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Vichy - 1940-1945

Vichy France, formally French State, French Etat Français (July 1940-Sept. 1944), France under the regime of Marshal Philippe Pétain from the Nazi German defeat of France to the Allied liberation in WWII. The Vichy Government (1940-1944), was a right-wing authoritarian regime which succeeded the third Republic in unoccupied French territory after Germany defeated France (June 1940) early in WWII.

On September 3, 1939, France, led by Edouard Daladier, declared war on Germany. The Germans invaded France on May 10, 1940, and within six weeks the French, then led by Paul Reynaud, who had replaced Daladier in March, were defeated. At least 72,000 soldiers died at the front and 1,800,000 are imprisoned by the Germans. The war was to leave France doubly scarred - not only by the shock of swift defeat by the German forces, but also by the Vichy government's policy of collaboration with the enemy. The rout of the French army by the Nazi invasion in May 1940 forced many civilians to flee their homes and travel long distances across France.

Interwar French leaders had rejected the idea of a quick-strike, mechanized, professional army and opted for a larger draftee farce with more depth. Whatever can be said of their strategy, there was no immediate invasion and France was given eight months to prepare for the expected assault. The army was lost when its commander, General Maurice Gamelin, committed his mobile reserves prematurely; the country was lost when his successors lost the will to fight. Weygand succeeded Gamelin and prepared the way for Petain's armistice. But as de Gaulle predicted, France had lost a battle but not the war.

By the middle of June 1940, the weary and beaten government members packed up their offices and fled Paris, leaving it to the invader. What to do now? Who had the stature to set up a legitimate government and deal with Adolph Hitler while keeping order in France and its colonies? Amid all the chaos, the nation needed to find someone who commanded the instant respect and possessed legitimacy with the French people. One possibility was Marshal Henri-Phillipe Pétain, the hero of Verdun, advocate of the Maginot Line, and recently named Paul Reynaud's vice-premier. As the Wehrmacht moved into Paris, on June 16, 1940, French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud resigned in favor of Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain, a hero of the First World War, who became Prime Minister and requested terms for an armistice from Germany. The Third Republic collapsed.

This government of France was headed by a national hero who, at first, enjoyed wide popular support, and claimed to embody in himself the spirit and glory of France. Two factors caused such widespread support among the French for Petain and non-violence. The first was the utter moral depravity of the Great War, fought two decades earlier. In that war, from a population of 40 million, the French suffered over 1 million dead, 4 million wounded (1.5 million of those permanently maimed); about a 75% casualty rate. Petain was a hero of the Great War and knew firsthand the costs associated with fighting Germany again. Secondly, there was a great malaise amongst the people in 1930s France stemming from the depression and corruption. Some Frenchmen collaborated or even joined the SS; others clearly tried to live more-or-less normal lives during the occupation; and still others joined the Resistance.

Pétain negotiated an armistice with Germany and Italy (which had declared war on France on June 10, 1940. This June 22, 1940, armistice split the country into an occupied north and an unoccupied south. On July 10, 1940, the French Parliament met in Vichy and granted full and extraordinary powers to Marshal Pétain, including the power to write a new Constitution. Pétain set up a new regime, the "French State". The Germans immediately annexed Alsace and Lorraine and they were administered by Nazi administrators. Parts of France were given to Belgium. What remained were divided into two zones, one occupied and one unoccupied. Germany occupied the northern half and France's entire Atlantic coast, giving the German navy vital ports. The occupied zone was headquartered in Paris and controlled by a German Military Administration. The unoccupied zone, in the south of France, until November 1942, had its administrative machinery the small spa town of Vichy.

The Vichy Government led by Petain and Pierre Laval, sought a collaborative course with Germany and established a government agreeing to maintain neutrality. Not allowed in Paris, Pétain attempted to restore order in unoccupied France and maintain control of French colonies. Collaboration with Nazi Germany began on 24 October 1940 with a meeting between Pétain and Hitler in the village of Montoire.

Marshal Pétain pursued this policy throughout the war in the hopes of making France the favoured partner of the Reich in a Europe under long-term German hegemony. His collaborationist position excluded all rebellion or simple protest against the occupier's demands, instead involving the denunciation of all acts of internal or external resistance and allied operations against civilians as "terrorist crimes ". It encouraged the formation of paramilitary militias, as the spearhead of National Revolution and the regime and supported the German troops on the Russian front.

The new French State (État français) was personal, authoritarian, corporatist, and discriminated against Jews, who were subject to a special statute. It was to lead the Vichy government to support the war effort of their conquerors by hunting down opponents of Nazism and assisting in the deportation of Jews. The Legion of French Volunteers against Bolshevism fought alongside German divisions on the Eastern Front.

Pierre Laval, who had been in and out of government many times in the 1930s, engineered Pétain's election by the National Assembly. Pierre Laval, entered politics on the extreme left, though subsequently demonstrated the extreme ideological flexibility that marked his entire career. In 1926 Laval was elected to the Senate and continued his movement to the right. Often a minister in the late 1920s, he became premier for the first time in January 1931. Brought down after a year in office over a question of fiscal policy, he served as prime minister once more from June 1935 to January 1936.

Before 1940 Laval had his greatest impact on French foreign policy. Four times foreign minister during 1932-1936, he steadfastly sought accommodation with Mussolini's Italy against resurgent Germany. Coauthor of the abortive Hoare-Laval Agreement, which was meant to appease Mussolini at the expense of Abyssinia, he was overthrown when the British Cabinet repudiated the arrangement. For the rest of his life Laval hated the British and was determined to exact his revenge. Realizing that a united Franco-Italian front against Germany had been rendered impossible by the British action, he did an about-face and began to urge the necessity of reaching an understanding with Hitler. France, Laval argued, could not survive the ordeal of another war. In the Vichy regime, Laval became Pétain's government leader and met with Adolph Hitler to offer conciliation and cooperation. Convinced Germany would win the war, Laval sought the best possible relations, and hoped to place France well in postwar Europe.

On 13 December 1940 Marshal Petain dismissed Laval from his posts of Vice Premier and Foreign Minister. Further, Petain refused to attend the collaboration ceremony the Fuehrer had planned to stage in Paris on 15 December 1940; instead, he sent a message to President Roosevelt reiterating his solemn promise that the French Fleet would be scuttled before it would be allowed to fall into German hands, and otherwise indicating his decision to avoid any active collaboration with the Nazis. Germany forced Laval's reinstatement and Laval made Vichy seek elimination of French Communism and all other German resistance. Pierre Laval held both offices of the Vichy prime minister and foreign minister.

The books “Le Corbusier, un fascisme français” (Le Corbusier, a French fascism), by French journalist Xavier de Jarcy, and François Chaslin’s “Un Corbusier” (A Corbusier), were both released in April 2015. The books show Le Corbusier moved in fascist circles in Paris in the 1920s and developed close ties with Pierre Winter, a doctor who headed France's Revolutionary Fascist Party. The pair worked together to create the urban planning journal "Plans". When that publication ended, they started another called "Prelude".

Jarcy described Le Corbusier as “an out-and-out fascist”. He says Le Corbusier’s writings in "Plans" and his private correspondence show he supported Nazi anti-Semitism. In August 1940, after the French debacle at the hands of Germany, the architect wrote to his mother that Jews and freemasons would "feel just law". Later that year, he said: "Hitler can crown his life with a great work: the planned lay-out of Europe."

Chaslin says his research uncovered "anti-Semitic sketches" attributed to Le Corbusier, and showed that the French architect had spent a large part of World War II with the French puppet government in Vichy, where he was given an office at the Carlton Hotel. Before that, the architect "was active during 20 years in groups with a very clear ideology", Chaslin said, but that "has been kept hidden".

A third book fiercely critical of Le Corbusier’s work hit French bookshelves. Titled “Le Corbusier, une froide vision du monde” (A cold vision of the world), Marc Perelman’s essay slams the architect’s “totalitarian” vision and lays the blame squarely on his teachings for wrecking historic city centers and creating segregated suburban communities.

Duke University’s Professor Mark Antliff, was the author of “Avant-Garde Fascism: The Mobilization of Myth, Art and Culture in France” (2007). A number of common denominators undergird both fascistic politics and the architect’s vision. Both admired Fordist and Taylorist models of production, were contemptuous of parliamentary democracy and looked to authoritarian leadership to realize their transformation of society. And both shared the belief that an alliance of technocrats and producers was necessary to bring about the nation’s socio-economic regeneration, reproducing the ‘esprit de corps’ celebrated in the trenches of World War I.

The free French political scene was a cloud of military leaders with no clear mandate to rule, despite what they purported to the Allies. The efforts of one apparent French leader to gain the upper hand among his rivals constantly exasperated President Franklin Roosevelt. The former Assistant War Minister, General Charles de Gaulle became the central focus of Roosevelt's ire. De Gaulle repeatedly claimed he had the mandate of the French people, but Roosevelt did not agree and thought de Gaulle an arrogant non-entity. On the other hand, Churchill, having no other way to influence the course of events in occupied France, supported de Gaulle.

As early as 1940 a small number of resistance movements began to spring up. The Resistance may be said to have been born on 18 June 1940, when General de Gaulle, speaking from London, issued a call to the French to continue the fight alongside the Allies. He became the focus of a resistance movement outside France, comprising the Free French Forces (FFL) and a French National Liberation Committee (CFLN), to which some colonial territories rallied. Within France, resistance was at first very limited, but gradually gained strength and became more structured. In France, isolated individuals sabotaged Nazi installations and fought against the occupant and the Vichy regime. This internal resistance grew and developed into movements and networks winning the support of an ever-larger part of the population. The Resistance fighters were primarily leftists and Communists. The Resistance had not only the Germans to resist but also many of their own countrymen. Most Frenchmen did not fight in the resistance.

In late April 1941 Marshal Pétain let the United States know that the Germans were inquiring about French willingness to permit passage of German troops through unoccupied France and French North Africa so that they could reach Spanish Morocco and attack Gibraltar, and both Pétain and Vice Premier Admiral Darlan privately expressed the fear that Vichy would not be able to resist German demands of this sort. Although Marshal Pétain repeated to President Roosevelt his earlier assurances that France would not agree to any form of collaboration with Germany beyond the terms of the armistice agreement of 1940, Admiral Leahy advised the President that even if Pétain refused to agree to new German demands it "would have little or no deterrent effect upon the Germans." The Nazi Fuehrer summoned Admiral Darlan to a conference at Berchtesgaden on 11 May 1941, and Darlan brought back to Vichy a general agreement for French collaboration with the Germans. Despite American warnings, Marshal Pétain announced on 15 May 1941 that the Vichy ministry had unanimously approved the agreement. He also expressed the hope that further negotiations on the details of collaboration would produce a more specific understanding that would permit France to "surmount her defeat and preserve in the world her rank as a European and colonial power."

The Vichy government largely acquiesced to German plans, namely in the plunder of French resources and the forceful deportations of tens of thousands of French Jews living in France to concentration camps across Europe. In occupied France, beginning in September 1940, a whole series of procedures where set in place that resulted in the expropriation and "Aryanization" of Jewish property. In May and August 1941, the roundup of Jews began and they were sent to camps at Dracy and elsewhere in France, and eventually to Auschwitz. On March 28, 1942, the first deportation train left Drancy for Auschwitz.

In the summer of 1942, France, under pressure from the German occupation authorities, began to round up Jews for shipment to the so-called "resettlement sites" in the east. In reality, this was the start of the dispatch of Jews in France to the death and labor camps to the east. In July 1942, in Paris, some 13,000 non-French Jews began being taken into custody and sent to extermination camps. Vichy's role in this event was notable for its cooperation with the German occupation authorities: as German officials would report, French officials were exemplary in their roundup. It is estimated that 90,000 Jews of a pre-Final Solution population of 350,000 were exterminated.

France severed diplomatic relations with the United States on November 8, 1942, when Prime Minister Pierre Laval informed the U.S. Chargé in Vichy, S. Pinkney Tuck, of his government's decision. The French decision followed the Anglo-American invasion of French North Africa. After the Allied invasion of North Africa, Vichy's propaganda organs continued to crank out a range of pieces that emphasized the claim that there were Jewish connections with communist front groups that, in turn, were working for the eventual Bolshevik takeover of France's former colonies.

Dissatisfied with the lack of vigor with which the Vichy administration had responded to German directives, German forces finally occupied Vichy France in November 1942 (Corsica and the area to the east of the Rhone was occupied by Italian forces). Following the Allied landings in North Africa on 8th November 1942 and the orders issued by the Marshal to his Generals to engage the Allies, the dissolution of the pre-armistice army and the scuttling of the French fleet in Toulon harbour on 27th November 1942, the dissidence of most of the Empire and the end of the "free zone", the Vichy Regime had nothing but an illusory power in the face of the Germans and in France, the Marshal lost most of the popularity he had enjoyed since 1940.

Even after Vichy-France had been occupied by German forces, the Vichy administration continued, now having to follow any German directives. Economically, a full one-half of France's public sector revenue was appropriated by Germany. The Vichy Government in June 1942 began pushing a voluntary program for French to go to Germany to work. Such labor was made mandatory for male workers in February 1943. By war's end some 600,000 French workers and another 600,000 French prisoners-of-war were either sent to Germany or were forced to work in French mines and industries deemed essential to the Germans. Besides acquiring manpower from France, Germany, after the extension of German occupation to all of France in November, 1942, came close to virtually complete exploitation or utilization of France's economic resources, especially its war potential. By 1943 Germany was taking 40 percent of France's total industrial output and at least 55 percent of the government's revenue was utilized to meet the costs of occupation.

In North Africa, which had been liberated by the Allies in November 1942, a new French army had formed and joined in the fighting. In the spring of 1943 Jean Moulin, General de Gaulle's delegate in Occupied France, was instrumental in uniting the main resistance organizations into the National Resistance Council (CNR). At the same time, de Gaulle, now based in Algiers, set up a provisional government of the French Republic whose members were drawn from the ranks of the CNR.

On June 3, 1943, the French Committee of National Liberation (FCNL) was established in Algiers under the leadership of co-Presidents Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud. On August 24, 1943, President Roosevelt instructed Acting-Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle to forward a message to U.S. Minister Robert D. Murphy (Roosevelt's personal representative in Algiers) that was to be distributed to members of the FCNL two days later. The message announced that the US Government "recognizes the French Committee of National Liberation as administering those territories which acknowledge its authority." The message, however, did not constitute recognition of a government of France or of the French Empire by the Government of the United States.

After four years of occupation and strife in France, Allied forces liberated the country in 1944. The Resistance developed into networks which, besides the operations carried out in France itself, were to provide valuable assistance to the Allies in the form of intelligence and military support during the Normandy Landings. The Allies landed in France in June 1944, and in August the French Committee for National Liberation, formed in Algiers in 1943, established a provisional government in Paris headed by General Charles de Gaulle. Both the United States and the United Kingdom recognized the French Provisional Government on October 23, 1944.

Increasingly affected by his great age which, according to his closest advisors, left with no more than a few hours of lucidity each day, Petain nevertheless maintained his policy of collaboration and accepted the tightening of the repression until August 1944 when he was taken against his will to Sigmaringen, in Germany, alongside many of the dignitaries of his regime. Refusing to establish a puppet government, he crossed Switzerland and surrendered to the French authorities on 26th April 1945.

With the final crushing of the Third Reich in 1945 the war ended. The Fourth Republic was created on December 24, 1946. The Resistance which had sprung up in the earliest days of the Occupation was to pave the way for a new postwar France. While the role of the Resistance was not a deciding factor in the Allied victory over Nazism, it was crucial for France in that it convinced British, American and Soviet politicians that France should be considered one of the victorious Allies, rather than an enemy whose territory should be occupied. France was thus able to participate fully in the victory and was present at the signing of Germany's capitulation on 8 May 1945. In this sense, it is fair to say that it was the Resistance, personified by de Gaulle, which allowed France to hold on to its international position despite having suffered a military defeat.

In France the épuration, the purge of Vichyite collaborators, saw 10,000 people killed by local resistance fighters. In contrast, nearly 7,000 people were legally sentenced to death, but only 770 were actually executed, and over 38,000 of the roughly four times that number who were tried for collaboration were sent to prison or forced labor for some term.

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Page last modified: 22-02-2017 16:27:46 ZULU