, regional press… were important to him. As for writers, Beauvoir and Céline have a very politicized vision of the world.

Facing History combines a clear sharing of knowledge with an eloquent sound design. How did you design this formula?

I wanted to organize a meeting between the academic knowledge of historians and an artistic dimension. The team was organized around these two poles. The first oriented towards the social sciences, with Irène Menahem, who studied modern literature, and Frédéric Martin, history. Both take care of the content with me. The second pole, artistic, around sound, with Violaine Ballet, a graduate of Fine Arts, and Juliette Médevielle, from the École du Louvre. Of course, I carry these series with my voice and my face, but it is a collective work that mobilizes eight very invested people.

Your concern for pedagogy is reflected in phrases such as “Remember that…”

We are an interface between academic knowledge and a curious public that does not always have time to read everything we go through during the nine months of developing each of our series. We absorb these readings, digest them and reproduce them, trying not to exclude anyone. Faced with the complexity of certain events, we introduce milestones, recaps. Thus, the listener can, without fear, lose the thread at times: I will return to the essential points.

In your opinion, are historians’ voices heard enough?

No. However, it brings nuance, complexity, contrast in a world where we want to simplify everything, where the debate is often polarized. Also, we want that among the sound archives, film extracts and readings, more than 50% of each episode make their scientific knowledge heard.

How do you feel when you discover an unpublished archive?

A great joy! This happened to us twice. The most touching one concerns The resistance fighters . One of them was called Mila Racine. This young Jewish woman of Russian origin, born on September 14, 1919, who emigrated to France, set up networks to protect Jewish children and help them cross the Swiss border during the Occupation. She was arrested on October 21, 1943 in Saint-Julien-en-Genevois, in Haute-Savoie. Her family lent us letters and documents. From this corpus, historian Zoé Grumberg has produced a very beautiful story. However, the absence of a recording of Mila’s voice gave us the feeling that she was less alive on air than the other protagonists. And then, a member of her family called us from Israel, telling us that Sacha, Mila’s youngest daughter, had testified in 1997 for the Shoah Foundation. We received the video on a Friday evening.

What did it contain?

Two and a quarter hours of on-camera interview. Sacha talks about Mila’s life, her transfer from Montluc prison in Lyon to her camp in Compiègne, then to Drancy before deportation to Ravensbrück in Germany, the last time she saw her sister and how she learned of her death. After months of working on Mila’s journey, it upset us. We decided to include Sacha’s words in the series.

Listening to you, understanding history comes through women and men…

I believe in the story of feelings, of sensations. When we manage to create moments of emotion in our podcasts, they bring, it seems to me, an extra soul.

Where does your taste for history come from?

I grew up with the story of World War II. Both my grandfathers were prisoners of war. They died early, I was young. I always tried to understand what they had gone through, who they were. History has a virtue that I love: it allows us to take care of the link between the living and the dead.

Your first novel, The Ritz bartenderis also set during the Occupation. What is it about this period that moves you to devote so much time and research to it?

While everything is turned upside down, the human being reveals himself. In his most beautiful and most filthy form. Why do we become resistant or collaborators? Why do we have the courage of our opinions or the cowardice of the situation? Why, when faced with the facts, do some people get involved? No matter how much I constantly probe profiles and backgrounds, like that of Frank Meier, the bartender at the Ritz, he always remains a mystery.

About your hero, you evoke the “modern dream” consisting of detaching oneself from one’s social, religious, family, cultural condition to invent one’s own life. Do you embody this dream?

Indeed. Devoid, in my case, of any quest for revenge.

By getting rid of our roots, don’t we run the risk of losing our own history?

This is the price to pay. Sometimes, this dream that calls us is not a choice, but something that we undergo. It imposes a part of renunciation. It can cause a tearing, a sorrow, an anger… But it is worth it! Fulfilling oneself does not imply tearing oneself away from one’s roots completely, only sailing a little freer. Once all the ties are detached, suddenly, we take a more indulgent look at our origins. Getting there took me time. In Frank Meier’s fictional diary, there is a lot of me. In view of what he saw during the war, he understands that his parents were not the worst. Even if he made his way far from them, he received from them. Just as I have a debt to mine.

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