Vichy France had legal authority in both the northern zone of France, which was occupied by the German Wehrmacht, and the unoccupied southern "free zone", where the regime's administrative center of Vichy was located. The southern zone remained under Vichy control until the Allies landed in French North Africa in November 1942. Recent research by the historian Simon Kitson has shown that, in spite of extensive state collaboration, Vichy led an ultimately unsuccessful campaign to preserve the sovereignty of this southern zone by arresting German spies.
Pétain and the Vichy regime willfully collaborated with the German occupation to a high degree. The French police and the state Milice (militia) organized raids to capture Jews and others considered "undesirables" by the Germans in both the northern and southern zones.
The legitimacy of Vichy France and Pétain's leadership was challenged by General Charles de Gaulle, who claimed to instead represent the legitimacy and continuity of the French government. Following the Allies' invasion of France in Operation Overlord, de Gaulle proclaimed the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF) in June, 1944. After the Liberation of Paris in August, the GPRF installed itself in Paris on August 31. The GPRF was recognized as the legitimate government of France by the Allies on October 23 1944.
With the liberation of France in August and September, Vichy's officials and supporters moved to Sigmaringen in Germany and there established a government in exile, headed by Pétain, until April 1945. Many of the Vichy regime's prominent figures were subsequently tried by the GPRF and a number were executed. Pétain himself was sentenced to death for treason, but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
In 1940 Marshal Philippe Pétain was known mainly as a World War I hero, the victor of Verdun. As last President of the Council of the Third Republic, Pétain suppressed the parliament and immediately turned the regime into a non-democratic government collaborating with Germany.
Vichy France was established after France surrendered to Germany on June 22 1940 and took its name from the government's administrative center in Vichy, central France. Paris remained the official capital, to which Pétain always intended to return the government when this became possible. While officially neutral in the war, Vichy actively collaborated with the Nazis, including, to some degree, with their racial policies.
It is a common misconception that the Vichy regime administered only the unoccupied zone of southern France (named "free zone" (zone libre) by Vichy), while the Germans directly administered the occupied zone. In fact, the civil jurisdiction of the Vichy government extended over the whole of metropolitan France, except for Alsace-Lorraine, a disputed territory which was placed under German administration (though not formally annexed). French civil servants in Bordeaux, such as Maurice Papon, or Nantes were under the authority of French ministers in Vichy. René Bousquet, head of French police nominated by Vichy, exercised his power directly in Paris through his second, Jean Leguay, who coordinated raids with the Nazis.
On November 11 1942, the Germans launched Operation Case Anton, occupying southern France, following the landing of the Allies in North Africa (Operation Torch). Although Vichy's "Armistice Army" was disbanded, thus diminishing Vichy's independence, the abolition of the line of demarcation made civil administration easier. Vichy continued to exercise jurisdiction over almost all of France until the collapse of the regime following the Allied invasion in June 1944.
Until August 1945 the Vichy regime was acknowledged as the official government of France by the United States and other countries, including Canada, which was at the same time at war with Germany. Even the United Kingdom maintained unofficial contacts with Vichy for some time, until it became apparent that the Vichy Prime Minister Pierre Laval intended full collaboration with the Germans.
The Vichy government's claim to be the de jure French government was challenged by the Free French Forces of Charles de Gaulle, based first in London and later in Algiers, and French governments ever since have held that the Vichy regime was an illegal government run by traitors. Historians in particular have debated the circumstances of the vote of full powers to Pétain on July 10 1940. The main arguments advanced against Vichy's right to incarnate the continuity of the French state were based on the pressure exerted by Laval on deputies in Vichy, and on the absence of 27 deputies and senators who had fled on the ship Massilia and could thus not take part in the vote.
Within Vichy France there was a low-intensity civil war between the French Resistance, drawn from the Communist and Republican elements of society, against the reactionary elements who desired a fascist or similar regime as in Francisco Franco's Spain. This civil war can be seen as the continuation of a division existing within French society since the 1789 French Revolution, illustrated by events such as the Bourbon Restoration and the White Terror enforced by the Chambre introuvable; the 1825 vote of the Anti-Sacrilege Act by the ultra-royalist comte de Villèle; the 1871 Paris Commune and the violent repression which followed, including the creation of the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur in expiation of the "Commune's sins"; the May 16, 1877 crisis; the Dreyfus Affair; the conflict during the application of the 1905 law on the separation of the Church and the State; the 6 February 1934 riots, etc. A part of French society had never accepted the Republican regime issuing from the Revolution, and wished to re-establish the Ancien Régime. This was made apparent by the glee of the leader of the monarchist Action française, Charles Maurras, who qualified the suppression of the French Republic as a "divine surprise".
While this debate continued, the government was forced to relocate several times, finally reaching Bordeaux, in order to avoid capture by advancing German forces. Communications were poor and thousands of civilian refugees clogged the roads. In these chaotic conditions, advocates of an armistice gained the upper hand. The Cabinet agreed on a proposal to seek armistice terms from Germany, with the understanding that, should Germany set forth dishonorable or excessively harsh terms, France would retain the option to continue to fight. General Huntziger, who headed the French armistice delegation, was told to break off negotiations if the Germans demanded the occupation of all metropolitan France, the French fleet or any of the French overseas territories. They did not.
Prime Minister Paul Reynaud resigned and, on his recommendation, President Albert Lebrun appointed the 84-year-old Pétain to replace him on June 16. The Armistice with France (Second Compiègne) agreement was signed on June 22. A separate agreement was reached with Italy, which had entered the war against France on June 10, well after the outcome of the battle was beyond doubt.
Hitler was motivated by a number of reasons to agree to the armistice. He feared that France would continue to fight from North Africa, and he wanted to ensure that the French navy was taken out of the war. In addition, leaving a French government in place would relieve Germany of the considerable burden of administering French territory. Finally, he hoped to direct his attentions toward Britain, where he anticipated another quick victory.
In southern France the French were allowed an army. Article IV of the Armistice allowed for a small French army to be kept in the unoccupied zone, the Army of the Armistice (Armée de l'Armistice). The article also allowed for the military provision of the French colonial empire overseas. The function of these forces was to keep internal order and to defend French territories from Allied assault. The French forces were to remain under the overall direction of the German armed forces.
The exact strength of the Vichy French Metropolitan Army was set at 3,768 officers, 15,072 non-commissioned officers, and 75,360 men. All Vichy French forces had to be volunteers. In addition to the army, the size of the paramilitary Gendarmerie was fixed at 60,000 men plus an anti-aircraft force of 10,000 men. Despite the influx of trained soldiers from the colonial forces (reduced in size in accordance with the Armistice), there was a shortage of volunteers. As a result, 30,000 men of the 'class of 1939' were retained to fill the quota. At the beginning of 1942, these conscripts were released, but there still was an insufficient number of men. This shortage was to remain until the dissolution, despite Vichy appeals to the Germans for a regular form of conscription.
The Vichy French Metropolitan Army was deprived of tanks and other armored vehicles. The army was also desperately short of motorized transport. This was a special problem in the cavalry units which were supposed to be motorized. Surviving recruiting posters for the Army of the Armistice stress the opportunities for athletic activities, including horsemanship. This partially reflects the general emphasis placed by the Vichy regime on rural virtues and outdoor activities, and partially the realities of service in a small and technologically backward military force. Traditional features characteristic of the pre-1940 French Army, such as kepis and heavy capotes (buttoned back greatcoats), were replaced by berets and simplified uniforms.
The Army of the Armistice was not used against Resistance groups active in the south of France, leaving this role to the Vichy Milice (militia). Members of the regular army were therefore able to defect in significant numbers to the Maquis, following the German occupation of southern France and the disbandment of the Army of the Armistice in November 1942. By contrast the Milice continued to collaborate and were subject to reprisals after the Liberation.
The Vichy French colonial forces were reduced in accordance with the Armistice. Still, in the Mediterranean area alone, the Vichy French had nearly 150,000 men in arms. There were approximately 55,000 men in the Protectorate of Morocco, approximately 50,000 men in French Algeria, and almost 40,000 men in the "Army of the Levant" (Armée du Levant) in the Mandate of Lebanon and the Mandate of Syria. The colonial forces were allowed some armored vehicles. However, these tended to be "vintage" tanks as old as the World War I-era Renault FT-17.
The legality of this vote has been contested by the majority of French historians and by all French governments after the war. Three main arguments are put forward:
Partisans of Vichy claim, on the contrary, that the revision was voted by the two Chambers (the Senate and the National Assembly), in conformity with the law. Deputies and senators who voted to grant full powers to Pétain on this day were condemned on an individual basis after the Liberation.
The argument concerning the abrogation of procedure is grounded on the absence and on the non-voluntary abstentions of 176 representatives of the people (the 27 on board the Massilia, and additional 92 deputies and 57 senators some of whom were in Vichy, but not present for the vote). In total, the Parliament was composed of 846 members, 544 deputies and 302 senators. One senator and 26 deputies were on the Massilia. One senator did not vote. 8 senators and 12 MPs voluntarily abstained. 57 senators and 92 MPs abstained involuntarily. Thus, out of a total of 544 deputies, only 414 voted; and out of a total of 302 senators, only 235 voted. 357 deputies voted in favor of Pétain, and 57 refused to grant him full powers. 212 senators also voted for Pétain, while 23 voted against. The dubious conditions of this vote thus explain why a majority of French historians refuse to consider Vichy as a complete continuity of the French state, notwithstanding the fact that although Pétain could claim for himself legality (and a dubious legality), de Gaulle, as the Gaullist myth would later make clear, incarnated the real legitimacy. The debate is thus not only of legitimacy versus legality (indeed, by this fact alone, Charles de Gaulle's claim to hold legitimacy ignores the interior Resistance). But it rather concerns the illegal circumstances of this vote.
The text voted by the Congress stated:
"The National Assembly gives full powers to the government of the Republic, under the authority and the signature of Marshall Pétain, to the effect of promulgating by one or several acts a new Constitution of the French state. This Constitution must guarantee the rights of labour, of family and of the fatherland. It will be ratified by the nation and applied by the Assemblies which it has created.
The Constitutional Acts of 11 and July 12 1940 granted to Pétain all powers (legislative, judicial, administrative, executive — and diplomatic) and the title of "head of the French state" (chef de l'Etat français), as well as the right to nominate his successor. On 12 July, Pétain designated Pierre Laval as Vice-President and his designated successor, and appointed Fernand de Brinon as representative to the German High Command in Paris. Pétain remained the head of the Vichy regime until August 20 1944. The French national motto, Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood), was replaced by Travail, Famille, Patrie (Work, Family, Fatherland); it was noted at the time that TFP also stood for the criminal punishment of "travaux forcés en perpetuité" ("forced labour in perpetuity") . Paul Reynaud, who had not officially resigned as Prime Minister, was arrested in September 1940 by the Vichy government and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1941 before the opening of the Riom Trial.
Democratic liberties and guarantees were immediately suspended (administrative internments, censorship, re-establishment of the felony of opinion (délit d'opinion, i.e. repeal of freedom of thought and of expression), etc.) Elective bodies were replaced by nominated ones. The "municipalities" and the departmental commissions were thus placed under the authority of the administration and of the prefects (nominated by and dependent on the executive power). In January 1941 the National Council (Conseil National), composed of notables from the countryside and the provinces, was instituted under the same conditions. Both the United States and the Soviet Union recognized the new regime, despite Charles de Gaulle's attempts, in London, to oppose this decision.
Historians distinguish between a state collaboration followed by the regime of Vichy, and "collaborationists", which usually refer to the French citizens eager to collaborate with Nazi Germany and who pushed towards a radicalization of the regime. "Pétainistes", on the other hand, refers to French people who supported Marshal Pétain, without being too keen on collaboration with Nazi Germany (although accepting Pétain's state collaboration). State collaboration was illustrated by the Montoire (Loir-et-Cher) interview in Hitler's train on October 24 1940, during which Pétain and Hitler shook hands and agreed on this cooperation between the two states. Organized by Laval, a strong proponent of collaboration, the interview and the handshake were photographed, and Nazi propaganda made strong use of this photo to gain support from the civilian population. On October 30 1940 Pétain officialized state collaboration, declaring on the radio: "I enter today on the path of collaboration.... On June 22 1942 Laval declared that he was "hoping for the victory of Germany."
The composition of the Vichy cabinet, and its policies, were mixed. Many Vichy officials such as Pétain, though not all, were reactionaries who considered that France's unfortunate fate was a kind of divine punishment for its republican character and the actions of its left-wing governments of the 1930s, in particular of the Popular Front (1936-1938) led by Léon Blum. Charles Maurras, a monarchist writer and founder of the Action française movement, judged that Pétain's accession to power was, in that respect, a "divine surprise"; and many people of the same political persuasion judged that it was preferable to have an authoritarian, Catholic government similar to that of Francisco Franco's Spain, albeit under Germany's yoke, than have a republican government. Others, like Joseph Darnand, were strong anti-Semites and overt Nazi sympathizers. A number of these joined the Légion des Volontaires Français contre le Bolchévisme (Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism) units fighting on the Eastern Front, which later became the SS Charlemagne Division.
On the other hand, technocrats such as Jean Bichelonne or engineers from the Groupe X-Crise used their position to push various state, administrative and economic reforms. These reforms would be one of the strongest element arguing in favor of the thesis of a continuity of the French administration before and after the war. Many of these civil servants remained in function after the war, or were quickly reestablished in their functions after a short-term moment during which they were set aside, while much of these reforms were retained and reinforced after the war. In the same way as the necessities of war economy during the first World War I had pushed toward state measures which organized the economy of France against the prevailing classical liberal theories, an organization which was retained after the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, reforms adopted during World War II were kept and extended. Along with the March 15 1944 Charter of the Conseil National de la Résistance (CNR), which gathered all Resistant movements under one unified political body, these reforms were a main instrument in the establishment of post-war dirigisme, a kind of semi-planned economy which made of France the modern social democracy it is now. Examples of such continuities include the creation of the "French Foundation for the Study of Human Problems" by Alexis Carrel, a renowned physician who also supported eugenics. This institution would be renamed after the war National Institute of Demographic Studies (INED) and exists to this day. Another example is the creation of the national statistics institute, renamed INSEE after the Liberation. The reorganization and unification of the French police by René Bousquet, who created the Groupe mobile de réserve (GMR, Reserve Mobile Groups), a police force charged with striking fear amid the civilian population is another example of a policy of reform and restructuring deployed to poor purpose under the Vichy administration. Starting in the summer of 1943, the GMR would be the most effective force used against the Resistants in the maquis. After the war they would be renamed in 1944 Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (CRS, Republican Security Companies) which are the current anti-riot police used by the Republic.
As soon as July 1940, Vichy set up a special Commission charged of reviewing the naturalizations granted since the 1927 reform of the nationality law. Between June 1940 and August 1944, 15,000 persons, mostly Jews, were denaturalized . This bureaucratic decision was instrumental in their subsequent internment.
The internment camps already opened by the Third Republic were immediately put to a new use, before ultimately inserting themselves as necessary transit camps for the implementation of the Holocaust and the extermination of all "undesirables", including the Roma people who refer to the extermination of Gypsies as Porrajmos. An October 1940 decree authorized internments of Jews on the sole basis of a prefectoral order, and the first raids took place in May 1941.
The Third Republic had opened various concentration camps, first used during World War I to intern enemy aliens. Camp Gurs, for example, had been set up in the south-western part of France after the fall of Catalonia, in the first months of 1939, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), to receive the Republican refugees, including Brigadists from all nations, fleeing the Francists. But as soon as Edouard Daladier's government (April 1938-March 1940) took the decision to outlaw the French Communist Party (PCF) following the German-Soviet non-aggression pact (aka Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) signed in August 1939, these camps were also used to intern French communists. Drancy internment camp was founded in 1939 for this use. It later became the central transit camp through which all deportees passed before heading to the concentration and extermination camps in the Third Reich and in Eastern Europe. Furthermore, when the Phoney War started with France's declaration of war against Germany on September 3 1939 these camps were used to intern enemy aliens. These included German Jews and anti-fascists, but any German citizen (or Italian, Austrian, Polish, etc.) would also be interned in Camp Gurs and others. Common-law prisoners were also evacuated from the prisons in the north of France, before the advance of the Wehrmacht, and interned in these camps. Camp Gurs then received its first contingent of political prisoners in June 1940, which included left-wing activists (communists, anarchists, trade-unionists, anti-militarists, etc.), pacifists, but also French fascists who supported the victory of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Finally, after Pétain's proclamation of the "French state" and the beginning of the implementation of the "Révolution nationale" ("National Revolution"), the French administration opened up many concentration camps, to the point that historian Maurice Rajsfus wrote: "The quick opening of new camps created employment, and the Gendarmerie never ceased to hire during this period.
Besides the Spaniards and political prisoners already detained there, Camp Gurs was then used to intern foreign Jews, stateless persons, Gypsies, homosexuals, people involved in prostitution, indigents... Vichy opened its first internment camp in the northern zone on October 5 1940, in Aincours, in the Seine-et-Oise department, which it quickly filled with PCF members. The Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans, in the Doubs, was used to intern Gypsies. The Camp des Milles, near Aix-en-Provence, was the largest internment camp in the Southeast of France. 2,500 Jews were deported from there following the August 1942 raids Spaniards were then deported, and 5,000 of them died in Mauthausen concentration camp. On the other hand, the French colonial soldiers were interned by the Germans on French territory, instead of being deported.
Besides the concentration camps opened by Vichy, the Germans also opened on French territory some Ilags (Internierungslager) to detain enemy aliens, and in Alsace, which had been annexed by the Reich, they opened the camp of Natzweiler, which is the only concentration camp created by Nazis on French territory (annexed by the Third Reich). Natzweiler included a gas chamber which was used to exterminate at least 86 detainees (mostly Jewish) with the aim obtaining a collection of undamaged skeletons (as this mode of execution did no damage to the skeletons themselves) for the use of Nazi professor August Hirt.
Furthermore Vichy enacted a number of racist laws. In August 1940 laws against antisemitism in the media (the Marchandeau Act) were repealed, while the decree n°1775 of September 5 1943 denaturalized a number of French citizens, in particular Jews from Eastern Europe. Foreigners were rounded-up in "Foreign Workers Groups" (groupements de travailleurs étrangers) and, as the colonial troops, were used by the Germans as manpower. The Statute on Jews then forced Jews to wear a yellow badge and excluded them from the civil administration.
With regard to economic contribution to the German economy it is estimated that France provided 42% of the total foreign aid.
In 1941 Nobel Prize winner Alexis Carrel, who had been an early proponent of eugenics and euthanasia and was a member of Jacques Doriot's French Popular Party (PPF), went on to advocate for the creation of the Fondation Française pour l’Etude des Problèmes Humains (French Foundation for the Study of Human Problems), using connections to the Pétain cabinet (specifically, French industrial physicians André Gros and Jacques Ménétrier). Charged with the "study, in all of its aspects, of measures aimed at safeguarding, improving and developing the French population in all of its activities", the Foundation was created by decree of the collaborationist Vichy regime in 1941, and Carrel appointed as 'regent'. The Foundation also had for some time as general secretary François Perroux.
The Foundation was behind the origin of the December 16 1942 Act inventing the "prenuptial certificate", which had to precede any marriage and was supposed, after a biological examination, to insure the "good health" of the spouses, in particular in regard to sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and "life hygiene" (sic). Carrel's institute also conceived the "scholar book" ("livret scolaire"), which could be used to record a student's grades in the French secondary schools, and thus classify and select them according to scholastic performance. Beside these eugenics activities aimed at classifying the population and "improving" its "health", the Foundation also supported the October 11 1946 law instituting occupational medicine, enacted by the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF) after the Liberation.
The Foundation also initiated studies on demographics (Robert Gessain, Paul Vincent, Jean Bourgeois), nutrition (Jean Sutter), lodging (Jean Merlet) as well as the first polls (Jean Stoetzel). The foundation, which became after the war the INED demographics institute, employed 300 researchers from the summer of 1942 to the end of the autumn of 1944. "The foundation was chartered as a public institution under the joint supervision of the ministries of finance and public health. It was given financial autonomy and a budget of forty million francs—roughly one franc per inhabitant—a true luxury considering the burdens imposed by the German Occupation on the nation’s resources. By way of comparison, the whole Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) was given a budget of fifty million francs."
Alexis Carrel had previously published in 1935 the best-selling book titled L'Homme, cet inconnu (Man, This Unknown). Since the early 1930s, Alexis Carrel advocated the use of gas chambers to rid humanity of its "inferior stock", endorsing the scientific racism discourse. One of the founder of these pseudoscientifical theories had been Arthur de Gobineau in his 1853-1855 essay titled An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races. In the 1936 preface to the German edition of his book, Alexis Carrel had added a praise to the eugenics policies of the Third Reich, writing that:
"(t)he German government has taken energetic measures against the propagation of the defective, the mentally diseased, and the criminal. The ideal solution would be the suppression of each of these individuals as soon as he has proven himself to be dangerous.
Carrel also wrote in his book that:
"(t)he conditioning of petty criminals with the whip, or some more scientific procedure, followed by a short stay in hospital, would probably suffice to insure order. Those who have murdered, robbed while armed with automatic pistol or machine gun, kidnapped children, despoiled the poor of their savings, misled the public in important matters, should be humanely and economically disposed of in small euthanasic institutions supplied with proper gasses. A similar treatment could be advantageously applied to the insane, guilty of criminal acts.".
Alexis Carrel had also taken an active part to a symposium in Pontigny organised by Jean Coutrot, the "Entretiens de Pontigny". Scholars such as Lucien Bonnafé, Patrick Tort and Max Lafont have accused Carrel of responsibility for the execution of thousands of mentally ill or impaired patients under Vichy.
On October 3 1940 the Vichy government voluntarily promulgated the first Statute on Jews, which created a special, underclass of French Jewish citizens, and enforced, for the first time ever in France, racial segregation. The Statute first made mandatory the yellow badges, a reminiscence of old Christian anti-semitism. Police inspector André Tulard participated in the logistics concerning the attribution of these badges. The October 1940 Statute also excluded Jews from the administration, the armed forces, entertainment, arts, media, and certain professional roles (teachers, lawyers, doctors of medicine, etc.). A Commissariat-General for Jewish Affairs (CGQJ, Commissariat Général aux Questions Juives), was created on March 29, 1941. It was first directed by Xavier Vallat, until May 1942, and then by Darquier de Pellepoix until February 1944. Mirroring the Reich Association of Jews, the Union Générale des Israélites de France was founded.
The police also oversaw the confiscation of telephones and radios from Jewish homes and enforced a curfew on Jews starting from February 1942. It attentively monitored the Jews who did not respect the prohibition according to which they were not supposed to appear in public places and had to travel in the last car of the Parisian metro.
Along with many French police officers, André Tulard was present on the day of the inauguration of Drancy internment camp in 1941, which was used largely by French police as the central transit camp for detainees captured in France. All Jews and others "undesirables" passed through Drancy before heading to Auschwitz and other camps.
In total, the Vichy government helped in the deportation of 76,000 Jews, although this number varies depending on the account, to German extermination camps; only 2,500 survived the war.
The French police, headed by Bousquet, arrested 7,000 Jews in the southern zone in August 1942. Two thousand five hundred of them transited through the Camp des Milles near Aix-en-Provence before joining Drancy. Then, on 22, 23 and 24 January 1943, assisted by Bousquet's police force, the Germans organized a raid in Marseille. During the Battle of Marseille, the French police controlled the identity of 40,000 people, and the operation succeeded in sending 2,000 Marseillese people in the death trains, leading to the extermination camps. The operation also encompassed the expulsion of an entire neighborhood (30,000 persons) in the Old Port before its destruction. For this occasion, SS Karl Oberg, in charge of the German Police in France, made the trip from Paris, and transmitted to Bousquet orders directly received from Himmler himself. It is another notable case of the French police's willful collaboration with the Nazis.
Stanley Hoffmann in 1974, and after him, other historians such as Robert Paxton and Jean-Pierre Azéma have used the term collaborationnistes to refer to fascists and Nazi sympathizers who, for ideological reasons, wished a reinforced collaboration with Hitler's Germany. Examples of these are Parti Populaire Français (PPF) leader Jacques Doriot, writer Robert Brasillach or Marcel Déat.
A number of the French advocated fascist philosophies even before the occupation. Far-right organizations, such as La Cagoule, had contributed to the destabilization of the Third Republic, particularly when the left-wing Popular Front was in power. After France's military defeat, some of these sympathisers actively assisted the Vichy regime; some even directly assisted the Nazis in taking Jewish private property, destroying synagogues and other Jewish monuments, and in shipping Jews to Nazi concentration camps. A prime example is the founder of L'Oréal cosmetics, Eugène Schueller, and his associate Jacques Corrèze.
Collaborationists may have influenced the Vichy government's policies, but ultra-collaborationists never comprised the majority of the government before 1944.
In order to enforce the régime's will, some paramilitary organizations with a fascist leaning were created. A notable example was the "Légion Française des Combattants" (L.F.C.) (French Legion of Fighters), including at first only former combatants, but quickly adding "Amis de la Légion" and cadets of the Légion, who had never seen battle, but were supporters of Pétain's dictatorial regime. The name was then quickly changed to "Légion Française des Combattants et des volontaires de la Révolution Nationale" (French Legion of Fighters and Volunteers of the National Revolution). Then, Joseph Darnand created a "Service d'Ordre Légionnaire" (S.O.L.), which consisted mostly of French supporters of the Nazis, of which Pétain fully approved.
President Roosevelt disliked Charles de Gaulle, whom he regarded as an "apprentice dictator." Robert Murphy, Roosevelt's representative in North Africa, prepared starting in December 1940 (a year before the United States' entrance into the war) the landing in Morocco and Algeria. The US first tried to support General Maxime Weygand, general delegate of Vichy for Africa until December 1941. This first choice having failed, they turned to Henri Giraud a short time before the landing in North Africa on November 8, 1942. Finally, after François Darlan's turn towards the Free Forces — Darlan had been president of Council of Vichy from February 1941 to April 1942 —, they played him against de Gaulle. US General Mark W. Clark of the combined Allied command made Admiral Darlan sign on 22 November 1942 a treaty putting "North Africa to the disposition of the Americans" and making of France "a vassal country." Washington then imagined, between 1941 and 1942, a protectorate status for France, who would be submitted after the Liberation to an Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories (AMGOT) as Germany. After the assassination of Darlan on 24 December 1942, Washington turned again towards Henri Giraud, to whom had rallied Maurice Couve de Murville, who had financial responsibilities in Vichy, and Lemaigre-Dubreuil, a former member of La Cagoule and entrepreneur, as well as Alfred Pose, general director of the Banque nationale pour le commerce et l'industrie (National Bank for Trade and Industry).
To counter the Vichy regime, General Charles de Gaulle created the Free French Forces (FFL) after his Appeal of 18 June, 1940 radio speech. Initially, Winston Churchill was ambivalent about de Gaulle and he dropped ties with Vichy only when it became clear they would not fight. Even so, the Free France headquarters in London was riven with internal divisions and jealousies.
The additional participation of Free French forces in the Syrian operation was controversial within Allied circles. It raised the prospect of Frenchmen shooting at Frenchmen, raising fears of a civil war. Additionally, it was believed that the Free French were widely reviled within Vichy military circles, and that Vichy forces in Syria were less likely to resist the British if they were not accompanied by elements of the Free French. Nevertheless, de Gaulle convinced Churchill to allow his forces to participate, although de Gaulle was forced to agree to a joint British and Free French proclamation promising that Syria and Lebanon would become fully independent at the end of the war.
However, there were still French naval ships under French control. A large squadron was in port at Mers El Kébir harbor near Oran. Vice Admiral Somerville, with Force H under his command, was instructed to deal with the situation in July 1940. Various terms were offered to the French squadron, but all were rejected. Consequently, Force H opened fire on the French ships. Nearly 1,000 French sailors died when the Bretagne blew up in the attack. Less than two weeks after the armistice, Britain had fired upon forces of its former ally. The result was shock and resentment towards the UK within the French Navy, and to a lesser extent in the general French public.
On September 23 1940 the British launched the Battle of Dakar, also known as Operation Menace. The Battle of Dakar was part of the West Africa Campaign. Operation Menace was a plan to capture the strategic port of Dakar in French West Africa. The port was under the control of the Vichy French. The plan called for installing Free French forces under General Charles de Gaulle in Dakar. By September 25, the battle was over, the plan was unsuccessful, and Dakar remained under Vichy French control.
In June 1941 the next flashpoint between Britain and Vichy France came when a revolt in Iraq was put down by British forces. German Air Force (Luftwaffe) and Italian Air Force (Regia Aeronautica) aircraft, staging through the French possession of Syria, intervened in the fighting in small numbers. That highlighted Syria as a threat to British interests in the Middle East. Consequently, on June 8, British and Commonwealth forces invaded Syria and Lebanon. This was known as the Syria-Lebanon Campaign or Operation Exporter. The Syrian capital, Damascus, was captured on June 17 and the five-week campaign ended with the fall of Beirut and the Convention of Acre (Armistice of Saint Jean d'Acre) on July 14 1941.
From May 5 to November 6 1942 Operation Ironclad, another major operation by British forces against Vichy French territory, was launched. This operation was known as the Battle of Madagascar. The British feared that Japanese forces might use Madagascar as a base and thus cripple British trade and communications in the Indian Ocean. As a result, Madagascar was invaded by British and Commonwealth forces. The island fell relatively quickly and the operation ended in victory for the British. But the operation is often viewed as an unnecessary diversion of British naval resources away from more vital theatres of operation.
In June 1940 the Fall of France obviously made the French hold on Indochina tenuous. The isolated colonial administration was cut off from outside help and outside supplies. After the Japanese invasion of French Indochina in September 1940, also known as the Vietnam Expedition, the French were forced to allow the Japanese to set up military bases.
This seemingly subservient behavior convinced the regime of Major-General Plaek Pibulsonggram, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand, that Vichy France would not seriously resist a confrontation with Thailand. In October 1940 the military forces of Thailand attacked across the border with Indochina and launched the French-Thai War.
The Allied invasion of French North Africa, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, started on 8 November 1942 with landings in Morocco and Algeria. The invasion, known as Operation Torch, was launched because the Soviet Union had pressed the United States and Britain to start operations in Europe, and open a second front to reduce the pressure of German forces on the Russian troops. While the American commanders favored landing in occupied Europe as soon as possible (Operation Sledgehammer), the British commanders believed that such a move would end in disaster. An attack on French North Africa was proposed instead. This would clear the Axis Powers from North Africa, improve naval control of the Mediterranean Sea, and prepare an invasion of Southern Europe in 1943. American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt suspected the operation in North Africa would rule out an invasion of Europe in 1943 but agreed to support British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
President Roosevelt continued to cultivate Vichy, and promoted General Henri Giraud as a preferable alternative to de Gaulle, despite the poor performance of Vichy forces in North Africa—Admiral François Darlan had landed in Algiers the day before Operation Torch with the XIXth Vichy Army Corps, but was neutralised within 15 hours by a 400-strong French resistance force on November 8 1942. Nonetheless, Roosevelt and Churchill accepted Darlan, rather than de Gaulle, as the French leader in North Africa. De Gaulle had not even been informed of the landing in North Africa The United States also resented the Free French taking control of St Pierre and Miquelon on December 24 1941 because, Secretary of State Hull believed, it interfered with a U.S.-Vichy agreement to maintain the status quo with respect to French territorial possessions in the western hemisphere.
After the November 8 1942 putsch in North Africa by the French resistance, most Vichy figures were arrested (including General Alphonse Juin, chief commander in North Africa, and Admiral Darlan). However, Darlan was released and U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower finally accepted his self-nomination as high commissioner of North Africa and French West Africa (Afrique occidentale française, AOF), a move that enraged de Gaulle, who refused to recognize Darlan's status. After Darlan signed an armistice with the Allies and took power in North Africa, Germany violated the 1940 armistice and invaded Vichy France on November 10 1942 (operation code-named Case Anton), triggering the scuttling of the French fleet in Toulon.
Giraud arrived in Algiers on November 10, and agreed to subordinate himself to Darlan as the French African army commander. Even though he was now in the Allied camp, Darlan maintained the repressive Vichy system in North Africa, including concentration camps in southern Algeria and racist laws. Detainees were also forced to work on the Transsaharien railroad. Jewish goods were "aryanized" (i.e. stolen), and a special Jewish Affair service was created, directed by Pierre Gazagne. Numerous Jewish children were prohibited from going to school, something which not even Vichy had implemented in metropolitan France. The admiral was killed on 24 December 1942 in Algiers by the young monarchist Bonnier de La Chapelle. Although de la Chapelle had been a member of the resistance group led by Henri d'Astier de La Vigerie, it is believed he was acting as an individual.
The real power in mainland France devolved into the hands of Laval. After Admiral Darlan's assassination, Giraud became his de facto successor in French Africa with Allied support. This occurred through a series of consultations between Giraud and de Gaulle. The latter wanted to pursue a political position in France and agreed to have Giraud as commander in chief, as the more qualified military person of the two. It is questionable that he ordered that many French resistance leaders who had helped Eisenhower's troops be arrested, without any protest by Roosevelt's representative, Robert Murphy. Later, the Americans sent Jean Monnet to counsel Giraud and to press him into repeal the Vichy laws. After difficult negotiations, Giraud agreed to suppress the racist laws, and to liberate Vichy prisoners of the South Algerian concentration camps. The Cremieux decree, which granted French citizenship to Jews in Algeria and which had been repealed by Vichy, was immediately restored by General De Gaulle.
Giraud took part in the Casablanca conference, with Roosevelt, Churchill and de Gaulle, in January 1943. The Allies discussed their general strategy for the war, and recognized joint leadership of North Africa by Giraud and de Gaulle. Henri Giraud and Charles de Gaulle then became co-presidents of the Comité français de la Libération Nationale, which unified the Free French Forces and territories controlled by them and had been founded at the end of 1943. Democratic rule was restored in French Algeria, and the Communists and Jews liberated from the concentration camps.
The Roosevelt administration was notably cool, if not hostile, to de Gaulle, especially resenting his refusal to cooperate in the Normandy invasion of June 6 1944 (Operation Overlord). With the Vichy leaders gone from French territory due to the US, British, and Free French invasion and advance, on October 23 1944 the U.S., Britain and the Soviet Union formally recognized the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF), headed by de Gaulle, as the legitimate government of France.
At the end of April 1945 Pierre Gazagne, secretary of the general government headed by Yves Chataigneau, took advantage of his absence to exile anti-imperialist leader Messali Hadj and arrest the leaders of his party, the Algerian People's Party (PPA). On the day of the Liberation of France, the GPRF would harshly repress a rebellion in Algeria during the Sétif massacre of May 8 1945, which has been qualified by some historians as the "real beginning of the Algerian War.".
In addition, the Milice participated with area Gestapo head Klaus Barbie in seizing members of the resistance and minorities including Jews for shipment to detention centres, such as the Drancy deportation camp, en route to Auschwitz, and other German concentration camps, including Dachau and Buchenwald.
There were, in 1940, approximately 300,000 Jews in metropolitan France, half of them with French citizenship (and the others foreigners, mostly exiles). About 200,000 of them, and the large majority of foreign Jews, lived in Paris and its outskirts. Among the 150,000 French Jews, about 30,000, generally native from Central Europe, had been naturalized French during the 1930s. On this total of 300,000 Jews, approximatively 25,000 French Jews and 50,000 foreign Jews were deported. According to historian Robert Paxton, 76,000 Jews were deported and died in concentration and extermination camps. Including the Jews who died in concentration camps in France, this makes for a total figure of 90,000 Jewish deaths (nearly a quarter of the total Jewish population before the war).
Paxton's numbers imply that 14,000 Jews died in French concentration camps. However, the systematic census of Jewish deportees from France (citizens or not) drawn under Serge Klarsfeld concluded that 3,000 had died in French concentration camps. Adding 1,000 who were shot, the total thus reported is 80,000 dead.
Proportionally, either number makes for a lower death toll than in some other countries (in the Netherlands, 75% of the Jewish population was exterminated). This fact has been used as arguments by supporters of Vichy. However, according to Paxton, the figure would have been greatly lower if the "French state" had not willfully collaborated with Nazi Germany, which lacked staff for police activities. During the Vel'd'hiv raid of July 1942, Laval ordered the deportation of the children, against explicit German orders. Paxton pointed out that if the total number of victims had not been higher, it was due to the shortage in wagons, the Resistance of the civilian population and deportation in other countries (notably in Italy).
Following the Liberation of Paris on August 25 1944, Pétain and his ministers were taken to Germany by the German forces where they established a government in exile at Sigmaringen until April 22 1945. Sigmaringen had its own radio (Radio-patrie), press (La France, Le Petit Parisien) and hosted the embassies of the Axis powers, Germany, Italy and Japan. The population of the Vichy French enclave was about 6,000 citizens including known collaborationist journalists, writers (Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Lucien Rebatet), actors (Le Vigan) and their families plus 500 soldiers and 700 French SS.
Three different periods are distinguished by historians:
Other historians have distinguished epuration against intellectuals (Brasillach, Céline, etc.), industrials, fighters (LVF, etc.) and civil servants (Papon, etc.).
Philippe Pétain was charged with treason in July 1945. He was convicted and sentenced to death by firing squad, but Charles de Gaulle commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. Most convicts were amnestied a few years later. In the police, collaborators soon resumed official responsibilities. This continuity of the administration was pointed out, in particular concerning the events of the Paris massacre of 1961, executed under the orders of head of the Parisian police Maurice Papon, who was convicted only in 1998 for crimes against humanity.
The French members of the Waffen-SS Charlemagne Division who survived the war were regarded as traitors. Some of the more prominent officers were executed, while the rank-and-file were given prison terms; some of them were given the option of doing time in Indochina (1946-54) with the Foreign Legion instead of prison.
Singer Tino Rossi was detained in Fresnes prison, where, according to Combat newspaper, prison guards asked him for autographs. Pierre Benoit or Arletty were also detained. Collaborationists were brought to the Vélodrome d'hiver, Fresnes prison or the Drancy internment camp.
Executions without trials and other forms of "popular justice" were harshly criticized immediately after the war, with circles close to Pétainists advancing the figures of 100,000, and denouncing the "Red Terror", "anarchy", or "blind vengeance". Journalist Robert Aron estimated the popular executions to a number of 40,000 in 1960, provoking de Gaulle's surprise, who estimated the real number to be around 10,000, which is the figure today admitted by mainstream historians. Approximatively 9,000 of these 10,000 refer to summary executions in the whole of the country, which occurred during battle. In absolute value (numbers), there have been fewer legal executions in France than in neighboring, and much smaller, Belgium, and fewer internments than in Norway or the Netherlands.
In 1993 former Vichy official René Bousquet was assassinated while he awaited prosecution in Paris following a 1989 complaint for crimes against humanity; he had been prosecuted after the war, but had been acquitted in 1949. In 1994 former Vichy official Paul Touvier (1915-1996) was convicted of crimes against humanity. Maurice Papon was convicted in 1998, released three years later due to ill health, and eventually died in 2007.
Up to Jacques Chirac's presidency, the official point of view of the French government was that the Vichy regime was an illegal government distinct from the French Republic, established by traitors under foreign influence. Indeed, Vichy France eschewed the formal name of France ("French Republic") and styled itself the "French State", replacing the Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité Republican motto, inherited from the 1789 French Revolution, with the reactionary Travail, Famille, Patrie motto.
While the criminal behavior of Vichy France is acknowledged, this point of view denies any responsibility of the state of France, alleging that acts committed between 1940 and 1944 were unconstitutional acts devoid of legitimacy. The main proponent of this view was Charles de Gaulle himself, who insisted, as did other historians afterwards, on the unclear conditions of the June 1940 vote granting full powers to Pétain, which was refused by the minority of Vichy 80. In particular, coercive measures used by Pierre Laval have been denounced by those historians who hold that the vote did not, therefore, have Constitutional legality (See subsection: Conditions of armistice and 10 July 1940 vote of full powers).
Nevertheless, on July 16 1995 president Jacques Chirac, in a speech, recognized the responsibility of the French State for seconding the "criminal folly of the occupying country", in particular the help of the French police, headed by René Bousquet, which assisted the Nazis in the enactment of the so-called "Final Solution." The July 1942 rafle du Vel'd'hiv is a tragic example of how the French police did the Nazi work, going even further than what military orders demanded (by sending children to Drancy internment camp, last stop before the extermination camps).
As historian Henry Rousso has put it in The Vichy Syndrome (1987), Vichy and the state collaboration of France remains a “past that doesn’t pass.” Historiographical debates are still, today, passionate, opposing conflictual views on the nature and legitimacy of Vichy’s collaborationism with Nazi Germany in the implementation of the Holocaust. Three main periods have been distinguished in the historiography of Vichy: first the Gaullist period, which aimed at national reconciliation and unity under the figure of Charles de Gaulle, who conceived himself above political parties and divisions; then the 1960s, with Marcel Ophüls's film The Sorrow and the Pity (1971); finally the 1990s, with the trial of Maurice Papon, civil servant in Bordeaux in charge of the “Jewish Questions” during the war, who was convicted after a very long trial (1981-1998) for crimes against humanity. The trial of Papon did not only concern an individual itinerary, but the French administration’s collective responsibility in the deportation of the Jews. Furthermore, his career after the war, which led him to be successively prefect of the Paris police during the Algerian War (1954-1962) and then treasurer of the Gaullist UDR party from 1968 to 1971, and finally Budget Minister under president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and prime minister Raymond Barre from 1978 to 1981, was symptomatic of the quick rehabilitation of former Collaborationists after the war. Critics contend that this itinerary, shared by others (although few had such public roles), demonstrates France’s collective amnesia, while others point out that the perception of the war and of the state collaboration has evolved during these years. Papon’s career was considered more scandalous as he had been responsible, during his function as prefect of police of Paris, for the 1961 Paris massacre of Algerians during the war, and was forced to resign from this position after the “disappearance”, in Paris in 1965, of the Moroccan anti-colonialist leader Mehdi Ben Barka.
While it is certain that the Vichy government and a large number of its high administration collaborated in the implementation of the Holocaust, the exact level of such cooperation is still debated. Compared with the Jewish communities established in other countries invaded by Nazi Germany, French Jews suffered proportionately lighter losses — although, starting in 1942, repression struck as much French Jews than foreign Jews. Former Vichy officials later claimed that they did as much as they could to minimize the impact of the Nazi policies, although mainstream French historians contend that the Vichy regime went beyond the Nazi expectations. Maurice Papon, who became head of the Parisian police in 1958, during which he oversaw the 1961 Paris massacre, and Budget Minister under Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, was condemned in the 1990s for crimes against humanity.
The regional newspaper Nice Matin revealed on February 28 2007 that in more than 1,000 condominium properties on the Côte d'Azur, rules dating to Vichy were still in force. One of these rules, for example, stated that:
"The contractors shall make the following statements: they are of French nationality, are not Jewish, nor married to Jewish in the sense of the laws and ordinances in force" [under Vichy, NDLR]"
The president of the CRIF-Côte d'Azur, a Jewish association group, issued a strong condemnation labeling it "the utmost horror" when one of the inhabitants of such a condominium qualified this as an "anachronism" with "no consequences. The rules in questions would be rewritten or eliminated at the owners' and inhabitants' expenses. There is no known instance of the Vichy-era rules being implemented since the Vichy area.
Today, the few Vichy supporters continue to maintain the official argument advanced by Pétain and Laval: the state collaboration was supposed to protect the French civilian population from the hardships of the Occupation. After the war, former Collaborationists and "pétainistes" (supporters of Pétain) claimed that while Charles de Gaulle had represented the “sword” of France, Pétain had been the "shield" which protected France.
The common “sword vs. shield” thesis is contradicted by mainstream historical argument. First, it bypasses the French Resistance, questionably claiming that the alternative was “collaboration in France” and “resistance in London”. This is a denial of the engagement of civilians, in particular foreign Jews, who took an active part in the Resistance in France. Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the National Front in 1972 and several times accused of Holocaust denial, racial hatred, and negationism, declared in the 1960s, when he was engaged in the rehabilitation of Collaborationists:
Although this claim is rejected by the rest of the French population and by the state itself, another myth remains more widespread than this one. This other myth refers to the alleged “protection” by Vichy of French Jews by “accepting” to collaborate in the deportation – and, ultimately, in the extermination – of foreign Jews.
However, this argument has been rejected by several historians who are specialists of the subject, among them US historian Robert Paxton, who is widely recognized and whose foreign origin permits a more distant and objective judgment on the matter, and historian of the French police Maurice Rajsfus. Both were called on as experts during the Papon trial in the 1990s.
Robert Paxton thus declared, before the court, on 31 October 1997, that "Vichy took initiatives... The armistice let it a breathing space." Henceforth, on its own Vichy decided, on the domestic plan, to implement the “National Revolution” (“Révolution nationale”). After having designated the alleged responsibles of the defeat (“democracy, parliamentarism, cosmopolitanism, left-wing, foreigners, Jews...”) Vichy put in place, as soon as October 3, 1940, the first “Statute on Jews.” From then on, Jewish people were considered “second-zone citizens”.
On the international plan, France "believed the war to be finished". Thus, as soon as July 1940, Vichy eagerly negotiated with the German authorities in an attempt to gain a place for France in the Third Reich’s “New Order”. But “Hitler never forgot the 1918 defeat. He always said no.” Vichy’s ambition was doomed from the start.
"Antisemitism was a constant theme," recalled Robert Paxton. It even opposed itself, at first, to German plans. “At this period, the Nazis had not yet decided to exterminate the Jews, but to expel them. Their idea was not to make of France an antisemitic country. To the contrary, they wanted to send there the Jews that they expelled” from the Reich.
The historical turn took place in 1941-1942, with the pending German defeat on the Eastern Front. The war then became “total”, and in August 1941, Hitler decided on the “global extermination of all European Jews.” This new policy was officially formulated during the January 1942 Wannsee Conference, and implemented in all European occupied countries as soon as spring 1942. France, which praised itself for having remained an independent state (as opposed to other occupied countries) “decided to cooperate. This is the second Vichy.” The first train of deportees left Drancy on 27 March 1942 for Poland--the first in a long series.
“The Nazis needed the French administration... They always complained about the lack of staff." recalled Paxton, something which Maurice Rajsfus has also underlined. Although the American historian recognized during the trial that the "civil behaviour of certain individuals" had permitted many Jews to escape deportation, he stated that:
"The French state, itself, has participated to the policy of extermination of the Jews... How can one pretend the reverse when such technical and administrative means have been put to this aim?”
Evoking the French police’s registering of the Jews, as well as Laval’s decision, taken in August 1942 in all independence, to deport children along with their parents, Paxton added:
"Contrary to preconceived ideas, Vichy did not sacrifice foreign jews in the hope of protecting French Jews. At the summit of the hierarchy, it knew, from the start, that the departure of these last ones was unavoidable.
The "from the start" in this quote is not avered as pertains to the Vichy regime as a whole. Deportations from France did not start until summer 1942, several months after mass deportation from other countries started. Part of the population housed at the Dachau concentration camp, which had been opened since 1933, was Jewish, and major death camps in Poland and Germany were opened in 1941 and early 1942.
Paxton then evoked the case of Italy, where deportation of Jewish people had only started after the German occupation — Italy surrendered to the Allies in mid-1943 but was then invaded by Germany and fighting there continued through 1944. In particular, in Nice, "Italians had protected the Jews. And the French authorities complained about it to the Germans. In this instance, deportations from Italy started immediately upon its invasion by Germany. In fact, the rise of Mussolini and Italian fascism had drastically curtailed Jewish immigration during the inter-war period, and Italy had passed drastic anti-Semitic laws in 1938 that stripped Jews of their citizenship. Ultimately, a similar proportion of Jews from Italy as from France were deported.
Whatever the Vichy government's intent, the numerical outcome was that about 20% of French Jews, vs. twice that proportion of non-citizen Jews residing in France, died. More Jews lived in France at the end of the Vichy regime than had approximately ten years earlier.