Sugary excerpt from Hazel Rowley's review of new books of France under Nazi occupation:
In June 1940, when the Germans sheet-bombed their way into France, Beauvoir "experienced the depth of despair". Back in Paris after the famous exodus, she decided that the only way to collect her nerves was to write about the horror she was experiencing:
I purchased this notebook and a bottle of ink with the intention of untangling the history, the story of these last three weeks, and writing everything down for Sartre and Bost, and for the future. It was the first day that I came out of my shell and stopped living like a "crushed bug" and tried to become a person again.
(...)She and her friends got around Paris on stolen bicycles. They were hungry, and occasionally resorted to blackmarket food. As a teacher, Beauvoir was required to sign an affidavit declaring that she was neither a Jew nor a Freemason. Not signing would have meant losing her job, income, ration card and identity papers. She signed.
After school, she worked on her autobiographical novel, She Came to Stay, about the loves and jealousies of four young people. Surprisingly, the novel got past the German censors. To her astonishment, she heard that it was a serious contender for the top literary prize in France. This was Vichy France: Jews were debarred from professional life and Jewish writers were not allowed to be published. Nevertheless, Beauvoir admitted: "If I had been awarded the Prix Goncourt that year I should have accepted it with wholehearted jubilation."
It's unfair to portray Beauvoir as someone who was willfully unaware of what was happening around her and who didn't care while ignoring the context. The bigger point is that not enough French intellectuals had the courage to oppose Nazism and to write about that opposition. To the contrary, many adapted to the realities of occupation longing for a return to a normalcy that would permit them to write tranquilly without having to care about Nazism and its victims. My point is that Simone de Beauvoir was not an exception, but the norm. Her attitude and behavior during occupation shows that even for philosophers who believe in the supremacy of existence in defining being, doing the right thing or rather making the choice to behave honorably and courageously while taking the chance to die is a difficult choice to make.
The irony of the sotry is that years later Sartre, BeauvoIr's partner in crime, pun intended, would write a manifesto arguing for littérature engagée, thus arguing, conveniently after his own shameful neutrality during the war, that writers have the obligation to take a stand on every political and social issues because neutrality is unacceptable.