How Vichy France participated willingly in Adolf Hitlers regime

Nazi Germany had allies in Vichy France: Hollande

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March 27 is remembered as the day 65,000 Jews were deported from Drancy internment camp in France to German extermination camps in 1942. The plot to move them was crafted by Nazi Germany, led by Adolf Hitler. Yet, history shows us that there was also a collaborator: Vichy France. For years, those who were leaders of Vichy France — the wartime of an independent French state mostly under the Nazi’s grip — kept quiet about their complicity.

France only really detailed its own role in supporting the Nazis in 1995, when then-President Jacques Chirac acknowledged the state’s position.

More recently, Emmanuel Macron, the incumbent leader, delivered a speech last year in which he condemned France’s position during the Holocaust, denouncing those on the right who have appeased the Vichy government’s position.

“It is convenient to see the Vichy regime as born of nothingness, returned to nothingness,” Mr Macron said. “Yes, it’s convenient, but it is false. We cannot build pride upon a lie.”

The reality of how Vichy France willingly backed Hitler’s persecution of Jewish people has been laid bare by author Robert Paxton, who penned the 1972 book, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944.

Speaking to the Smithsonian Magazine, he explored how prior to the Nazis’ occupation, France itself had pushed through political policies that removed Jewish people from its civil service and had begun seizing property owned by Jews.

He said: “The Vichy French government participated willingly in the deportations and did most of the arresting.

“The arrests of foreign Jews often involved separating families from their children, sometimes in broad daylight, and it had a very powerful effect on public opinion and began to turn opinion against [French general] Philippe Pétain.”

Among the “roundups” of Jews during World War Two included that which was seen in July 1942, called Vel d’Hiv. It was the largest deportation of Jews from France that occurred during the war, with some 13,000 arrested and moved to Auschwitz.

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Tragically, of those people, 4,000 were children, exiled alongside their parents for “humanitarian” reasons, or so the then-French Prime Minister Pierre Laval claimed.

If the children had stayed, Laval argued, nobody would look after them. The BBC reported that under the Vichy regime, more than 75,000 Jews were sent to death camps.

Whether Vichy France was a “puppet government or a willing Nazi collaborator” was analysed by Lorraine Boissoneault, writing for Smithsonian Magazine, and author of The Last Voyageurs: Retracing La Salle’s Journey Across America.

Germany declared war on France on September 3, 1939, after the Nazis invaded Poland. For eight months the French waited for a strike. Hailed the “Phoney War”, the standoff concluded in May of the following year after Germany’s Blitzkrieg.

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Ms Boissoneault said: “Within weeks, the Germans had pushed their way deep into France, and the French government was forced to make an impossible decision: regroup in their North African colonies and keep fighting, or sign an armistice with Germany.

“While Prime Minister Paul Reynaud argued they should keep fighting, the majority of government officials felt otherwise.”

She added: “The German troops occupied the northern half of the country, taking 2 million French soldiers as prisoners of war, while the French government worked from its new base in Vichy, a spa city in the centre of the country.

“Most nations recognized the Vichy government as legitimate; the US sent William Leahy as an ambassador, and Leahy served in that position until May 1942. Meanwhile, Charles de Gaulle objected to the legitimacy of the Vichy government from London, where he began working for the Free French movement.”

But for Mr Paxton, Vichy France was “authoritarian” in its approach to war.

He concluded: “It doesn’t act like a fascist regime because traditionally elites have to give way, and in authoritarianism they retain power. But all the foreign Jews were put into camps, they cracked down on dissent, and it was in some ways increasingly a police state.”

Prior to the invasion of France, Hitler used a speech in October 1939 to outline his own vision for German-French relations. He even offered an olive branch to Britain.

“My chief endeavour has been to rid our relations with France of all trace of ill will…,” the Nazi leader said. “I have always expressed to France my desire to bury forever our ancient enmity…

“I have devoted no less effort to the achievement of Anglo-German friendship… To achieve this great end [of peace], the leading nations of this continent will one day have to come together in order to draw up, accept and guarantee a statute on a comprehensive basis which will insure for them all a sense of security, of calm – in short, of peace…

“It is equally impossible that such a conference, which is to determine the fate of this continent for many years to come, could carry on its deliberations while cannon are thundering or mobilized armies are bringing pressure to bear upon it…”

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