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Vichy France


CalifVol
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“Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” the motto of France

In another thread it was discussed how the Vichy Government did the best it could under difficult circumstances. It was further discussed that Vichy was a neutral, albiet conquered, state rather than a Nazi stooge. I do not support these view points. To me Vichy is the epitome of a stooge and an example of personal agendas, exploitation of fellow countrymen, and even good intentions run dangerously amuck. The damage Vichy did to France was greater than if no government had been created and the Nazi's had to run France themselves. The motto of France shows succintly everything the Vichy Government was not; “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”

What follows is an excellent short article by Tony McNeil that speaks directly to these points. My biggest failing with this article is that he does not speak in depth about the Allied attacks on Vichy. These attacks are relevant when discussing the support Vichy had within France. However, that issue aside, he does capture the very perspective I am attempting to bring forth.

State Collaboration

COLLABORATION, n.f. Travail en commun. Association. Aide, appui, concours, coopération, participation.

Le Petit Robert

Defining Collaboration

The dictionary definition of collaboration above has positive connotations: cooperation, working together, reciprocal support, mutual assistance. This, of course, was the spin that Vichy ministers put on the word during les années noires. The Vichy régime were convinced that a favourable relationship with a Germany that was going to conquer Europe would be secured through collaboration. German and France, two independant states working together to secure a better tomorrow for Europe.

The dictionary definitions above express little, however, of the connotations of the word collaboration for many during and after the war. For much of the French population, the term became synonymous with betrayal, selling out to the enemy and supporting its cause and interests over those of France. The word collabo (collaborator) - frequently prefaced with the adjective sale (dirty) - was the worst insult.

The different connotations of collaboration get to the heart of issues that historians have been debating since the war. To what extent was collaboration a genuinely reciprocal arrangement between France and Germany? What was the specific nature of Vichy collaboration? Whose interests did it serve? These lecture notes will consider these very issues.

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State Collaboration and Collaborationism

Historians of Occupied France generally make a distinction between two different forms of collaboration:

what Stanley Hoffmann called `State collaboration' (collaboration d'État) - a pragmatic political and economic cooperation with Nazi Germany with the immediate aim of safeguarding French interests and the longer-term aim of securing a better position for France in a post-war Europe dominated by Germany;

what Stanley Hoffmann called collaborationism (le collaborationisme) - an ideologically-motivated cooperation with a Nazi Germany seen as the only bulwark against the spread of Bolshevism in Europe.

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State Collaboration

Shortly after taking over from Paul Renaud on 17 June 1940, Pétain set about establishing a longer-term political relationship with Nazi Germany. The armistice was a necessary first step in both avoiding further bloodshed and in establishing a better relationship with a Germany that would, according to Vichy's ministers and Pétain himself, soon defeat Great Britain and become the dominant power in Europe. Some spoke, in fact, of une Europe allemande, a Europe dominated by Germany. Pétain and his ministers thought that France, as a colonial power and a major influence on Europe between the wars, would be well placed to become an important ally to this powerful nation in the heart of a new European order, un nouveau ordre européen. A strong government - L'État français, the French State, was created on 12 July 1940 - and some form of cooperation with Germany would be a necessary precondition for this.

On 11 October 1940, Pétain made a speech on the radio in which he alluded to possibility of France and Germany working together once peace in Europe had been established. In this speech, Pétain used the term `collaboration', linking the word to the idea of peace with Germany. Later that month, on the 24 October, Pétain conducted an historic meeting with Hitler at Montoire. At that meeting Pétain and Laval discussed the possible directions of Franco-German collaboration and is a key symbolic moment in Franco-German relations during the war.

For Pétain and Laval, collaboration with Germany was the means by which France might secure a better place in Europe once peace had been established. It would be a sign of France's good faith and willingness to accept Germany as the dominant force in European affairs. Pétain and Laval also hoped that collaboration would lead to more immediate improvements: the return of 1.6 million prisoners of war, the continuing safety of the French population, a decrease in the war indemnity France was obliged to pay and, of course, assurance that Vichy's sovereignty over Occupied and Unoccupied zones would be respected. The issue of sovereignty was the most consistent concern of both Pétain and Laval and the desire to safeguard it informed many of their negotiations with Germany.

Collaboration was also essential in ensuring that Vichy was given the time and space to reconstruct France along the lines of the National Revolution. With the French population stunned by defeat and invasion, and the politicals of the Third Republic discredited, Pétain and his allies seized the moment to conduct their own ideologically-motivated reforms. To complete their National Revolution, Vichy would have to buy time from Nazi Germany through a policy of collaboration.

Although Vichy volunteered to collabrate for its own reasons, there was, it should be remembered, a degree of compulsory collaboration too. Under Article 3 of the armistice convention, France was obliged to cooperate with the Nazi military authorities who had full rights and powers over the Occupied zone. The French authorities in the Occupied zone were obliged to comply with the requests of the occupying forces, whatever that might entail. The German military authorities had a right to veto any appointment or policy with which they disagreed making a mockery, in essence, of Vichy's claim to sovereignty. Vichy collaboration with Nazi Germany, therefore, was something of an inevitability.

German military presence and the 1.6 million prisoners of war who were de facto hostages helped ensure this collaboration and force Vichy's hand. Vichy was quick to conceal this dependance. On a number of occasions, Vichy gave the appearance of sovereignty by anticipating Nazi demands and making them appear to be French initiatives. Vichy's anti-semitic legislation, and in particular, the notorious Statut des Juifs, can be seen as an example of this.

Collaboration, therefore, was a reality for the French authorities as early as the 25 June 1940 when the terms of the armistice came into force.

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Germany's Attitude to Collaboration

Although Vichy had high hopes for a genuine partnership with Germany, the Nazi authorities were more circumspect. Although there were a few francophile Nazis like von Ribbentrop and Otto Abetz who were more favourable to this proposal, the majority of high-ranking Nazis had no intention of treating France as an equal. Most perceived France purely in terms of her potential as a supplier of raw and manufactured goods, and of labour. This was the view of Herman Göring, after Hitler the most influential man in the Third Reich, who advocated the systematic economic exploitation of France.

There was a feeling that France, as the conquered nation, should pay the price for its defeat as well as meeting the costs of military occupation. Many Nazis still bore a grudge against France for the punitive peace settlement it had helped impose on Germany after World War I and were more than happy to see France suffer. Josef Goebbels, the Nazi Minister for Propanganda, was quick to seize on the propaganda value of France's humiliation in Germany. It is claimed that his desire was to see France reduced to an `enlarged Switzerland', an agreable destination for German tourists as well as convenient source of high quality couturiers (Hirschfeld: 1989 p.6).

Hitler was happy to see France willing to collaborate as it both kept France out of the war - this was a priority as France's military potential was still considerable - and incurred lower demands on Germany's own military resources. Nazi Germany had no real interest in helping establish a sympathetic ally or even an independant fascist state in France. In its relationship with France, all other concerns were subordinate to the realization of its own agenda (Hirschfeld: 1989 p.11).

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Economic Collaboration

Perhaps the most widely practiced and significant form of collaboration to take place during les années noires was economic. This form of collaboration was not so keenly sought after by Vichy as others. However, from the German point of view, it was the most attractive. Nazi Germany had, as I have mentionned earlier, no intention of treating France as an equal; it perceived France purely in terms of its potential as a supplier of raw and manufactured goods and of labour.

Many private companies, particularly those in industrial sectors important to Nazi Germany's war economy (e.g. the coal and steel industry, aircraft and motor vehicle manufacture) found themselves forced into economic collaboration with the Germans for survival. Many companies feared bankruptacy, or the seizure of their assets by the occupier, or else the growth of German companies at the expense of French ones. Many companies, then, saw economic collaboration as an unpleasant necessity to ensure their own survival. Others for example, were more than willing to work for the Germans in the expectation of higher profits. In 1941, for example, the French photographic company Photomaton, without any prompting, offered to produced identity photographs for Jews in Germany's concentration camps. `Research published in the 1980s (see Hirschfeld: 1989 p.9 for overview) has indicated that industrial output and profits increased during the first two years of the war as opportunities were siezed and lucrative contracts with the Germans were signed. Although the post-war years are seen as those of economic modernisation, recent research has also indicated that it took place during the war years too. Collaboration with the Germans on a number of projects was, for example, particularly beneficial to the French aircraft industry.

David Pryce-Jones estimates that some eight or nine million worked directly for the Germans on roads, military defences, aircraft, armaments and food production.

By early 1942 there were concerns that Germany's supply of foreign labour - mainly from Russia and Poland - was beginning to run out. Fritz Sauckel, a long-time Nazi was given responsibility for recruiting new labour and, in May 1942 he demanded that 250,000 French workers be sent to Germany by the end of July that year. Laval, initially unhappy with this decision, responded with a scheme called la relève by which one French prisoner of war would be returned to France for every three workers who volunteered to work in Germany. This scheme, perhaps inevitably, failed to recruit the required number and by February 1943 the Vichy administration was required to introduce a form of conscription, le Service du travail obligatoire (STO). The response in France to the introduction of a compulsory labour service was an increase in the numbers of réfractaires, young men fleeing, some joining the resistance, and of those finding work in occupations exempted from STO like mining. There is an account of one déporté du travail STO at Témoignage: les parias du STO (R. Noblet).

France's contribution to the German war effort was considerable. At the end of the war, it is estimated that approximately 650,000 Frenchmen and 44,000 Frenchwomen had been sent to labour in Germany, making France the second largest contributor of unskilled labour - only Poland contributed higher numbers - and the largest contributor of skilled labour to the German economy (Atkin: 1998 p.174). Of the wealth Nazi Germany acquired from its occupied territories, some 40% came from France. As early as 1940, Vichy had authorized the transfer of the Beligian gold reserves held in France and the shares to the Bohr copper mine in Yugoslavia. The looting of art works and antiques from Jewish owners which were then sent back to Germany.

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Everyday Collaboration

There was a degree of daily, low-level collaboration with the occupier. This frequently took the form of letters of denunciation. Letters to the Vichy or German military authorities identifing black marketeers, réfractaires, resistance members and sympathizers, and, of course, Jews were commonplace and even encouraged by the collaborationist press. Collaborationist magasines like Au pilori and Je suis partout with peak wartime readerships of about 100,000 and 300,000 respectively, encouraged such activity and included the relevant adresses to which information should be sent (Pryce-Jones: 1989 p.28). Such letters, a sample of which are collected in Henri Amouroux's La grande histoire des Français sous l'occupation, were frequently motivated by personal grudges and anomosity rather than ideology.

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Military Collaboration

Although Vichy maintained a position of neutrality, there was nonetheless a degree of military collaboration with Nazi Germany. This was entirely consistent with other forms of collaboration that Vichy had sought with Germany. However, military collaboration and Vichy's abandonment of its neutrality became more and more difficult in the context of the `total war' Germany had to fight and of the invasion of French colonies in North Africa by the Allied forces.

At certain key moments, Vichy offered various forms of support to the German war effort. Some military collaboration, like the logistical support Darlan offered the German military in Tunisia and Syria (27-28 May 1941), was accepted. Other proposals, like the offer in November 1942 to create a Légion tricolore in which French troops, in French uniform, would fight alongside the Wehrmacht in Tunisia, were rejected. Such rejections of Vichy proposals expressed German reluctance to consider France as a proper ally and not as a conquered territory.

Vichy's priority was very much one of defence. It was determined to avoid fighting a war on French territory and was therefore willing to resist Allied invasion of its colonies. This inevitably meant that Vichy was, in spite of its desire to maintain neutrality, engaged in combat with Allied forces.

By 1943, however, Germany was fighting a war on many fronts - a `total war' to use Hitler's own phrase - and required as much assistance as possible. On 22 July 1943, Frenchmen were allowed to join the Waffen-SS and, in 1943 Laval was finally granted permission to create the Milice. The Milice played an important role alongside the German military in combating the resistance - the defeat of a resistance cell at les Glières is an infamous example.

Various collaborationalist parties in the Occupied zone assisted in establishing the Légion des volontaires français contre le bolchevisme (LVF). This volunteer unitarmy - there were 10,000 volunteers initially - fought against the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front in Nazi uniform. The LVF became a Wehrmacht infantry regiment and continued to fight in Germany after France's liberation as part of the SS Charlemagne division.

The Allies, for their part, were interested in persauding France to join in the struggle against Germany.

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Collaborationism

Although most forms of collaboration were not motivated by any ideological affinity to fascism, there were a number of political parties in the Occupied zone with a firm commitment to Nazi ideology. Falling under the influence of what French historian Philippe Burrin calls `le champ magnétique des fascismes' (Burrin: 1984), the magnetic field of fascisms, these parties modelled themselves on the Nazis. Some went so far as to adopt paramilitary uniforms and Nazi-style salutes, Their view of the degeneration of French society owed more to Nazism than to the National Revolution. France was enjuivée (riddled with Jews) or négrifié (riddled with blacks). Its only path back to greatness was through the creation of a régime along the lines of Nazi Germany and a closer relationship with them than even Vichy had envisaged.

The Rassemblement National Populaire (RNP) founded in February 1941 by Marcel Déat, or the Parti Populaire Français (PPF) established by Jacques Doriot in were two collaborationist parties that advocated such a strategy.

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Conclusion

One justification for collaboration put forward by Vichy ministers during and after the war was that it reduced the damage the occupiers might potentially inflict on France. After the war, Pétain used this argument at his trial. His defence claimed that Pétain and Vichy had formed un bouclier, a shield that had protected France against the worst excesses of Nazi domination. Historians call this defense the `shield' philosophy.

Although plausible as a theory, it doesn't stand up against the evidence. Firstly, protecting France against the full barbarity of Nazi rule implies an awareness on the part of Vichy of Nazi policy. It is possible to argue that Vichy's understanding of Nazi policy was limited. The actions of Vichy, predicated on the victory of Germany in an essentially European war, expresses a blinkered view of the dynamics of Nazism. The Germany of 1940, thought many in Vichy, was little different to the Germay with whom they had agreed an armistice in 1918.

Moreover, the argument that Vichy collaboration prevented France from becoming another Poland is similarly unfounded. The `polonization' of certain sections of the French community took place, and took place, more importantly, with the complicity of the French authorities. The deportation of 75,000-80,000 Jews, the forced dispatch of 750,000 Frenchmen and Frenchwomen to work in Germany, the trials of 135,000 French people, the internment of 70,000 `enemies of the state', the complicity of the French police and the Milice in suppressing resistance are all examples of this. There was no shielding or moderating influence here.

Comparisons with other occupied countries in Europe underline the specificity of the French experience. In the Netherlands, for example, civil servants were only expected to ensure the proper functionning of essential services and not to provide any other assistance to the occupying forces.

Vichy not only facilitated and assisted in Nazi atrocities, but it also exploited France's military defeat to construct its own internal political revolution. This makes Vichy France, with the possible exception of Croatia and Slovakia, newly created states, a specific case in occupied Europe.

I shall leave the last word to Gerhard Hirschfeld;

Collaboration had not prevented the worst from happening but rather had made it possible and in any case paved the road to Auschwitz (Hirschfeld: 1989 p.13).

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Further Reading

N. Atkin, Pétain (London & New York: Longman, 1998)

Philippe Burrin, `La France dans le champ magnétique des fascismes' in Le Débat, 32 (1984) 52-72

F. Burrin, `Le collaborationnisme' in J-P. Azéma & F. Bédarida (eds), La France des années noires (Paris: Seuil, 1993) Tome 1 363-383

J. Defrasne, Histoire de la collaboration (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1989) 2nd ed.

B.M. Gordon, Collaborationism in France during the Second World War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980)

G. Hirschfeld, `Collaboration in Nazi-occupied France: Some Introductory Remarks' in G. Hirschfeld & P. Marsh (eds), Collaboration in France: Politics and Culture during the Nazi Occupation 1940-1944 (Oxford: Berg, 1989) 1-14

H.R. Kedward, Occupied France: Collaboration and Resistance 1940- 1944 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985) 32-45

L. Malle, Lacombe Lucien (film available in Language Centre)

P. Ory, Les Collaborateurs (Paris: Seuil, 1976)

P. Ory, La France allemande (1933-1945): paroles françaises (Paris: Gallimard, 1995)

R.O. Paxton, `La collaboration d'état' in J-P. Azéma & F. Bédarida (eds), La France des années noires (Paris: Seuil, 1993) Tome 1 334-361

D. Pryce-Jones, `Paris during the German Occupation' in G. Hirschfeld & P. Marsh (eds), Collaboration in France: Politics and Culture during the Nazi Occupation 1940- 1944 (Oxford: Berg, 1989) 15-31

D. Veillon, La Collaboration (Paris: Livre de poche, 1984)

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Concept & Text: Tony McNeill

tony.mcneill@sunderland.ac.uk

The University of Sunderland

Last Update 3-Nov-98

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CalifVol

While still not agreeing on the topic let me say this. You now have my gratitude, admiration and respect. Instead of muleishly saying at every turn Vichy stinks, Vichy stinks! you've presented apparently excellent and extensive research to support your opinion. Bravo!

In my view a country can fall into a state of shock exactly as can happen with a single individual. I've always felt this was the case with Vichy. You'd have to imagine a situation where your worst nightmare has suddenly come true and how you would deal with it.

The Vichy borders themselves didn't represent any rational boundary, it's simply the territory that was actually occupied by German troops became German and that which wasn't became Vichy. Hitler wanted a direct land connection with Spain so that lower western corner was added to Germany for good or bad measure.

At any rate, I've posted extensively on this subject in the past and would like to read other views before posting some the long previously entries I've written. As they already exist I won't attempt to rewrite them, just copy them over as my opinions are all still the same.

Once again, even if the consensus swings toward your opinon, I'm still extremely pleased you've done this the way it should be done. Looking forward to reading more of that good documentation you're finding. Opinions don't matter in these things, but good information is always valuable. smile.gif

[ February 05, 2003, 01:21 PM: Message edited by: JerseyJohn ]

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Okay, my take on this is too simple to call on sources or to bring back my earlier posts from other forums. It's all the same making a new entry.

Vichy was not a government established with any degree of sovereignty. It was a settlement between a conquered nation and it's conqueror. The French had two bargaining chips, their colonies and their fleet.

The Germans, realizing they coulnd't control the French colonies, wanted to be certain they wouldn't be used against them. So they allowed a portion of France to be turned into a puppet regime on condition it cooperate with it's conquerors and not allow it's colonies to fall into British hands.

By all rights the Germans should also have demanded the French fleet, which they would have wanted but the Vichy government denied it to them. There is no doubt whatever that Vichy could have gotten better terms from the Germans as well as greater autonomy with the simple measure of ordering her surviving ships to sail for Axis controlled ports. But she didn't. I don't see what's so contemptable -- the country was attempting to become neutral.

Almost immediately Britain seized the French colony of Syria. An act of War by anyone's standards. Vichy did not declare war on Britain. Germany would have been extremely pleased if she had and would have treated her much more favorably, but she didn't. How does this fit in with Vichy being part of the Axis? Under the circumstances the insinuation seems blatantly assinine.

A short time later a very powerful British naval squadron attacked and sank nearly all the Vichy warships anchored at Mirs el Kabir. Again, an act of war as powerful as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Again, Vichy remained neutral! And again how can they be called an Axis regime when they didn't declare war even under these circumstances? The mere insinuation is truly ridiculous.

A third British attack, using Free French troops took place later off the West African coast at Dakar. It was beaten off and once again Vichy remained neutral.

When Operation Torch landed the local French garrisons put up a token resistance, then joined the Allies. Even the token resistence might have been avoided except for inept handling by the American landing force -- point your seachlights skywards if you're with us . . . and this was immediatly followed by American aircraft flying overhead, prompting the searchlights to be turned on and a snafu that the French had gone over when they had no idea any of that was even part of a signal!

At this point the Germans, disgusted by Vichy inaction in their own defense, sent troops into Southern France and Vichy responded by scuttling it's remaining fleet -- some pro-Axis action!

It was a government riddled with shady characters and many of it's beurocrats went along with uncalled for enthusiasm regarding the rounding up and expelling of French Jews. This can also be said of a dozen other nations alligned with Germany. Even those not alligned with her, such as Switzerland, turned back Jewish refugees. Why single out powerless Vichy?

What's more, though technically unoccupied, Vichy was fully staffed by the SS and Gestapo. It was only a matter of finding the proper French anti-semite to fill the proper post, and the Gestapo selected the French personnel, not Vichy.

As for Liberty, Equality and Fraternity wake up and join reality. They were already conquered by one of the most horrific regimes in history. Those three fine words were replaced with Survival, Survival, Survival!

Very few countries come out of the Second World War era looking fine and noble. To single out the most desperate and feeble one of the lot for special contempt is unworthy of any historian with a sense of perspective.

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