France at War: Vichy and the Historians

France at War: Vichy and the Historians

France at War: Vichy and the Historians

France at War: Vichy and the Historians

Synopsis

This volume about the Vichy years and the German Occupation of 1940-1944 uses as a starting point Robert Paxton's Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, which provided a meticulously documented portrait of a nation consumed by indecision and self-doubt. The essays by the foremost scholars in the field place the Occupation of France in the context of other episodes in French history, and in the context of other occupied countries during World War II. They consider communities of belief during the Vichy years, examine how the experience of war and occupation shaped the everyday lives of people, and look at the ongoing reconstruction of the memory of the Vichy years.This collection of essays takes up where Paxton left off and shows how the last twenty-five years of scholarship have made problematic the tidy categories used to describe behaviour during the Vichy years. The authors point to new directions in the field and address both the myth of the 'nation of forty million resisters' that Paxton demolished and the creation of a new myth -- that the French have failed or refused to confront their past.

Excerpt

It would be difficult to overstate just how deeply the years of the Vichy regime and the German Occupation scarred the history of France. The armistice following the crushing German military victory of June 1940 left France divided – militarily, politically, socially and geographically. A new group of political figures came to power, led by First World War hero Marshal Philippe Pétain. Breaking with the dishonored and defeated Third Republic, they created a new regime that they called simply the French State (l'État français), to govern the country from the spa town of Vichy. Germany directly occupied the northern two-thirds of France, including the entire Atlantic coast. Following the successful Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942, the German army occupied the entire country until France's liberation in August and September of 1944.

Politically, the Vichy regime exacerbated a series of long-standing divisions in France. Conflict between Collaborators and the Resistance built on previous battles between Left and Right, Republicans and old or new authoritarians, Catholics and Anticlericals. The period surrounding the Liberation in 1944, according to some scholars, brought France to the brink of civil war. Beginning in the 1970s, internal strife also came to characterize an intense and sometimes agonized search for the meaning of the Occupation years. This struggle has been part and parcel of the evolution of the French nation ever since 1945, and has been described by Henry Rousso as the ‘Vichy syndrome’. In the title of a later book, Rousso provocatively borrowed a phrase from German historian Ernst Nolte, Vergangenheit, die nicht vergehen will, to characterize the Vichy years as an ‘ever-present past’.

The most recent manifestation of the Vichy syndrome took place late in 1997 in Bordeaux. Maurice Papon, general secretary of the Gironde prefecture from 1942 to the end of the war, was finally brought to trial after nearly two decades of delay and doubt. Papon had held a number of important positions after the war, among them prefect of the Paris police and minister of the budget. He was charged with being an accomplice in crimes against humanity – a charge based on the role he played in . . .

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