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. 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. 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.
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
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, like zat.
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,
Because it told the awful truth, that lots of people
believed “better Hitler than Blum.”
And many people got on a plateau,
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 Brusels once, and we were in a hotel in
Brusels, 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. 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 called anti-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 in seconde
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
So, there’s lots more that can be done.
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 Pyrén&eac
ute;es-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