A conversation about a new book that offers a glimpse into the history of World War II at the ground level. The book and the program focus on the story of an audacious anti-Nazi resistance campaign conducted by a pair of unlikely women—Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe—whose love story and artistic sensibility made their daring actions possible even while living under Nazi occupation.
Paper Bullets is the first book to tell the history of an audacious anti-Nazi campaign undertaken by an unlikely pair: two French women, Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe, who drew on their skills as Parisian avant-garde artists to write and distribute “paper bullets”—wicked insults against Hitler, calls to rebel, and subversive fictional dialogues designed to demoralize Nazi troops occupying their adopted home on the British Channel Island of Jersey. Devising their own PSYOPS campaign, they slipped their notes into soldier’s pockets or tucked them inside newsstand magazines.
Hunted by the secret field police, Lucy and Suzanne were finally betrayed in 1944, when the Germans imprisoned them and tried them in a court martial, sentencing them to death for their actions. They ultimately survived, but even in jail they continued to fight the Nazis by reaching out to other prisoners and spreading a message of hope.
Better remembered today by their pseudonyms, Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, the couple’s actions were even more courageous because of who they were: lesbian partners known for cross-dressing and creating the kind of gender-bending work that the Nazis would come to call “degenerate art.” In addition, Lucy was half Jewish, and they had communist affiliations in Paris, where they attended political rallies with Surrealists and socialized with artists like Gertrude Stein.
Paper Bullets is a compelling World War II story that has not been told before, about the galvanizing power of art, and of resistance.
Jeffrey H. Jackson, PhD is Professor of History at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. An expert on European history and culture, he is the author of Paris Under Water: How the City of Light Survived the Great Flood of 1910 and Making Jazz French: Music and Modern Life in Interwar Paris. He has appeared in documentary films and helped develop “Harlem in Montmartre: A Paris Jazz Story” for PBS’s Great Performances.