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Next to the tubes of aspirin and digestive aids, the first gas masks have made their appearance in the windows of Parisian pharmacies.
[Paris Protects its Inhabitants Against Gas Attacks]
Gelatin silver print
5 1/8 x 6 15/16 ins
Courtesy of the Lucien Aigner Estate
The photo story "Paris Protects its Inhabitants Against Gas Attacks" was published in 1934 in VU (Paris), and in 1935 in L'Illustré: Revue Hebdomadaire Suisse (Lausanne), Munchner Illustrierte Presse (Munich), Pestry Tyden (Prague), and Schweizer Illustrierte Zeitung (Zofingen).
"Aerial danger has become the subject of daily conversation. We speak of passive defense at the grocery store, in the metro, and in the salons. A law has been proposed in the Chambers.
No, the war is not imminent. But...let's think of defense anyway.
Fine, it's been decided. I'm going to buy myself a gas mask. But from where?
I read somewhere that they sell them in pharmacies. My pharmacist knows nothing about that yet. In the big stores, maybe? No, they don't have anything yet. You have to go to the factory. Where they make them, they have to be able to sell them. The director calls the head of the laboratory, who directs us to a colleague. At last, we're in a vast room where, on the shelves in an endless line, wait countless masks.
Yes, we sell our masks in the factory, for the time being. But we're going to sign a contract with a central agency to distribute the masks to pharmacists, and, afterward, we'll sell them in all of the pharmacies in France and Navarre.*
Is it difficult to choose a gas mask?
Not really. Currently, among the models approved for civilians by the Minister of War, the ARS mask, provided it is equipped with a Fernez patented cartridge, with partitions, passes all tests, even the classic cigarette test. The fumes don't enter the filtered layers.
The pretty saleswoman places the heads of mannequins in front of us.
First choose the model you like the best: with an ordinary cartridge, or if you prefer a long rubber tube that links the mask to the cartridge contained in a leather bag. Thereby, instead of dragging the cartridge in front of your nose, you wear it like a camera on your side.
Have you made your choice? Well, we can measure you. Be careful; your mask shouldn't be too tight, it's completely resistant to outside elements. Is it too tight? Here's another, a small model like before. Okay? Now, we have to test the cartridge.
We go into another room. The cartridges of the masks are, one after the other, screwed on the opening of the gas chamber, where they've burnt, as a test, fumigants that are not noxious. It's okay. We don't smell anything. We breathe easily. We're a little warm. That will pass. Come, let's go into the gas chamber. We encounter fumigants. Like Sioux people around a mysterious camp fire, we squat. A thick smoke surrounds us. It's nothing, we still didn't smell anything. And after a moment, we leave the gas chamber.
A bit of fitness, please, commands the friendly director as he smiles. You have to get used to the masks. You have to be able to move without hindering your breathing. All of that is just a matter of habit. Okay?
Okay, it's not even that bad. But we're mighty happy to be able to remove them and breathe freely.
And so we're equipped. The gas can come."
* France and Navarre is an expression in French that means "the whole country."
(Full text from the VU magazine article translated by Charlotte Cutter.)