Doctors at War Cover

Doctors at War

The Clandestine Battle against the Nazi Occupation of France

Ellen Hampton

Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 2023, 152 pages

Book Review published on: April 5, 2024

On 22 June 1940, France surrendered to Nazi Germany after the latter successfully defeated the Belgian, British, Dutch, and French armies of Western Europe. Afterward, France endured several dark years of occupation before Allied forces liberated the country in late 1944. During this bleak period, thousands of French citizens joined a large resistance movement to stem the Nazis’ brutal authoritarian actions, and among the resistors were numerous doctors. Author Ellen Hampton presents the heroic and tragic accounts of these medical professionals in Doctors at War: The Clandestine Battle against the Nazi Occupation of France.

Hampton’s book covers events from the defeat of the French military to France’s liberation. While there are probably volumes of information about the topic, the body of the book is relatively concise at 152 pages. The structure is generally chronological, and the chapters are focused on specific events that enable a reader to broadly understand what occurred in France from 1940 to 1945.

The harsh and dangerous environment of Nazi occupation is clearly conveyed across the book. Hampton describes accounts of French citizens constantly dealing with shortages in food and common goods, and rising occurrences of disease like tuberculosis. The doctors and medical staffs who remained in France during the occupation had to contend with shortages in medical supplies, such as insulin, and even soap, to carry on with their mission to provide health care.

For the main topic, Hampton focused on a select group of doctors who embarked on dangerous missions to support the French resistance movement. Their efforts involved collaborating in underground networks to obtain medical supplies through black marketing, aiding downed Allied airmen to evade capture, protecting people from Nazi extermination, and supporting the Maquis—the French resistance fighters. All the while, the doctors were at great risk as Nazi secret police and Vichy collaborators constantly sought to capture and execute people involved in the resistance movement. The stories of several doctors who were captured and interned in the Nazis’ infamous internment and concentration camps are also described in the book.

There are several striking points presented by Hampton. First was the brutality of the Nazis; they implemented severe measures to control the French population and carried out the sadistic task of detaining people they deemed undesirable and shipping them to concentration camps where many would die. Second, and probably even more striking than the previous point, were the collaborators; French citizens who turned against their own people by helping the Nazis in their efforts to destroy the resistance movement and maintain control of France. These points make the third point most striking, which is the bravery of the doctors who risked their lives in supporting the resistance, particularly those who endured unimaginable conditions in concentration camps like the one that operated at Buchenwald.

Doctors at War: The Clandestine Battle against the Nazi Occupation of France is a gripping account about how several doctors protected their people and remained faithful to their country. Their stories are exceptional examples of individuals who faced overwhelming odds to defeat evil that descended upon their sovereignty, knowing that they could be captured, tortured, and executed for their actions. Readers should find Hampton’s book an inspirational narrative about adversity, loyalty, and selflessness.

Book Review written by: Dirk C. Blackdeer, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas