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France The Holocaust And WWII History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

During the tragic years of the Holocaust and World War II, the Germans occupied Northern France while the Southern part of the country was controlled by the Vichy government. The Vichy government was known for collaborating with Adolf Hitler. An interesting question in the back of some people’s minds is: why did the Vichy government collaborate with the Nazis from July 1940 to August 1944? The years from 1940-1944 were considered the dark years of French history that were filled with trouble and turmoil and lasted until the creation of the Fourth Republic in 1946.

However, to understand the Vichy government, one must first understand the Third Republic of France. The Third Republic that lasted from 1871-1940 was born out of the terrible defeat of the French by the Prussian armies in 1870. Though the Third Republic lasted for 69 years, it stumbled from crisis to crisis as well as from the dissolved parliaments and to the appointment of a mentally-ill president. The Third Republic struggled through World War I against the German Empire and the inter-war years, which saw a lot of political strife between the Right and the Left. On July 10, 1940, the Third Republic was replaced by the Vichy government and was headed by Philippe Pétain.

The collapse of the Third Republic is mainly tied to the poor military planning of the French High Command. The French High Command, which was under the command of the French General Maurice Gamelin, used poor judgment in their dealings with Germany’s movements during the War with France. One of the main reasons that the poor military planning brought about the collapse of the Third Republic was with General Maurice Gamelin’s Dyle Plan. The Dyle Plan or D Plan, as it was shortened to, was the primary war plan of the French Army. It involved the French Army staving off the Germans during the Fall Gelb. The Fall Gelb was the term used by the Germans in May of 1940 when they set about to capture the Low Countries of the Netherlands and Belgium. The Dyle Plan was France’s way of trying to stave off the German Army groups with their Panzer divisions in Belgium. However, since the French Army was over-stretched in Belgium, including the French 1st, 7th, and 9th Armies, during the time of invasion it let the Germans outflank the French when they came through the Ardennes Forest. The German Army managed to make it through the Ardennes Forest, which the French Army had hoped would stop the Germans, but instead it allowed them to be outflanked by the German Army because the French had somehow managed to miss seeing the German Panzers rolling through the forest in single file. By the time the French Army realized exactly what had happened, they were outnumbered and outgunned by the German Army, which would result in the French signing an Armistice with Nazi Germany.

The Armistice of June 22, 1940 was the result of France’s poor military planning. The Armistice sighed by the French over to Germany declared that France had surrendered and it provided Germany with the occupation of the Northern France, including Paris, and it also permitted the establishment of the Vichy regime in Vichy, France. The Armistice was signed in the same railroad car that had been used by the Germans when they signed the Armistice which ended World War 1 in November of 1918 at Compiègne. According to the Avalon Project at the Yale Law School, which has a translation of The Franco-German Armistice, stated that in Article III that in the occupied zone of France “the German Reich exercises all rights of an occupying power The French Government obligates itself to support with every means the regulations resulting from the exercise of these rights and to carry them out with the aid of French administration” and that all of the French government officials and authorizes in the occupied territory “are to be promptly informed by the French Government to comply with the regulations of the German military commanders and to cooperate with them in a correct manner” (“Lillian Goldman Law Library: The Avalon Project”).

When the Germans took over the country on June 22, 1940, and since Paris was in the hands of the Germans, the spa town of Vichy in central France was chosen as the provisional capital of the new government. The government set up at Vichy was headed by Marshal Philippe Pétain, and the government was ruled as an authoritarian state where the emphasis on the authority of the state was in control. Marshal Pétain created his government to be authoritarian because he felt that the democracy of France’s Third Republic was responsible for the country’s defeat by the Germans. When Philippe Pétain became head of the Vichy government, his first act as the chief of France was to create a new constitution.

The new constitution known as the Constitutional Law of July 10, 1940 was established on July 10, 1940 and it decreed that Philippe Pétain had the authority of full governmental powers, meaning that he could appoint as well as revoke the appointment of any ministers and state secretaries that he wished because they answered only to him. The new constitution also stated that Pétain could exercise legislative power in the Court of Ministers, which meant that he had power over the legislature until a new assembly of ministers was established; he could make laws and assure their execution as well as make appointments to all civil and military posts that the law did not recognize; he had full power over the armed forces like the army and navy; he had the right to grant pardons, and the envoys and ambassadors of foreign countries were recognized to him. He was also able to negotiate and ratify treaties as well as declare a state of siege in as many territories as he wished. Lastly, the new constitution said that he could not declare war without the consent of the Legislative Assemblies. The constitution of the Vichy government granted Pétain the full powers of the state, which included the legislative, judicial, administrative, executive, and diplomatic branches, and he was declared the head of the French State.

On June 22, the people of France had to decide just what to do next when the Germans took over. Robert O. Paxton in his groundbreaking book, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944, said that the first thing the French had to do was find someone to pin the blame on. According to Paxton, the Frenchmen of the Liberatine “charged the Vichy government with having wanted or even helped a German victory in order to further their reactionary schemes” (Paxton 4). On the other hand, the Vichy government charged the Popular Front with having a large alliance with Russian Communists, the Masonic radials, and the Jews. The mental images of why France had been so easily taken over by the Germans were split between the Right and Left wings of the government. The Left had the image of “profascist officers fleeing to the rear in staff cars and profascist politicians stepping forward to take over the government” while the Right envisioned the “fatal panic on May 13 of the 55th and 71st Infantry Divisions which allowed the German panzers to cross the Meuse near Sedan, Paris-based divisions thought to contain large groups of Communist troops” (Paxton 4). According to the Frenchmen of the Liberatine, punishing those who were guilty was merely the first step in what they planned to do in 1940, and as well as in 1944-1946.

Shortly after the Armistice granted Germany the northern part of France, Pétain set about establishing a long-term political relationship with Nazi Germany. The Armistice, which was a necessary first step in avoiding further bloodshed and in establishing a relationship with Germany, which Pétain and his ministers thought would soon defeat Great Britain and develop into the dominant world power in Europe. Pétain thought that since France as both a colonial power and a major influence on Europe between the World Wars that it would benefit France to become an alley to emerging Nazi Germany. Some form of cooperation with Nazi Germany was a necessary prerequisite for the new French State, Pétain thought.

The second step that Marshall Pétain used after the Armistice was established was a radio broadcast that he made on October 30, 1940. His broadcast called for the possibility of France working with Germany once peace was established. Then on August 13, 1941, the New York Times released a translation of Marshall Pétain’s Address to the French People on August 12, 1941, in which he declared that “our relations with Germany have been defined by an armistice convention tile character of which could only be provisional. Dragging out this situation makes it that much harder to support in so far as it governs relations between two great nations” (“Ibiblio.org: WWII Resources”). Then Pétain mentioned the word ‘collaboration,’ which he stated was “offered in the month of October, 1940, by the Chancellor of the Reich under conditions that made me appreciate their deference–it was a long-term labor and has not yet been able to bear all its fruits” (“Ibiblio.org: WWII Resources”). Pétain called for collaboration with Germany because he believed it was the only for France to secure a better future in Europe once peace was established among the countries. For Pétain, the idea of collaboration was a sign of France’s good faith and willingness to work with Nazi Germany and accept them as the dominant force in the affairs of Europe. Pétain and Pierre Laval, the premier, both thought that collaboration with Nazi Germany would lead to many improvements in France, such as the return of 1.6 million prisoners of war, the safety of the French population, a decrease in the war compensation that France was paying as well as the assurance that Vichy was granted sovereignty over the Occupied and Unoccupied zones in France would still be respected.

The word collaboration means the act of working together such as with united labor or as the act of willingly cooperating with the enemy, especially when the enemy has occupied one’s own country. For historians of French History, they generally make a distinction between the two forms of collaboration known as state collaboration and collaborationism. Julian Jackson in his book, France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944, said that Stanley Hoffmann “had distinguished between ‘involuntary’ and ‘voluntary’ State collaboration, the former involving a punctilious conformity to the letter of the Armistice but no more, the latter representing an attempt to go beyond the Armistice and offer more than it required” (Jackson 167). State collaboration was a practical political and economic cooperation with Nazi Germany that had the instantaneous aim of safeguarding French interests as well as the long-term aim of securing a better position for France in a Germanic-dominated Europe.

There were at least three different motives behind the idea of voluntary State collaboration. First, there was a politico-administrative motive that was aimed at protecting France’s sovereignty. In theory, at least, this type of voluntary collaboration would mean sovereignty over all of France, and Vichy’s control over France’s Occupied Zone was at the mercy of German interference. Also, any French laws to be passed had to first be submitted to Germans, and the Germans could veto the administrative appointments. Jackson said that this type of voluntary collaboration had “started out as defensive and prophylactic, it became an even more dangerous spiral of complicity” (Jackson 168).

The second motive behind voluntary collaboration was politico-diplomatic, which was “to prepare a favorable outcome for France in the peace treaty which was believed to be imminent” (Jackson 168). General Huntziger, the French representative to the Armistice Committee, said on July 7th that the Committee’s discussions should be supplemented by additional contracts, since France was ‘almost at war’ with Germany, who was France’s former alley. Then Paul Baudouin, who was the Foreign Minister, tried to get in contact with Ribbentrop, German’s Foreign Minister, two days later, and tell him that France wanted to become an ‘associated power’. France wanted to become an ‘associated power’ because of the incident at Mers el Kebir on July 3rd, which was part of Operation Catapult that was aimed to secure the immobilization of France’s Naval Fleet in case it fell into Germany’s hands. The French Naval Fleet was given three opinions by the British Naval Fleet, which were that the French Fleet should join the Royal Navy, take a fleet of ships to a British port with a reduced crew so they could be sent back to France, or sail their fleet to a French, West Indian, or an American port and be decommissioned there. The French commander, Admiral Gensoul, did not act and since he decided not to act, the British Royal Navy opened fire on the French Fleet and caused the death of many French sailors. For example, the French battleship Bretange lost 977 men and the battle cruiser Dunkerque was crippled with 200 men dead. Jackson stated that the French felt that collaboration “represented not only short-term pique against the British” (Jackson 168). The French government was poised on the edge of a policy that would be pursed in several various ways over the next four years until the war ended.

The third motive behind collaboration with Nazi Germany was the need to alleviate the impact of the Armistice on French daily life. The Armistice was originally a “provisional agreement before a speedy end of the war” (Jackson 169). But as the war dragged on, the Armistice became very troublesome. One main priority for the French was to obtain the release of the French prisoners of war who were supposed to remain in captivity until the war was over. So, France decided to try relaxing the Armistice because Germany was starting to apply those articles very rigorously and they were treating the “demarcation line as a sealed frontier” which was nearly impossible to cross, at the same time, they were imposing huge financial problems on the French people (Jackson 169).

The other form of collaboration was collaborationism, which is an ideological motivated cooperation with Nazi Germany, and it was seen as the only barricade against the spread of Bolshevism in Europe that the French government feared would spill out of Soviet Russia. Although collaboration was not always motivated by fascism or any of its ideological affinities, there was still a large number of political parties in the Occupied zone that had a firm commitment to the ideology of the Nazis. Several of those political parties included the Rassemblement National Party or the RNP, and the Parti Populaire Français or the PPF, which were modeled on Nazi ideology. Some of the parties went as far as to adopt the paramilitary uniforms and the Nazi-style salute, and their view of French society degeneration was owed to Nazism rather the Nation Revolution, which Pétain reasoned would reconstruct France.

The two political parties involved in collaborationism were the Rassemblement National Party and the Parti Populaire Français. The Rassemblement National Party was founded in January 1941 by Marcel Deat, who had taken over the L’CEuvre Radical newspaper in September 1940, and he used it to attack the half-heartened attitude to collaboration by the Vichy government. Then in January, Deat created his own party, which was an “alliance between former neo-Socialists and Deloncle’s MSR” (Jackson 193). Deat created his party in hopes of bringing Laval back to power after he had been dismissed in December 1940 and Deat would go with him into the government. Deat wanted to achieve his goals by marching on Vichy. The Parti Populaire Français was established by Jacques Doriot in 1936, and it sought to limit the democracy of France and remake French society according to the parties’ own authoritarian beliefs. The Parti Populaire Français was more violent than the Rassemblement National Party and they “cultivated the SS and Abwehr” (Jackson 193). These two political parties thought that since France was riddled with Jews and blacks that they were responsible for bringing France back onto the path toward greatness. They thought that France could only continue on that path through the creation of a regime that was along the lines of Nazi Germany and through an even closer relationship with them that Vichy had envisioned. Jackson stated that the collaborationists were “a sword of Damocles suspended over the Vichy government-threatening enough to keep it in line, never strong enough to unseat it (unless the Germans wished)” (Jackson 198).

Once Paris was liberated on August 25, 1944, the Vichy government was moved to Sigmaringen, where a government in exile was headed by Fernand de Brinon. When the Vichy government was moved, Pétain refused to participate until April 21, 1945. The Vichy government ended on October 23, 1944 when Normandy and Provence was invaded. After the invasion, the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union recognized the Provisional Government of the French Republic or the GPRK, that headed by Charles de Gaulle as the legitimate government of France. The Provisional Government of the French Republic reestablished republican legality throughout France, and they declared that the Vichy government had been unconstitutional and that all of its actions during the war were illegal. The Provisional Government also took steps after France was liberated to replace all of the local governments, including those that had been suppressed by the Vichy government, through new elections or by extending the terms of government members who had been in office no later than 1939.

Ever since Pétain argued at his trial that the Vichy government only collaborated because it reduced the damage that the Nazi might have inflicted on France, French historians have debated over whether not France’s collaboration with Germany was voluntary or if it was forced upon them. Now, leading French historians believe that France entered voluntary into collaboration with Nazi Germany, and the two leading historians in that area are Julian Jackson and Richard Paxton. Julian Jackson said that “any attempt to build an identity around the idea that Vichy was not France will be doomed to failure: de Gaulle’s assertion that Vichy was null and void no longer serves any purpose in contemporary France” (Jackson). Richard Paxton thought that France collaborated with Nazi Germany because Vichy had actively sought collaboration rather than have it imposed on them.

Pétain said that he and Vichy had formed a shield, un bouclier, during the war that protected France from the worst extremes of Nazi Germany domination. However, the ‘shield’ philosophy does not stand up against the evidence. First, Pétain said that his shield protected France from the extremes of the Nazis, and that implied that the Vichy government had some awareness of Nazi policy. The Vichy government might have had a limited understand of Nazi policy because many people in the government thought that the Germany of the 1940 was no different than the Germany that they had agreed to an Armistice with in 1918. Furthermore, Pétain argued that Vichy had only collaborated with the Nazis in order to prevent France from becoming like Poland. The deportation of 75,000-80,000 Jews, the forced dispatch of 75, 000 Frenchmen and Frenchwomen to work in Germany, the internment of 70,000 ‘enemies of the state,’ and the involvement of the French police and Militia in suppressing resistance are all examples of that argument being unfounded. All of these examples concluded that the Vichy government had not only assisted and aided Nazi Germany, but they also exploited the military defeat of France as a way to construct their own political revolution.

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