HIST 276: France Since 1871
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France Since 1871
HIST 276 - Lecture 18 - The Dark Years: Vichy France
Chapter 1. The Outbreak of War: French and German Military Capacities [00:00:00]
Professor John Merriman: Today I want to talk about the fall of France and then mostly about collaboration, and next time I’m going to talk about resistance; so, the first part just sort of briefly. Looking back on — I ended last time, or mentioned at the end of the hour last time that maybe 1936 was a time when Hitler could’ve been stopped, in the Rhineland. All this business and the fall of France and the origins of World War One have to be seen in the context of — World War One, there was a sense that if — after the war there was this view that wars were started by evil people in high places who were doing evil deeds in conjunction with other people.
And Germany signed on the dotted line, forced to do so, saying they had been responsible for World War One. And so there was a strong feeling that Wilson and others had that if you had an apparatus like a League of Nations and if you had open covenants that everything would be okay, nobody would ever want to have another war again. Well, of course, Hitler was determined, from the very beginning, to have another war again, and nobody had any illusions about that.Mein Kampf was available in all sorts of languages, including English — it’s the book that he wrote, My Struggle, which he wrote when he was in a very comfy prison, after the putsch failed in Munich in the early 1920s. And, so, it’s possible to argue that France, which had a whole series of rather inept leaders, particularly in the ’20s and the early ’30s — not Léon Blum, who wasn’t inept at all — but there was this feeling that war, to have another war was unthinkable; and that sort of lies in the background.
Now, Hitler’s preparation for war and construction of the building of the newest kind of weapons pushed them — gave them an advantage. Hitler’s generals were fairly sure that he would start the war in 1940 or 1941, and the war, as you know, starts on the 1st of September, 1939, with the invasion of Poland. Now, just — militarily, why did France fall so rapidly? You get a sense of this in Marc Bloch’s book. But the troop strength was almost equal, at the beginning of the war, after the phony war, at the beginning of the invasion in 1940 of France. The Germans had 114 divisions, the French had ninety-four, and the British had ten, and then you have twenty-two Belgian divisions as well. So, it’s about even, the number of troop strength.
In tanks the Allies actually had superiority. German tanks were lighter, and were faster, and in the end that — and the way they were used, used not just spread along the line but used in Panzer divisions, gave the Germans an advantage. And the French tanks had much more armor, and therefore were heavier, and couldn’t be maneuvered very rapidly. But they’d attached a number of tanks to each division. They didn’t use tanks as really as the kind of rapid use that Hitler had tried out on Poland. The Germans had a clear superiority in terms of airpower, particularly in light bombers and in fighter bombers, and these were used in Poland; these had been used in Spain. So, they had tried these weapons out.
Now, how do the British and the French in planning for this war that came along — ? They believed that the war would be another kind of war of attrition and thus — some wag once said, and it’s tiresome how often it’s repeated, that in 1914 the French were prepared to fight the War of 1870/71, and in 1939 and 1940 they were prepared to fight the war of 1914. And there’s something to it. They thought that it would be a long, drawn-out battle, in which — that a strong defensive line, the Maginot Line, those fortresses that were stretched along in Alsace and Lorraine and up in the Moselle and other places, that these would do the trick, and that in the end that the sort of firepower of cannons on defense would be much more important than the kind of rapid movement; whereas the Germans, having already slaughtered the Poles, who defended themselves very heroically but as — you’ve seen, I’m sure, footage of it, cavalry sometimes against tanks, they believed in rapid movement, and the word, the term was the blitzkrieg, the rapid attack, the rapid movement.
Chapter 2. The Fall of France [00:05:32]
And, so, one of the problems in all the planning, of course, is that the Maginot Line stops at the Belgian border, and so once again you’ve got hills and even small mountains, in the Argonne, part of Belgium, and in the east. And the French are assuming that the Argonne Forest and the Ardennes in northeastern France and in eastern Belgium were impediments, physical impediments that would not allow the Germans to move through them. And that’s exactly what the Germans did, with their tank columns. And, so, when ten tank divisions pour into the Ardennes they simply waste these lighter French tanks which hadn’t been concentrated in any particular way, and in four days the Germans crossed the Meuse River and are way inside France.
And the German High Command thought it would take nine days, and the French couldn’t imagine that it was going to take nine days — it takes four days. And Hitler does make this one big mistake that allowed Dunkirk to happen, the withdrawal of so many British soldiers and French soldiers. It’s said that he stops the charge of the tanks, he refuels, and this really allows the evacuation at Dunkirk to occur. And, so, then all of the sort of footage that you’ve seen of Belgian and French refugees walking with everything they could push in wagons or carry with them or put on their oxen, or horse-drawn carts, or in automobiles, are fleeing the battle zones, just like the Poles had tried to do after September 1st, 1939. And, so, it’s just — it’s been repeated again, it’s happened again, this hell has happened again. And the difference was in 1940, of course, you’ve got the German fighter planes strafing these refugees and taking huge tolls of lives and just sort of picking them off as they move anywhere they could move.
And once again southern France and central France is inundated with people fleeing the battle. Lots of Belgians ended up in our little village, which then only had about 250 people in it, fleeing all of this. And once again another French government is on the verge of disaster. And the armistice is signed, at Hitler’s insistence, in the railroad car — it wasn’t the same one, but another railroad car — in the Forest of Compiègne where the Germans had signed on the 11th of November, 1918. And you’ve all seen images of Hitler going off for the first time in his life to Paris as a tourist, and doing this little jig that was filmed, and going to the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe, and all of this business, and that was that.
Chapter 3. Collaboration: Vichy France in Power [00:09:02]
And, of course, the French — now moving into the central part of the lecture — a new French government collaborates with the Germans, and that government is known as Vichy France because France is divided into two zones, that that is — and you can read about this in Chip’s book — but that that is occupied by German troops, essentially the north part of France, and then the so-called Free Zone which has its capital in the spa town of Vichy, in the Allier.
And the word “collaboration,” the English word collaboration, a word that you all know used to mean simply what? One of the major meanings is, that you know, you collaborate with somebody if — in a section, you’re supposed to, you and someone else are supposed to put together a report on this or that, or you do a lab report together; or in psychology people collaborate with eight other people and one of the problems is assessing folks’ work for promotion to see who is the lead investigator — you collaborate with people; you collaborate with your brothers and sisters on trying to organize plans for the holidays, and all that. That was the use until 1941, 1940/1941, until World War Two. It still is one of the uses.
And the term collaboration took on a less neutral meaning, and collaboration, because of the experience of countries like France, in World War Two, where in every country people actively helped the Nazis achieve their goals. So, collaboration took on this sort of sinister term as well, and the word in French, a collabo was somebody who collaborated. And by the end of 1943 and by early 1944, if you were a French collaborator and you woke up one morning and you found graffiti, with a K, for the German word for collaborator on your door, you were toast, because that meant that the maquis were, that the resisters were capable enough or were confident enough to make that kind of threat.
So, the word collaboration has taken this very, very different meaning because of what happened. And again it’s not only France. In Belgium still it’s a very hotly contested issue because Flemish were more likely to collaborate, rightwing Flemish, with the Germans, than Walloons. And in Hungary, for example, where you can go — if you’ve been to Budapest, my second favorite city, where you see all those horrible shoes — not horrible shoes, but they were pulled out of the Danube river after Jews and Communists were gunned down by Hungarian collaborators, and were left — now they’re still there, sort of cemented — and there’s very small shoes too — this ghoulish memorial, but one that has to be there in these places in Bulgaria.
The Germans didn’t need to do lots of things because there were people in every population that were happy to be there, better — I mean to see them there — “better Hitler than Blum,” went the shouts in 1934, ‘35 and ‘36, and those shouts continued, of course, in France.
Chapter 4. Gaps in National Memory: Problems in the History of Collaboration [00:12:35]
Now, histories have their history, and there is none in modern French history more fascinating, more passionnant than the history of collaboration, in France. Because even in ma jeunesse, even when I was a kid, the sort of story was that in France everybody resisted or almost everybody, and hardly anybody collaborated.
And that was a myth that was perpetuated by people who had collaborated very actively, very willingly, very enthusiastically. And it was also the myth that was perpetuated by Charles de Gaulle, because for Charles de Gaulle, who assumed the kind of mantle of the resistance, what he needed to do was to make people forget the communist resistance and to see himself as this sort of mystical body of the French people, that as his voice crackled over the airwaves, for those who could hear it — and many people who hadn’t heard it claimed to have heard it, on the 18th of June, 1940 — that we must keep resisting.
It was part of the mantle that he would assume on his shoulders before he stomped off to Columbey-les-Deux-Églises, when he couldn’t get his way in every issue after the war. But part of the way that France would, the new France, would present itself, it had to be that almost everybody resisted, and that only an elite collaborated. There was a movie from 1953, 1954, a documentary in which — it’s about what happened to the Jews who taken from — arrested in July 1942, in the Marais, the Jewish quarter of Paris and on Île Saint-Louis, and they were taken away, and first they’re put at a camp at Drancy, a transit camp, which is north of Paris, en Drancy, and in a place that’s called Westbork, or something like that, Westerbork, in the transit camp in the Netherlands; and Mechelen or Malines in Belgium.
I have a student who’s working on that topic now. But in the film, in the original film, it’s a documentary, you could see French guards, gendarmes, they’re guarding the Jews who are there. And, of course, when the film was published you couldn’t have a French gendarme guarding the Jews; they had to be guarded by Nazis, didn’t they? So, what they did is they took the soldier out of the film, they lifted him right out of the film, so he’s not in the film, he disappears from the film. And until the late 1960s this myth that everybody had resisted, or almost everybody and only the elites had collaborated — Pétain and his inner circle — was the dominant kind of myth. And now, since then we’ve had what has been called in a very wonderful book by Henri Rousseau, a book that’s translated into English, the Vichy Syndrome.
Now, Vichy — people who didn’t live through Vichy but they’re trying to find out what happened. And two kind of crucial events — three kind of crucial events caused people, this collective memory, a desire to know what really happened during this time. And there are three events, or a series of events that happened. One was that probably, I guess you could say — and this is what Rousseau and others have argued — there was a film called The Sorrow and the Pity, which goes on and on, it’s four and a half hours — I used to show it in this class and I think I described this once in here, it had the reputation for being a two six-pack film because it was so long, and we would show it in WLH, and at the end — this was when the drinking age was eighteen, I assure you — there’d be all sorts of beer bottles just all over the place, it was so long.
And the sound quality isn’t very good, but it’s very important, because what Orphuls, who was the producer, did is he went to one single town, he went to Clermont-Ferrand, in Auvergne, and he looked at what happened there, at collaboration, and some of the great scenes in documentary history are there when — of the intentional repression or forgetting, when the two teachers, if you’ve seen the film, they forget about their Jewish colleague. There’s amazing things at the end when they shave the heads of what they called, rather crudely, horizontal collaborators, women who had slept with German soldiers, and at the end of the war there’s these scenes where they’d shaved their heads, and hauled them through the streets, not just in Clermont-Ferrand.
And at the end there is — I think I said this the first day — but there is Maurice Chevalier who was this sort of chanteur, a sort of crooner of your grandparent’s generation who became the famous French person in the U.S., with his accent, likezat. At the very end of the film he says, “well, you know” — he says, “you know there are these stories that I was singing in Germany but I want to tell you, I was only singing for zee boys” — that is, the people who had gone off and been captured in the fighting, or who had gone and had to go into obligatory service, which I’ll tell you about — work service — had gone to Germany; many of them died in the air raids. And at the end he’s wearing his white suit, and his straw hat, and forgetting his own very plebian origins in Montmartre, he says, for the Americans who are going to see this film, “but I want to assure that I only sang for zee boys.”
And, of course, it was not the case at all. But this — what this movie does is it — and it was only shown in one theater, in the Marais, appropriately enough. I saw it a couple of years after it came out. It was still in the same single theater. It was made for French TV. It was never shown on French TV until 1981, or 1982; never on French TV, never, never, never. Why? Because it told the awful truth, that lots of people believed “better Hitler than Blum.” And many people got on aplateau, handed to them, by the outcome of this war, of this short war, the kind of regime that they wanted. What did they want? Well, I’ll talk more about that in a minute.
The second kind of event that happened is — this makes me feel old — my friend Bob Paxton, who is much older than me, wrote a book called Vichy France, that was published in English in 1972, and en français in probably ‘73. And Vichy France was about — it took off the — it cut through this sort of intentional forgetting of what had happened, to look at collaboration, to look at collaboration. Now, Bob Paxton did not have the right to use French documents. Why? Archival documents, the kind that I use studying earlier periods. Why? Because there’s a fifty-year rule; also, because even when he was writing on a guy called Georges Orez who was sort of an authoritarian crypto-fascist, and who had a lot of influence in the Seine-et-Marne, and in the Loire-et-Cher, and a lot of departments near Paris — he was called a troublemaker by an archivist because he tried to get documents that would’ve implicated lots of very powerful families — strikebreaking and that kind of stuff, in the 1930s.
But when this book came out it had a major kind of effect and it was followed by a book that he did with Michael Marrus called Vichy and the Jews, a story that I will tell just in part later. And this had a huge effect because suddenly here was this American, an American historian, a great historian saying “it wasn’t like you learned in school, it wasn’t like that.” And I remember my wife and I were in Brussels once, and we were in a hotel in Brussels, in Brussels, and there was this inevitable sort of French show where they bring in six or seven different people, and there were skinhead fascist picketers, picketing Paxton’s presence in this show, and at one point — it was of these typical French things where they bring in somebody who had lived through the war, somebody who’d read something about the war, and all of that — it was just a typical machin bidule or just this thing they kind of throw together, but at one point this guy gets up and he said, “what could you tell us about the war? You didn’t know, you were only twelve-years-old then, during World War Two,” or whatever Bob was.
Chapter 5. The Collaborator Trials: The Vindication of History [00:21:16]
But this book had an enormous impact. And the power of this book and of this man — he was once introduced at the Sorbonne as the conscience of France, “Monsieur Paxton, dans un certain sens, vous êtes la conscience de la France.” That’s pretty heavy stuff, by Jean-Pierre Azéma, who’s an historian. And third, really, are the trials, the trials, and as collaboration came to be something that people wanted to know about. What happened to the Jews? What happened to the people that were arrested because they were communists? Who were they arrested by? The Germans would’ve been happy to do it, but they were arrested by the French.
Then they started tracking down people with rather bad histories. And one of the first was a man named Touvier, t-o-u-v-i-e-r, and Touvier was involved in lots of bad things, the torture of resisters, the arrest and deportation, the certain death of Jews and Communists and people like that. And Touvier was hidden by rightwing Catholic groups — they’re calledanti-gristes in French. The role of the church in all of this I better get to in awhile. And he was hidden, he was bounced from monastery to monastery in the Alpes-Maritimes, above Nice and up in the Alpes-du-Haute-Provence, and he was hidden, and they finally tracked the guy down, and they put him on trial, and he was condemned.
And at this trial, and at others, Paxton became what they call a témoin expert, an expert witness. Now, that’s very important in French law. If you have a lawsuit against somebody who screwed up your house or your apartment, for bad work, they always bring in witnesses who are experts at carpentry to say that they screwed up, or they didn’t screw up, or at what point they screwed up, et cetera. But here you’ve got historians, and historians have a much greater public role in France than in the U.S; people care about history much more than they do in the U.S. And, so, Paxton became this expert witness in the trial of Touvier. And then the trial of Klaus Barbie, b-a-r-b-i-e, who had — Klaus Barbie had tortured people in Lyon, and Klaus Barbie had a lot of authority when Marc Bloch, when he was set up and arrested on a bridge that goes over the Sonne and tortured hideously north of Lyon in a place called Colons Mont d’Or.
And Klaus Barbie was put on trial, was brought back. And Paxton was an expert witness there too. Barbie was confronted, literally, with now very old ladies that he had tortured himself during the war. Torture is not a good thing. The Americans do it too, now, and that’s not a good thing, but that’s another subject. The Americans didn’t used to do things like that but they do things now like that now. But Paxton was an expert witness in this. And then there was Papon, Maurice Papon, and you’re old enough to maybe even know who he is.
Maurice Papon, he worked in a prefecture in the Gironde, in Bordeaux, and he was a functionary. And Maurice Papon signed the death certificates essentially of, oh, hundreds and hundreds of Jews who were taken to the Gare Saint-Jean, in Bordeaux, and then were transported toward the death camps, Auschwitz, and there’s actually one that was in Alsace, the Germans set it up, and Treblinka, and Dachau, and all these infamous death camps. And he went on to a very successful career in the Fourth and Fifth Republic, a very kind of important bureaucrat. And they caught up to this very old man.
Do you put really old people on trial? Well, Pétain was on trial after the war and they allowed him to die on a small island off the coast of the Vendais or the Atlantic island. And there was even a big uproar about fifteen years ago when there was a reportage or there was a documentary, they had very sort of nice music and you saw the old man penning his letters, et cetera, et cetera. And there were various attempts to steal his bones and bury them in Verdun. But all of this, the Vichy syndrome, this obsession with Vichy was accentuated by these trials.
And, so, Maurice Papon was put on trial in 1998 and 1999, and at one point he escapes. He was under house-arrest and he escapes and they arrest him in a fine restaurant in Switzerland, which is where he’d gone with his friends to try to escape the trial. And then the question, what do you do with him? But what he said is, “I was a good bureaucrat.” He said, “my supervisors, my superiors thought I was excellent.” And he used that famous argument that Paxton, in his book,Vichy France demolished, that is the shield argument; that is, if it wasn’t — and this is the thing that the people defending Pétain used, too — that if it wasn’t for me, if it wasn’t for we — he always used the royal we, Pétain — that then things would’ve been even worse.
And Papon said, “well, if I hadn’t signed this — I was supposed to sign certificates, we were supposed to find out who were Jews, and if I hadn’t signed — I only signed 400 out of the 600, or whatever.” Well, n’importe quoi. But it just was a pathetic defense. And then he was found guilty and then they put him in jail, under very nice conditions, for a while, and then he got very sick. He just died within the last year and I think he was ninety or something like that. But these trials were sort of the third aspect or the third key moment, or three of the key moments in France coming to grips with collaboration, that not everybody resisted, and it wasn’t just elites who collaborated.
By the way, there was another guy who was going to go on trial, a guy called Bousquet, who was the head of — he was one of the heads of the police in Paris, during Vichy. And he was supposed to go on trial but he was murdered by this crazy guy who thought by killing him he’d give publicity to his own book, he’d written this sort of bad book. And, so, he went to Bousquet’s apartment and guns him down before he could go on trial, so unfortunately Bousquet never went on trial.
So, from having no official memory of Vichy, no — but only sites of memory that had to do with the resistance — which I’m going to talk about next time — that since, before you were born, but France underwent this re-evaluation — and that was important for people who had lost family members because of Vichy. It was important for Jews; some 75,000 Jews never came back to France. They tried, of course, at the beginning — and they did this in Bulgaria too, and in Hungary. They’d first go arrest the foreign Jews, not assimilated Jews. So, the big roundup in July of 1942, the rafle, that’s the French word — rafle, sort of sweep, in the Marais and on Ile Saint-Louis. It was not done by the Germans who would’ve been very happy to do it. They didn’t care, they’d do it — it was done by the French, it was done by the French police.
And really, one of the worst institutions was of course the milice, the militia; the militia, m-i-l-i-c-e, the militia, who are created in January 1943 to get tough on the Jews, get tough on the resistors, get tough on the communists — and these were some of the worst of the collaborators. In the Papon trial it came out, they interviewed various people who’d been in prison — they were very old by then, obviously — who had been in prison then in Bordeaux, around Bordeaux, and they actually brought some German soldiers back there, too. And one of them testified — I remember this — he said if we had a guy, un gars, a guy who we picked up in a sweep and he was a resister, or he was a communist, or something like that, if we kind of liked the guy, and you get on with him after a couple of days when you’re guarding him, and you find things in common that you have — often that wasn’t the case — that if we wanted to save him from hideous torture we didn’t give him to the French militia because of what they would do.
But, of course, by 1943 — more about this later — but there was a case near us where this woman who had denounced a couple of resisters, and she had — was an open collaborator and she was — she lived up in the northern part of Ardèche, and she walked across the bridge across the Rhone one day to go shopping on the other side of the river, in the Drôme, and some people came up behind her and put a bullet right through her head and blew her head off. And collaborators had to really decide what they were up to. And of course a lot of them, something like 10,000 were executed almost immediately in the days after the war.
But for people — maybe I mentioned this the first day when I was trying to tell you about one of the things that we do — but for people like my friend who couldn’t remember, but his brother could remember the day that the Germans, in this case, came into a French suburb, a place called Le Perreux-sur-Marne and took his father who was part Jewish, who was Greek and took him away. The Nazis came to get him and he was denounced by a French policeman for being Jewish. And letters of denunciation were all over the place, and he wrote a letter of denunciation. Those are big costs. You’re not saying so-and-so is watering their lawn too much, as they’re doing in Atlanta, which is — it’s a bad thing to water your lawn. But there was this reportage I saw the other day about everybody turning in their neighbors because they’re watering their lawn.
But you write something to the French militia saying so-and-so’s a Jew, you’re selling out- you’re selling their life away; or so-and-so’s a communist, or so-and-so’s a resistor. And for this guy, his father was taken away with a wife after the war. Every Saturday when she went to the market she saw the same policeman directing traffic there who had denounced her husband, who was responsible, in a personal way, not just sort of an indirect way, a personal way for the death of her husband. And for people like that there was sort of a satisfaction. You can well imagine. Even if you’re not somebody like, somebody of vengeance; I would’ve gone — spent years tracking these people down. But she wasn’t like that.
But there would be a moment of vindication when the textbooks begin to change. That’s something, too. My kids are inseconde in France, and the textbooks, really, now they’re starting to change about the way the whole period was covered. But that’s something that comes out of this. So, histories have their histories as well. And the next history, by the way — and not to sort of leap ahead — that was sort of unveiled will be, of course, the Algerian War and all of that. And the same kind of talk shows that they’re beginning to-that they’ve had now for the last fifteen years on French TV all the time, and documentaries they never would have shown before will start to happen, about the Algerian War too.
And also for those generations passing away, it’s important for them to talk about these things; and you’re not in the situation as I described in the case of World War One, there’s only one single former soldier who was in World War One is still alive in Britain. If you saw the Ken Burns thing about World War Two, they did a lot of interviews with people now they’re eighty-four, eighty-five, eighty-six or eighty-two — extraordinarily lucid. So, there’s lots more that can be done.
Chapter 6. The Character of the Collaborators: Identity and Motives [00:33:20]
Now, what did people who collaborated want? First of all, just quelques mots at the beginning, a few things at the beginning. Whereas in voting Left in France — you could do a map and place a map on that, and place it on a map of de-Christianization, and the French Revolution, and the elections of 1849 — I’ve said this before — and there’d be a remarkable similarity and hardly any changes at all. That’s not true in terms of collaboration, nor is it true in resistance.
Collaborators didn’t come from one certain region as opposed to another, which is largely the case in Belgium. There were collaborators everywhere. They don’t come from one social class, either. Now, in one of the haunting images of — in this film, The Sorrow and the Pity, there’s a guy called Christian de la Mazière, who’s of noble vintage, and he’s interviewed in a smoking, this sort of smoking jacket, in his chateau. And he’s very bright and he’s very articulate, and he describes why he liked — why he was happy to go and fight along the Nazi soldiers in the east, in what was called the Waffen SS, these divisions. And he’s so articulate. And you think, how can a smart guy like that ever do these things? How can he hate Jews? How can he want to see them die? How can he want to see communists put up against the wall and gunned down? Working-class guys from the Nord or peasants from the Auvergne. And he explains it.
Now, you’re more apt to have upper-class people collaborate, just as in the attraction of National Socialism in Germany, it’s the middle classes that ago that way first; and it’s true in France in the 1930s as well. But you can’t make any — there were working-class people collaborators as well. You can’t make any of these kinds of generalizations. What about religion? Now, the role of the Pope in all of this is nauseating. The Pope knew, he did nothing, he did zero, zero, nothing, and they knew, he knew. When Roosevelt and these people knew also, is that they knew earlier and they didn’t do anything about it. There’s various reasons they didn’t bomb the death camps, but if you bomb the death camps then you’re killing a lot of people in the death camps and all of that. It’s not so easy.
But the Catholic Church, the church hierarchy generally was extremely collaborationist, because — but the Bishop of Toulouse was a very heroic guy who in his sermons would say “leave these people alone.” And the Bishop of Aldi, which is about a forty-five minute drive away, to the northeast, was a notorious collaborator. Also I’ll talk more about priests. Priests are community leaders in many parts of France. Some of them were happy to see the Germans come and some of them were not, and some of them were collaborators and some of them didn’t. And some of them got theirs after the war. There was a priest in a village near us and he had had Déat, who was a notorious fascist, into this sort of public reception and all that. In 1944, August, up against the wall — you can still see the bullet holes there, where they gunned them down, people that collaborated.
A village near Limoges — I’ve spent a lot of time in Limoges. There’s a place called — where is it, there’s a bike guy from there, Poulidor, Raymond Poulidor, Saint-Leonarde. In Saint-Leonarde, in 1944, August, they’re partying. Someone says, “where’s the gendarme that sold these people away, where is he? He’s got an aunt in Limoges.” A friend of mine, a former, a guy I knew from the archives, a gardien — well, he was my friend, he was my compagnon, as he would call me. And he saw this because he was a refugee from Lorraine. Somebody said, “where is the guy?” “The guy’s in, the f-guy is there, he’s in Limoges.” So, they stop partying, they walk to Limoges — nobody had cars or gas — they go to the aunt’s house, he’s there, bam; and they put him at the head of this procession, a cortège, and they’re all shouting and singing, and they — before they’re going to party they put him against the wall and brrrk, like that, and that’s the end of that.
So, these things evoked very strong memories for these people. But the church’s role — the church got what it wanted, in many ways — no divorce. There were two people executed for abortion, actually, only two, but still that’s a lot, for practicing abortion; no divorce, et cetera, et cetera. But that’s not the only story. There were people who moved from the Catholic Left into the resistance. Many of them joined the Communist Party subsequently. But anyway, it’s not that open and shut.
But what do these people want, who were collaborators? Here’s a couple of scenes, a bunch of scenes. First of all the argument that Pétain made after the war was that — again it’s the shield argument — is that by collaborating with the Germans you were preserving the French State. But as Paxton said, with amazing eloquence, he said, “they may have saved the French State but they destroyed the French nation.” What does the French nation mean? Liberty, equality, fraternity — not patrie, and work, and all that, God, et cetera, that they put on the coins during Vichy. But they would say, “we are maintaining the innocence — the independence of France.” And the innocence — that was the right slip there — the innocence of France, because the view had to be that we were martyred by the loss of autonomy and we’ll get it back by doing what the Germans want, by helping them rebuild economically.
The Germans wanted to take industrial, convert it to war use and that kind of thing — we’ll do what they want. So, that’s one theme. But the shield argument has pretty much been denounced. Second, xenophobia, that the xenophobia that characterized the French Right in the 1920s and 1930s; the racism and xenophobia became State policy. The foreign Jews were shipped off, but also lots of quote/unquote “French Jews.” I’m not making that differentiation, this is one that they made. Actually, there’s a hotel called Lutétia, which is a very fancy hotel, at Sèvres-Babylon, and that was a place where people came after the war, when Jews came back. If you made it back, you went there, you went there every damn day to see if somebody from your family was coming back; and most of them didn’t come back, most of them didn’t come back.
But the xenophobia was no Italians, no Spanish, especially communists — again the fear of Marxism, et cetera, et cetera. They put the Spanish refugees in camps, the Republic had, the Popular Front had, at the end of the Popular Front, and camps up in the Pyrénées-Orientales, between Perpignan and the sea, places like Argeles and all of that. That was what was given to them on the plateau — on the platter, is to make xenophobia part of state policy. Third, and this is a subset but it should stand by itself, is anti-Semitism, that the French Vichy regime — let me interject the fact that it’s only in November of 1942 that the Germans occupy the Vichy zone, because the resistance is mobilizing — that the French put in laws about Jews, depriving Jews of rights that the Germans didn’t even ask them to do, in terms of saying, “well, if you are Jewish because your grandmother or your grandfather was Jewish” — I don’t remember exactly the laws.
But the laws in some ways are even harsher than the infamous Nuremberg laws of the Reich. They put in even harsher laws, and they did it because they wanted to, not because the Germans were saying you do this; “better Hitler than Blum,” and that’s the way that Vichy wanted it, that’s the way that Vichy wanted it. And as the Jews disappeared, as they disappeared to Drancy and to these other places, how many priests said — and again I’m not being provocative; and I went to a Jesuit school, for better or for worse — “there go the Christ-killers, there they go,” in the little trains bouncing along, off to Drancy and then off to the camp.
So, anti-Semitism becomes official policy. Pétain was a notorious anti-Semite. The High Command of the French Army was replete with anti-Semitism, had always been that way. Alfred Dreyfus, it was better that one Jew perish or die in Devil’s Island than it was that the army be — that its honor be compromised. That’s the way they viewed it; it was supported by the assumptionists and all these other people. So, that’s an important point as well. But there are other themes, too, that if you read things that they wrote at the time, that the collaborators wrote, if you read the proclamations of Pétain, if you read the kind of spin — they didn’t call it that then — around the Marshall, who was always supposed to be described as walking with a sprightly step; it was rather like when they were trying to describe Reagan who at the end of his reign was totally out of it, and he’s always supposed to be described — I’m not comparing Reagan to Pétain, but there you’re talking about very old people.
But he’s always supposed to be described in a way that he, his personal, his body, his being represents what the Right considered to be wrong with France; that he was a dictator, he was an authoritarian, finished the France of aperitif, finished the France of quarreling fragments or factions in the Chambre des Deputées. And, so, by the way the fascists, the role of the actual fascists, it’s rather similar to what happened in Spain, but I don’t have time to do this now, but the Phalange in Spain were the real fascists, and they’re kind of kept at an arm’s length by Franco. The real fascists in all of this, not the authoritarian Right ones but — and they share a lot in common, all the themes I’m talking about were shared by both of them — but they were kind of kept at an arm’s length in Paris and this kind of stuff.
But anyway, decadence that Vichy is going to be an answer to decadence. Drieu de la Rochelle said, “I am a Fascist because I have measured the progress of decadence in Europe and I believe — I’ve seen that fascism is the only means of limiting and reducing decadence.” And this is a term that kind of comes up over and over again. Second, the church — I’ve already said that — but that give France — there are all sorts of conversions of the prayer, the Our Father, in the Catholic Church. I don’t know if it was in the Protestant churches too, whatever — “Our Father who art in heaven,” and all that; on earth, so that we may live. Give us our day, our daily bread. Give France back her life, et cetera, et cetera; that the answer to the decadence of France is going to be to refine those old Christian Catholic values, associated with Joan of Arc, by the way, the sort of revival of fanaticism about Joan of Arc, and that this is an important part of the whole thing; that it would be returned to moral order.
Remember the Government of the Moral Order of the 1870s. It’s a return to moral order, when things are passed down from moral authorities represented by the church in conjunction with Pétain. So, it’s sort of like a monarchy, really. But, so, the role of religion and of church and all of this is going to be important. The Boy Scouts, for example, scouting has always had very close ties in France to the Catholic Church, and it’s still very controversial there now. Third, nationalism, that if you’ve just been blown away in yet another — not yet another, not World War One, it was not a rapid defeat, it was a victory, a long victory — but as in 1870/1871 that France’s independence is that of a nation whose image has been transformed away from liberty, fraternity, equality — the hell with all of that, from their point of view, into this world of order and work and patrie, religion; patrie goes on the coins.
And in doing that, in saying that, this nationalism becomes one that is exclusionary. That’s one of the characteristics of these rightwing movements all over Europe. Hitler says — or the mayor of Vienna said, “I decide who’s a Jew” — this in the 1890s — Hitler says, “we will determine who’s a Jew and then we will kill them.” And then Pétain, who’s very happy to see the Jews go, he could’ve cared less; Pétain’s the hero of Verdun, and so there’s no room in the Pantheon, not of the Republic, but of the Marshall, for Jews — that’s part of the nationalist method, message and method, of this — it’s there.
Next, well authority, authority; authority comes top down — I’m kind of repeating myself but you get the point — authority comes from top down. It doesn’t come from people elected to represent the Haute-Garonne, Toulouse’s region, and sitting in the Palais Bourbon, in the political club, authority comes from the top down — this is the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s — and that’s what they viewed as a very good thing. Next peasantism, that “true France” is what they called it, true France, the real France, not the France of Jews, not the France of grèves — no strikes, strikes are illegal. Not the France of working class organizations, no CGT, organized workers need not apply, need not exist, et cetera, et cetera, and all of this.
Virtue is found in the soil, and Joan of Arc who’s a peasant girl from — I’ve been to her house, or what they claim is her house, in the Meuse and in the east of France, she becomes a symbol of not only of sort this nationalism, chasing away the Brits and all of this before she’s burned in Rouen — or the English, they weren’t British then — but becomes virtue in herself of being attached to the soil; that cities are places where Jews hang out, cities are places where organized workers hang out, and that the true France is that of peasants and the soil.
And, so, these groups like the chantiers de la jeunesse, which are the sort of workshops or work areas of youth where they’re supposed to get up early in the morning; instead of smoking a pack of Gauloises before noon, they’re supposed to get up — which is a terrible thing — they’re supposed to get up and not drink apéro at 11:30, but are supposed to maybe go running a little, and collapse wheezing along, and then jump into some pond like the Nazis did — were supposed to do that in the Pomeranian, frozen Pomeranian lakes, that this is learning about the true France which is this — the decline of France is going to be putting people back on the soil, putting them to work, and all that. And then there’s finally — and then I’m going to have to stop, but I’m basically done — there’s this corporatism, which was mostly just window dressing. It’s corporatism — they’d read something about Italian fascism, and Mussolini tries to organize industries hierarchically, making the argument that workers and bosses who are in, say, metallurgical production have the same interests, which of course is ridiculous.
But if you organize things corporately speaking you won’t have strikes because they’re illegal, and then if you get people to buy into the nation the way that many German workers did, but not all, then you will solve your social problems and you won’t have anybody, everybody will get up and be chanting — saying their prayers in the morning on their knees, and schools, the Marianne is gone from the walls, the crucifixes are there, and you will have this happy vision, one that the good fortune, as they believed in it, of France’s — the decadent France’s defeat by all these strong, marching Teutonic warriors who had given France the possibly of creating this brave new world, without communists, without Jews, without gays, without abortion, without strikes, et cetera, et cetera.
But it didn’t work out that way, happily, and by — as I said, by the end of 1943 if you woke up and you saw a K had been written on your door you better get your toothbrush and get ready to move, because things began to change. And why they begin to change, and the origins of the resistance, and who resisted is a fascinating topic, and that’s the one we’re gonna do next Monday, I’m going to New Mexico between then and now but I will see you on Monday.
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