The story of Coralie starts when she goes to the races in Epson Down and meets Dietrich. Epsom Downs is a Grade 1 racecourse located in Epsom, Surrey. which is used for thoroughbred horse racing. The “Downs” referred to in the name are part of the North Downs. The course is best known for hosting the Derby Stakes which has come to be widely referred to as the Epsom Derby, the United Kingdom’s premier thoroughbred horse race for three-year-old colts and fillies.
When Coralie gets to Paris, the 1937 universal exposition is taking place. The Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne (International Exposition of Art and Technology in Modern Life) was held from 25 May to 25 November 1937 in Paris. When Coralie finally goes with Dietrich, they visit the Nazi pavilion. Two of the other notable pavilions were those of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The organization of the world exhibition had placed the German and the Soviet pavilions directly across from each other. The German pavilion was culminated by a tall tower crowned with the symbols of the Nazi state: an eagle and the swastika. The pavilion was conceived as a monument to “German pride and achievement”. It was to broadcast to the world that a new and powerful Germany had a restored sense of national pride.
Dietrich tells Coralie that during the First World War he fought alongside Baron von RIchthofe, the Red Baron. Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen (2 May 1892 – 21 April 1918), also widely known as the Red Baron, was a German fighter pilot with the Imperial German Army Air Service during World War I. He is considered the ace-of-aces of the war, being officially credited with 80 air combat victories.
During the novel we learn the name of different hats of the period through the work of Coralie as a milliner.
A pillbox hat is a small hat, usually worn by women, with a flat crown, straight, upright sides, and no brim. It is named after the small cylindrical or hexagonal cases that pills used to be sold in.
A picture hat, also sometimes known as a Gainsborough hat, is an elaborate woman’s hat with a wide brim.
We learn that the company Ottilia’s brother owns is aryanised. Aryanization is a term coined during Nazism referring to the forced expulsion of so-called “non-Aryans”, mainly Jews, from business life in Nazi Germany and the territories it controlled. It entailed the transfer of Jewish property into “Aryan” hands in order to “de-Jew the economy”.
Dietrich was part of Göring’s men. Hermann Wilhelm Göring ( 12 January 1893 – 15 October 1946) was a German politician, military leader, and leading member of the Nazi Party. He founded the Gestapo in 1933, and later gave command of it to Heinrich Himmler. Göring was appointed commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe (air force) in 1935, a position he held until the final days of World War II.
There is another neuendorf, which is in Switzerland, where Dietrich sends all the art collection belonging to Ottilia.
When Coralie takes Arkady and Florian to the Rose Noire to perform, a group of Corsicans start a fight and she starts singing “The Lambeth Walk”. “The Lambeth Walk” is a song from the 1937 musical Me and My Girl. The song takes its name from a local street Lambeth Walk once notable for its street market and working class culture in Lambeth, an area of London. The choreography from the musical, in which the song was a show-stopping Cockney-inspired extravaganza, inspired a popular walking dance, done in a jaunty strutting style.
In June 1940 the Nazis entered Paris. On 10 June, the French government fled Paris, first to Tours and then to Bordeaux. Thousands of Parisians followed their example, filling the roads out of the city with automobiles, tourist buses, trucks, wagons, carts, bicycles, and on foot. The slow-moving river of refugees took ten hours to cover thirty kilometres. On June 12, the French government, in Tours, declared Paris to be an open city, that there would be no resistance. At 5:30 in the morning of June 14, the first German advance guard entered the city at Porte de La Villette and took the rue de Flandres toward the centre. They were followed by several German columns, which, following an established plan, moved to the principal intersections. German military vehicles with loudspeakers circulated, instructing Parisians not to leave their buildings. At eight in the morning, delegations of German officers arrived at the Invalides, headquarters of the military governor of Paris, Henri Dentz, and at the Prefecture of Police, where the Prefect, Roger Langeron, was waiting. The Germans politely invited the French officials to put themselves at the disposition of the German occupiers. By the end of the afternoon, the Germans had hung a swastika flag at the Arc de Triomphe and organized military parades with a marching band on the Champs Élysées and Avenue Foch, primarily for the benefit of the German army photographers and newsreel cameramen.
When Coralie first re-meets Dietrich, he takes her to the Hotel Lutetia for questioning. The hotel itself was requisitioned by the Abwehr (counter-espionage), and used to house, feed, and entertain the officers in command of the occupation.
In 1942 the Jews in Paris had to wear a sewn star. On the advice of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler ordered all Jews in occupied Paris to wear an identifying yellow star on the left side of their coats.
Shortly afterwards Jews like Jeanne Thomas and Violaine were rounded and locked in the Vélodrome d’Hiver. The Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup was a Nazi-directed raid and mass arrest of Jews in Paris by the French police, code named Opération Vent printanier (“Operation Spring Breeze”), on 16 and 17 July 1942. The name “Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup” is derived from the nickname of the Vélodrome d’Hiver, a bicycle velodrome and stadium where a majority of the victims were temporarily confined. The roundup, assisted by the French Milice, a Nazi-supported parallel police force, was one of several aimed at eradicating the Jewish population in France, both in the occupied zone and in the free zone.
Coralie learns that Amelie and her disabled daughter have been sent to Pithiviers. Pithiviers internment camp was a Nazi transit camp in Pithiviers, France during the Second World War. Children were separated there from their parents; the adults were processed and deported to concentration camps farther away, usually Auschwitz.
In 1942 Una is detained alongside the rest of the Americans living in Paris. American entry into the war led quickly to a clamp down on U.S. citizens in German-occupied northern France. Many were rounded up and sent to internment camps. Those who were not still were obligated to report regularly to German occupying authorities or French police. Internment applied initially only to men although, in September, 1942, German authorities began to intern American women as well. Una is first sent to Vittel in the Vosges Mountains.
We learn hat the Renault factory was bombed and that is where Coralie got some materials for her hats. After the French capitulation in 1940, Nazi Germany, with the compliance of the Vichy government, took control of Louis Renault‘s factories. In prewar France, The Renault Billancourt factory in Paris employed over 30,000 workers and had produced a line of automobiles. The Renault plant, subsequently, began to build trucks, tanks and aero engines for the Axis war effort. In 1942, the Royal Air Force (RAF) launched a massive low-level bombing raid at the Billancourt plant, the largest number of bombers in a single mission to that point in the war. The Renault factory and surrounding area including a B.F. Goodrich tire plant, was severely damaged, along with heavy civilian casualties. When the Renault factory was rebuilt in 1943, the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) stationed in England, launched another raid by Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, causing further destruction.
Around this time Coralie learns that Dietrich is involved in a conspiracy to kill Hitler, which puts her in danger. So Dietrich gives her two cyanide ampules, one for himself which she sews in his medal and one for her, which she hides in her choker. A suicide pill (also known as the cyanide pill, kill-pill, lethal pill, Death-pill, or L-pill) is a pill, capsule, ampoule, or tablet containing a fatally poisonous substance that a person ingests deliberately in order to quickly commit suicide. Military and espionage organisations have provided their agents in danger of being captured by the enemy with suicide pills and devices which can be used in order to avoid an imminent and far more unpleasant death (such as through torture), or to ensure that he/she cannot be interrogated and forced to disclose secret information. As a result, lethal pills have important psychological value to persons carrying out missions with a high risk of capture and interrogation
Dietrich hides his ampoule under his pour le merité cross. The Pour le Mérite is an order of merit established in 1740 by King Frederick II of Prussia. The Pour le Mérite was awarded as both a military and civil honour and ranked, along with the Order of the Black Eagle, the Order of the Red Eagle and the House Order of Hohenzollern, among the highest orders of merit in the Kingdom of Prussia.
One of the most important events in Dietrich and Coralie’s lives is the failure of the Operation Valkyrie. Operation Valkyrie was a German World War II emergency continuity of government operations plan issued to the Territorial Reserve Army of Germany to execute and implement in case of a general breakdown in civil order of the nation. Failure of the government to maintain control of civil affairs might have been caused by the Allied bombing of German cities, or uprising of the millions of foreign forced laborers working in German factories. Hitler’s death (as opposed to his arrest) was required to free German soldiers from their oath of loyalty to him. After lengthy preparation, the plot was activated in 1944, but failed.
There are some names that Dietrich mentions in this operation. One is Claus von Stauffenberg. Claus Philipp Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg (15 November 1907 – 21 July 1944) was a German army officer and member of the German nobility who was one of the leading members of the failed 20 July plot of 1944 to assassinate Adolf Hitler and remove the Nazi Party from power. For his involvement in the movement, he was executed by firing squad shortly after the failed attempt known as Operation Valkyrie.
Another name is Karl-Heinrich von Stüllpnagel. Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel (2 January 1886 – 30 August 1944) was a German general in the Wehrmacht during World War II who was an army level commander. .He was a member of the July 20 Plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, being in charge of conspirators’ actions in France. After the failure of the plot, he was recalled to Berlin and attempted to commit suicide en route, but failed. Tried on 30 August 1944, he was convicted of treason and executed on the same day.
Una and later Coralie are sent to Ravensbrück. Ravensbrück was a German concentration camp for women, during World War II, located in northern Germany, 90 km north of Berlin at a site near the village of Ravensbrück.