In many ways it is a small miracle that this book exists at all. This is partly because it is an eyewitness memoir, written by a publicly anti-Nazi Jew, of fleeing Paris as the Nazis approached in the late spring of 1940. In early May 1940, the German divisions advanced through Holland and Belgium, clearing everything that stood in their path, moving inexorably towards Paris. By early June, many Parisians had decided that flight was the only realistic option and the roads out of the city began filling up with cars, wagons, buses and handcarts. The panic was called la Grande Peur (‘the great fear’). Over a quarter of the population was on the move; people were regularly shot at by German aircraft for sport and many returned to the city, terrified about what might happen next. Thousands of children were separated from their families in the confusion, many of them never seeing their parents again.
The thirty-three days of the title refers to the time it took for Léon Werth to get out of Paris, beyond the Loire and finally to some kind of safety in the Jura mountains, where he spent the rest of the war with his family. This was a journey that