France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944

By Julian Jackson | Go to book overview

Introduction: Historians
and the Occupation

In France, the period between 1940 and 1944 is known as the 'Dark Years'. The prosecutor at the post-war trial of Marshal Pétain, André Mornet, entitled his memoirs Four Years to Erase from our History. There was a lot to erase. In 1940, after a battle lasting only six weeks, France suffered a catastrophic military defeat. An armistice was signed with Germany, and half of France, including Paris, was occupied by German troops. In the other half, a supposedly independent French government, headed by Marshal Pétain, installed itself in the spa town of Vichy. The Vichy government liquidated France's democratic institutions, persecuted Freemasons, Jews, and Communists, and embarked on a policy of collaboration with Germany. Eventually 650,000 civilian French workers were compulsorily drafted to work in German factories; 75,000 Jews from France perished in Auschwitz; 30,000 French civilians were shot as hostages or members of the Resistance; another 60,000 were deported to German concentration camps.

André Mornet's desire to erase these years from history was widely shared. De Gaulle tried to do the same. In August 1944, his provisional government issued an ordinance declaring that all Vichy's legislation was null and void: history would resume where it had stopped in 1940. When de Gaulle was asked in liberated Paris to announce the restoration of the French Republic, he refused— on the grounds that it had never ceased to exist. This legal fiction became the foundation of a heroic reinterpretation of the Dark Years. According to this reinterpretation, most of the horrors inflicted on France had been the work of the Germans alone; de Gaulle and the Resistance had incarnated the real France; and the mass of the French people, apart from a handful of traitors, had been solidly behind them, whether in thought or in deed. Even Mornet contradicted the title to his own memoirs, by stating in the epigraph that the Resistance had made the period between 1940 and 1944 'years to inscribe in our history'. This Resistance myth reached its apogee in the 1960s when de Gaulle was president

1Quatre ans à rayer de notre histoire (1949).

-1-

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France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • List of Maps and Figure xvi
  • Abbreviations xvii
  • Introduction: Historians and the Occupation 1
  • Part I - Anticipations 21
  • 1: The Shadow of War: Cultural Anxieties and Modern Nightmares 27
  • 2: Rethinking the Republic: 1890-1934 43
  • 3: Class War/Civil War 65
  • 4: The German Problem 81
  • 5: The Daladier Moment: Prelude to Vichy or Republican Revival? 97
  • 6: The Debacle 112
  • Part II - The Regime: National Revolution and Collaboration 137
  • 7: The National Revolution 142
  • 8: Collaboration 166
  • 9: Collaborationism 190
  • 10: Laval in Power: 1942–1943 213
  • Part III - Vichy, the Germans, and the French People 237
  • 11: Propaganda, Policing, and Administration 246
  • 12: Public Opinion, Vichy, and the Germans 272
  • 13: Intellectuals, Artists, and Entertainers 300
  • 14: Reconstructing Mankind 327
  • 15: Vichy and the Jews 354
  • Part IV - The Resistance 383
  • 16: The Free French 1940-1942 389
  • 17: The Resistance 1940-1942 402
  • 18: De Gaulle and the Resistance 1942 427
  • 19: Power Struggles 1943 447
  • 20: Resistance in Society 475
  • 21: Remaking France 506
  • Part V - Liberation and After 525
  • 22: Towards Liberation: January to June 1944 529
  • 23: Liberations 544
  • 24: A New France? 570
  • Epilogue: Remembering the Occupation 601
  • Appendix: The Camps of Vichy France 633
  • Bibliographical Essay 637
  • Index 647
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