Fascism's Return: Scandal, Revision, and Ideology since 1980

By Richard J. Golsan | Go to book overview

Richard J. Golsan


History and the Responsibility of Memory: Vichy: Un Passé qui ne passe pas and the Trial of Paul Touvier

In 1987 the young French historian Henry Rousso published his nowclassic study, Le Syndrome de Vichy de 1944 à nos jours,1 a work that carefully dissected the troubled memory of the Vichy period as it manifested itself in political, social, and judicial controversies in postwar France. Rather than receding peacefully into the past, Rousso argued, the dark years of the Occupation continued to haunt the nation. The Vichy past was, as he described it, a "corpse [that] was still warm," a specter that could still affect electoral campaigns, provoke governmental and judicial scandals, and even shape conflicting discourses surrounding events as disparate as the Algerian crisis in the 1950s and 1960s and the student revolts of May 1968.

As it turned out, Le Syndrome de Vichy was not simply a history in progress but in many ways a prophetic work that would define the parameters of a growing national malaise still alive in France today. After 1987 the troubled memory of the Occupation provoked scandal after scandal, involving at various times the judicial system, the Catholic Church, and members of the government. All of these scandals, moreover, were covered in depth by the media.2 In September 1994, the "Vichy Syndrome" -- now a widely acknowledged national "malady" affecting nearly every phase of French public life -- reached the office of the president of the Republic itself. Revelations in Pierre Péan's Une Jeunesse française: François Mitterrand 1934-1947 concerning the extent of Mitterrand's Vichy past and his postwar friendship with René Bousquet, the former head of Vichy police charged with crimes against humanity in 1989, forced Mitterrand to go on national television to explain that past and justify his friendship with Bousquet. By most accounts, few were satisfied with the president's explanations.3

Precisely at the moment of the irruption of l'Affaire Mitterrand, Rousso, now an influential public figure in his own right, coauthored a new book entitled Vichy: Un Passé qui ne passe pas.4 The book called, in effect, for a moratorium on public debate and controversy surrounding

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