24 October 2012

Who Was 'The Frenchman Who Cried'

Sometimes there are little things in history that pique my interest, and I look into them as time permits. Occasionally I like to put some of that information here in case anyone else might be interested in it.

Here is an iconic photograph that I have seen in any number of documentaries, generally identified as a Frenchman who weeps for his city as the Nazis march into Paris.

I have always been curious about this photo. I wondered where it came from and who this person was.  It has a certain tragic dignity about it.

And not to be too trivial, but I was struck by his suit, shirt and tie which are almost exactly the types of things I would wear to work in my 'corporate days.'  I wonder if he had cuffed trousers and suspenders.  Well I doubt I shall ever find out. He looks like a businessman certainly.

Here is what I have been able to discover.

It first appeared in print in Life Magazine in their 3 March 1941 issue on page 29.   This is the photo which I show above and not the more tightly cropped versions that are often used in documentaries.

The caption on the photo.  identifies it as "a Frenchman sheds tears of patriotic grief as the flags of his country's last regiments are exiled to Africa."

So obviously this is not a phot taken in 1940 in Paris, as the French regimental flags had been moved into the south of France in order to preserve them from the surrender.  The flags themselves were not taken to Africa until 1941.

Here is a more commonly available photograph of the same scene.  It is a moment frozen in time.

Marseille sous l'occupation by Lucien Gaillard says that this is a photo of Monsieur Jerôme Barzetti, taken in Marseilles on February 20, 1941.  This is quite some time after the Nazi entrance into Paris in June, 1940.

I have not been able to find out anything else about him and do not have a hard copy of this book.  He does look old enough to have fought in The Great War.  Is he even French, or an Italian émigré who had fled the tyranny of Mussolini?  Perhaps he was part of the Barzetti industrial family from Italy, and related to Federico who later founded Barzetti Pastries?  I cannot say.

I wonder how he fared, and if he was able to see the restoration of France and the end of the war.

The still photo itself is actually taken from newsreel footage that was much later used in a US war film directed by Frank Capra as Chapter III - Divide and Conquer of his series, "Why We Fight." This film was produced in 1943 and begins after the conquest of Poland, and includes the fall of Benelux and France.

Here is the relevant clip from this US War Department film.  Monsieur Barzetti makes his appearance at 54:50 in the film.  It is a war film after all so you might excuse the somewhat florid rhetoric at the end.

Some have speculated that Capra may have staged portions of his series and I would certainly allow for that.  But since the photo of our 'Frenchman who cried' appeared in 1941 in Life magazine,  it is almost certain that had been taken from the newsreel footage of the day, which was sold to various outlets and used to create informative 'short subjects' to be shown at movie theatres.

Capra must have used that same footage in the creation of his own war film two years later.

So now we know something about 'The Frenchman Who Cried."

Why should we even care about him, his risings and fallings, his perplexity and concerns, his fears and sorrows?

Because when the ocean's dry up, and the earth grows cold and dies, as the stars flicker and grow dim in the sky, and creation turns back into dust, Monsieur Barzetti's soul will continue on, vibrantly alive, and his tears will have long been wiped away, by kindly hands.