Vichy France

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Vichy France, or the Vichy regime (in French, now called: Régime de Vichy or Vichy; at the time, called itself: État Français, or French State) was the de facto French government of 1940-1944 during the Nazi Germany occupation of World War II. The Vichy position that it was the de jure French government was challenged by the Free French Forces of Charles de Gaulle. Initially it ruled an unoccupied zone in Southern France and some French colonies, but Nazi Germany invaded the zone under its control on November 11, 1942, in operation Case Anton. The authoritarian Vichy France regime was headed by Marshal Philippe Pétain.

Vichy France, while officially neutral in the war, was essentially a Nazi puppet state which collaborated with the Nazis, including on the Nazis' racial policies. It opposed the Free French Forces, based first in London and later in Algiers.

Vichy France was established after the country had surrendered to Germany in 1940 (see also: World War II). It takes its name from the government's capital in Vichy, south-east of Paris near Clermont-Ferrand.


The fall of France and the establishment of the Vichy regime

France declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939 following the German invasion of Poland. After the eight month Phony War the Germans launched their offensive in the west on 10 May 1940 and were quickly successful, occupying Paris in mid-June 1940. The French leaders considered retreating to French territories in North Africa, but the vice-premier Henri Philippe Pétain and the commander-in-chief General Maxime Weygand, both insisted that the government should remain in France and seek an armistice with Germany.

Prime Minister Paul Reynaud resigned over the decision and President Albert Lebrun appointed the 84-year-old Pétain to replace him on June 16. Pétain began negotiations and on June 22 signed the surrender agreement with Germany and Italy. The key section of the agreement divided France into occupied and unoccupied zones. Germany would control northern and western France including the entire Atlantic coast. The remaining two-fifths of the country would be administered by the French government with the capital at Vichy under Pétain. The French Army was reduced to 100,000 men and French prisoners of war would remain in captivity. The French had to pay the occupation costs of the German troops and prevent any French people from leaving the country.

The United Kingdom and the Vichy government then broke off diplomatic relations on July 5 after the Destruction of the French Fleet at Mers-el-Kebir by British naval forces.

The Third Republic was voted out of existence by a majority of the French National Assembly on July 10 1940. The assembly met in Vichy, a city in central France, which was used as a provisional capital. The Vichy regime was established the following day, with Pétain as head of state, with the whole powers (Constitutive, Legislative, Executive and Judicial) in his hand. Pétain was given the power to write a new Constitution but this was never done. He instead put forth three Constitutional Acts that suspended the Constitution of the Third Republic of 1875. These Acts suspended Parliament and transferred all powers to himself. On July 12th, Pétain designated Pierre Laval as Vice-President and his designated successor, and appointed Fernand de Brinon as representative to the German High Command in Paris. Pétain remained as the head of the Vichy regime until August 20 1944. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood), the French national motto, was replaced by Travail, Famille, Patrie (Work, Family and Country). Pétain's vice-premiers were successively Pierre Laval and François Darlan. Paul Reynaud, who had not officially resigned as Prime Minister, was arrested in September 1940 by the Vichy government and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1941.

The Vichy cabinet, and its policies, were a mixed lot.

  • Many Vichy officials such as Pétain, though not all, were reactionaries who considered that France's unfortunate fate was a kind of divine punishment for its Republican character and the actions of its left-wing governments of the 1930s (see Popular Front). Reactionary writer Charles Maurras judged that Pétain's accession to power was, in that respect, a "divine surprise"; and many people of the same political persuasion judged that it was preferable to have an authoritarian, Catholic government similar to that of Francisco Franco's Spain, albeit under Germany's yoke, than have a Republican government.
  • Some, like Joseph Darnand, were strong antisemites and overt Nazi sympathisers. A number of these joined the Légion des Volontaires Français contre le Bolchévisme (legion of French volunteers against bolshevism) units fighting on the Eastern Front, or even the Waffen SS.
  • Some, in more technical administrative positions, were just technocrats who used their position to push various reforms that had been postponed during the Third Republic, many of which were later retained (examples include the foundation of the statistics office, which was to become INSEE after the war).
  • Some members of the Vichy Government, such as young François Mitterrand, claimed, after the war, to have used their official positions as "insiders", to further the goals of the internal resistance.

Collaboration, up to the invasion of the free zone

Pétain took the control of Frenchmen, thanks to the "Legion Française des Combattants" (L.F.C.), including at first only former combattants, but quickly adding "Amis de la Légion" and cadets of the Légion, who had never seen battle, but were supporters of his dictatorial regime. The name was then quickly changed to "Legion Française des Combattants et des volontaires de la Révolution Nationale". Then, Joseph Darnand created a "Service d'Ordre Légionnaire" (S.O.L.), which consisted mostly of French supporters of the Nazis, about which Pétain fully approved.

In 1943, the S.O.L. became independent and was transformed into the "Milice française" (French Militia), and Joseph Darnand was appointed head of that Vichy Milice, the wartime police. He held an SS rank and took an oath of loyalty to Hitler. Under Darnand and his sub-commanders, such as Paul Touvier and Jacques de Bernonville, the Milice was responsible for helping the German forces and police in the repression of the French Resistance and Maquis. In addition, the Milice was also responsible for hunting defenseless Jews, including working with area Gestapo head Klaus Barbie to seize members of the resistance and also Jews, for shipment to detention centres, such as the Drancy deportation camp, enroute to Auschwitz, and other German concentration camps, including Dachau and Buchenwald.

As soon as it had been established, Pétain's government took measures against his real or supposed opponents, like "Francs Maçons." It also created racist laws of Hitlerian inspiration against Jews even more quickly than Hitler did after his ascent to power in Germany. These racist laws were more severe than the 1938 Italian Fascist ones, and they were made even stricter in July 1941.

Furthermore, foreign Jews staying in France would be handed over to Germany. The Vichy goverment helped in the deportation of 70,000 Jews. For example, French police officers rounded-up 8,160 Jews and imprisoned them in the Winter Velodrome, in unhygienic conditions, on 16 July 1942, from which they were led to concentration camps. French constabulary officers ran the transit camp at Drancy. While it is certain that the Vichy government and a large number of its high administration collaborated in such policies, the exact level of such cooperation is still debated. Compared with the Jewish communities established in other countries invaded by Nazi Germany, French Jews suffered proportionately lighter losses. Former Vichy officials later claimed that they did as much as they could to minimize the impact of the Nazi policies, while critics contend that the Vichy regime went beyond the Nazi expectations, which originally concerned only foreign Jews staying in France, not French Jews.

A number of French individuals found fascist philosophies attractive and were advocating them even before the founding of the Vichy regime. Their far-right organizations, such as the Cagoule had greatly contributed to the destabilization of the French Third Republic in the 1930s, particularly when the left-wing Popular Front had been in power. Some of them had worked as a kind of fifth column in order to ease the German invasion. After Nazi control was established, some of these sympathisers actively assisted the Vichy regime, and in some cases, directly assisted the Nazis, in taking Jewish private property, destroying synagogues and other Jewish monuments, and in shipping Jews to Nazi death camps. A prime example is the founder of L'Oréal, Eugène Schueller, and his associates, André Bettencourt and Jacques Corrèze.

The Vichy regime also implemented compulsory work in Germany for young French men (service du travail obligatoire or STO), a move which pushed some of these young men to join the Resistance instead.

Despite the cooperation of the Vichy government, the German forces invoked Anton and took control of southern France in November 1942, with the real power devolving into the hands of Laval.

Relationships with the allied powers

To counter the Vichy regime, General Charles de Gaulle created France Libre (Free France) after his famous radio speech of June 18, 1940. Initially Winston Churchill was ambivalent about de Gaulle and he dropped links with Vichy only when it became clear they would not fight. Even so, the Free France headquarters in London was riven with internal divisions and jealousies.

The United States granted Vichy full diplomatic recognition, thus acknowledging the puppet regime's legitimacy, and it sent Admiral William Leahy to its capital as American ambassador. The United Kingdom viewed the Vichy government with suspicion after severing diplomatic relations. In the armistice terms with Germany, the Vichy regime had been allowed to keep control of the French Navy, the Marine Nationale, and it pledged that it would never fall into the hands of Germany. However, this was not enough for the Churchill government. French ships in British ports were seized by the Royal Navy. The French squadron at Alexandria, under Admiral Godfroy, was effectively interned until 1943 after an agreement was reached with Admiral Cunningham, commander of the Mediterranean Fleet.

However, there were still French naval ships under French control. A large squadron was in port at Mers El Kébir harbour near Oran. Vice Admiral Sommerville, with Force H under his command, was instructed to deal with the situation in July 1940. Various terms were offered to the French squadron, but all were rejected. Consequently, Force H opened fire on the French ships. Over 1,000 French sailors died when an old French battleship blew up in the attack. The incident provoked a great deal of resentment and hatred towards the UK within the French Navy, and to a lesser extent in the general French public. Further action was taken against French naval forces at Dakar in Senegal.

The next flashpoint between Britain and Vichy came in June 1941 when a revolt in Iraq had to be put down by British forces. Luftwaffe aircraft, staging through the French colony of Syria, intervened in the fighting in small numbers. That highlighted Syria as a threat to British interests in the Middle East. Consequently, the Australian Army and allied forces invaded Syria and Lebanon, capturing Damascus on June 17.

One other major operation against Vichy French territory took place using British forces. It was feared that Japanese forces might use Madagascar as a base and thus cripple British trade and communications in the Indian Ocean. As a result, Madagascar was invaded by British and South African forces in 1942. It fell relatively quickly, but the operation is often viewed as an unnecessary diversion of British naval resources away from more vital theatres of operation.

US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt continued to cultivate Vichy and promoted General Henri Giraud in place of de Gaulle (as part of a larger political strategy). Even after the invasion of North Africa in 'Operation Torch', Admiral François Darlan (who had arrived in Algiers the day before 'Torch', and had been neutralized there, during 15 hours, with the XIXth vichyst Army Corps, by the 400 French resistants putsch of 8th november 1942, until the success of combined landing in Algiers), has been agreeed by Roosevelt and Churchill as the French leader in North Africa, rather than de Gaulle. The United States also resented the Free French taking control of St Pierre and Miquelon on December 24, 1941.[1] ([2] (

After Darlan signed an armistice with the Allies in North Africa, Germany violated the 1940 armistice and invaded Vichy France on 10 November 1942 (operation code-named Case Anton). Darlan was assassinated on December 24, 1942, and replaced by Giraud, but he commanded very little loyalty. It took until 1944 for Roosevelt to agree to recognize de Gaulle as the leader of the French.

Liberation of France and aftermath

Following the Allied invasions of France, Pétain and his ministers fled to Germany and established a government in exile at Sigmaringen.

In 1945, many members of the Vichy government were arrested and charged with high treason and other crimes. Trials ensued and some, including Laval and Darnand, were executed. Pétain was sentenced to death but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Others fled or went into hiding, such as Jacques de Bernonville who went to Québec, while some were not prosecuted for their crimes until much later, or not at all. In 1993, former Vichy official René Bousquet was murdered while he awaited prosecution in Paris following a 1989 complaint for crimes against humanity; he had been prosecuted after the war, but had been acquitted in 1949.[3] ( In 1994 former Vichy official Paul Touvier was convicted of crimes against humanity.

Until recently, the official point of view of the French government was that the Vichy regime was an illegal government distinct from the French Republic. While the criminal behavior of Vichy France was acknowledged, and some former Vichy officials prosecuted, this point of view denied any responsibility of the French Republic. However, on July 16, 1995, president Jacques Chirac, in a speech, recognized the responsibility of the French State for seconding the "criminal folly of the occupying country". [4] (,1-0@2-3224,36-395520,0.html)

See also

External links


  • Henri Michel, Vichy, année 40, Robert Laffont, Paris, 1967.
  • William Langer, Our Vichy gamble, Alfred Knopf, New York, 1947.
  • Le régime de Vichy et les Français (sous la direction de Jean-Pierre Azéma et François Bédarida, Institut d'histoire du temps présent), Fayard, 1992, ISBN 2213026831
  • Pr François-Georges Dreyfus, Histoire de Vichy, Éditions de Fallois, 2004, ISBN 2877064891
  • Pr Yves Maxime Danan, La vie politique à Alger, de 1940 à 1944, L.G.D.J., Paris 1963.
  • Général Albert Merglen, Novembre 1942: La grande honte, L'Harmattan, Paris 2000, ISBN 2738420362
  • Robert O. Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944 (London, 1972) [new edition, 2000: ISBN 0231124694]de:Vichy-Regime

es:Francia de Vichy fr:Régime de Vichy fr:Zone occupée he:צרפת של וישי ja:ヴィシー政権 nl:Vichy-regime pl:Rząd Vichy pt:França de Vichy ro:Regimul de la Vichy sv:Vichyregimen zh:维希政府


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