In the last week of August 1944, Robert Brasillach was hiding in a tiny maid's room on the rue de Tournon. All around him was the joy of liberation and the violence of the final battles, as the Germans left Paris and the people of the city expended their energy in the construction of homemade barricades, blocking the last Nazi tanks that were trying to make their way along the city streets. Brasillach did not share in that popular joy. Like thousands of other men and women who believed that the previous four years of German occupation had been good for France, Brasillach now understood the Liberation as his own undoing. Many of these collaborators were tried in the months that followed. In hundreds of Purge trials, government officials, political assassins, radio broadcasters, fascist party hacks, and journalists all attempted to defend themselves against the charge that they had betrayed France for the German cause. No other defendant spoke as eloquently, appeared as dignified or as proud of his past actions as Robert Brasillach. After it was all over, after Brasillach was executed by the Liberation government, he remained, in the public mind, the symbol of the collaborator for generations to come.
How did Robert Brasillach, a writer, come to play that singular and shameful role?