Vichy regime (July 1940 - August 1944)

Vichy regime (July 1940 - August 1944)

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The Vichy regime is the name given to the political regime installed in Vichy which took the official name of French State and ruled France during the Second World War, from July 10, 1940 to August 1944. Led by Marshal Pétain, the Vichy government accepts defeat against the German armies and launches a policy of collaboration with the Nazis. The regime reduced freedoms, pursued an anti-Semitic policy and developed far-right propaganda on the theme of " National revolution ". The new motto "Work, family, fatherland" replaces the republican motto "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity".

The birth of the Vichy regime

The armistice signed on June 22, 1940 - in the same wagon in the Rethondes clearing where the Germans had to sign that of November 11, 1918 - constitutes the birth certificate of the Vichy regime: it is he who draws the framework of the collaboration which begins between France of Pétain and Germany of Hitler. The clauses of the armistice are harsh: French troops are disarmed, war material is delivered to Germany, which also controls French airfields. Theoretically, the French state continues to exercise its sovereignty over the whole of French territory, although France is then divided into seven distinct zones and most of the national territory is occupied by German troops, whose costs maintenance (400 million francs per day, a sum sufficient to support 10 million French soldiers) are, moreover, the responsibility of the French authorities.

In occupied French territory, the armistice stipulates that "all French authorities and administrative services must comply with the regulations of the German military authorities and cooperate with them in a proper manner". As potential hostages, French prisoners are taken to Germany until peace is made.

A compromise ?

However harsh they may be - even dishonorable since an article obliges France to hand over the German political emigrants who have taken refuge in the southern zone - these clauses represent a German concession with regard to France, which continues to have an independent government that still has of his empire, his fleet and a small army of 100,000 men. This is the argument developed a posteriori by the Vichy thurifers. De Gaulle was the sword. Pétain the shield, said many Vichy people after the Liberation. It is true that a first German armistice project was much more restrictive, since it provided for the occupation of the whole of France, the delivery of its navy and military bases in its colonies. In reality. Hitler had opted for the other solution because it offered Germany multiple advantages. In the first place, it exempted the Wehrmacht from setting up a direct military administration which was very expensive in terms of men; it authorized the use for the benefit of the occupier of the French administration and, in particular, of the French police, which proved to be much more effective than its counterpart from across the Rhine in hunting down resistance fighters; finally, it made it possible to ensure the peace of the front in western Europe and in the French Empire.

Also, for more than a year, the occupier took care not to appear on the front line in the pursuit of various opponents. Better still, during the first months, the Germans prided themselves on having a "correct" attitude. Did they not go so far as to free, during the summer of 1940, several hundred communist militants arrested during the strange war and to enter into negotiations with the leadership of the P.C.F. whose goal is the legal reappearance of Humanity? Gradually, this correction - towards the population - and this leniency - towards the Communists - disappears. In October 1940, the Gestapo authorized the Vichy police to arrest more than 200 communist leaders; December 23, 1940, the first French shot since June 1940 - engineer Jacques Bonsergent, who had intervened in a fight between a French and a German soldier and who was sentenced for "an act of violence against a member of the army German ”- fell under bullets from a firing squad. The shootings will no longer cease but will become more and more numerous after August 21, 1941. That day, Pierre Georges - later called Colonel Fabien - kills a German officer in the metro. This is the first communist attack recognized by the occupier. These multiply in the following weeks. In response, the Germans used dozens of hostages with arms: 98 shot on October 22 and 23, 1941, 95 in December 1941, etc.

In this repression carried out by the occupier, part of the French police participated without counting. Specialized organizations in the fight against "terrorists" are formed (the special brigades) whose interrogation methods have nothing to envy those of the Gestapo.

Towards a policy of collaboration

Vichy France's policy of active collaboration is led by the French government, although Hitler is not a strong supporter. Indeed, Nazi Germany is rather preoccupied with economic collaboration, which should enable the Third Reich to requisition food on French territory and receive compensation. State collaboration is indeed a French initiative: the objective is to integrate France into Hitler's future "new Europe". It was with Pétain's speech on October 11, 1940 that the first foundations were laid for political collaboration, with the French head of state declaring "to seek collaboration in all fields". Laval then decides to organize a meeting between Hitler and Pétain. It takes place in Montoire on October 24, 1940, and the handshake between the two men symbolizes the start of state collaboration.

In December 1940, Laval was removed from power and replaced as vice-president by Pierre-Étienne Flandin for a few months. But it was with Admiral Darlan that Vichy really embarked on the path of collaboration. In May 1941, the Paris Protocols were signed, granting Germany sea and air bases in Syria, French West Africa and Tunisia, in exchange for a reduction in the daily allowance paid by the France. However, contrary to the hopes of the government, the Third Reich refuses to restore French sovereignty over the entire territory, and collaboration then appears as a fool's bargain.

The National Revolution

The Vichy regime is not only a refusal - that of continuing the fight and, consequently, the desire to hunt down the resistance fighters - it also defends a project: to rebuild France far from the mistakes of the past, brought to a climax during the Popular Front. From June 20, 1940, Pétain proclaimed: "Since the victory, the spirit of pleasure has prevailed over the spirit of sacrifice. We claimed more than we served. We wanted to save the effort; today we encounter misfortune. "

For the Marshal and his supporters, the debacle was no accident. On the one hand, it is the core of the nationalist right and the French far right. He advocates a return to the land and exalts traditional values: Work - unions are dissolved, strikes and lockouts prohibited -, the Family - women's work is discouraged, abortion is punishable by death, divorce made more difficult -, the Fatherland - the bad French, like the Communists, the Freemasons and the Jews, are excluded from the national community.

Wanting, by all means, to demonstrate that he exercises power over all French territory, Vichy is led to collaborate more and more with the occupier and to participate closely in the maintenance of the German war machine and in the repression against resistance fighters. Already in the summer of 1940, Pétain had not protested against the de facto annexation of Alsace and the Moselle.

Undoubtedly, for a whole period, Marshal Pétain was extremely popular among the French population. However, the object of this popular cult is not the supporter of collaboration but the victor of Verdun. Traumatized, public opinion seeks refuge with a prestigious Father in whom, moreover, the traditional help - the Church - places all its trust: “Pétain is France, and France is Pétain, »Declares the cardinal-archbishop of Lyon, Monsignor Gerlier. By 1940, public opinion was very anti-German and Anglophile. In addition, from 1941, the French were almost unanimously convinced that German defeat was near.

The age of rutabaga

Of course, the first concern of the French throughout this period is that of their daily life: to feed and heat themselves. Rationing, despite its procession of tickets, its eleven categories and its continual queues, does not ensure the daily food of a family and, to escape the indigestion of rutabaga and to obtain the number of calories necessary, for urbanites, it is necessary to have recourse from time to time to the black market or to country relations.

Of course, not everyone is in the same boat: the wealthy can, at a price, get what they want and the black market also breeds its profiteers. But, for the first time in a long time, the average Frenchman felt cold and hungry. This inability of the Vichy regime to ensure supplies is not for nothing in the progressive detachment of public opinion.

The disavowal of public opinion

From now on, many French people listen to London, the newspapers of the Resistance begin to circulate, the first networks are formed. All this is still very marginal, but public opinion is no longer amorphous or hostile as in the early days of the Occupation. In this regard, 1942 represents an extremely important date and three events punctuate this shift in opinion. On April 16, 1942, Admiral Darlan, number 2 in the regime, was replaced, under German pressure, by Pierre Laval.

The former socialist deputy gradually converted to the right, the former signatory of the Franco-Soviet pact of 1935 who became the champion of anti-Sovietism, declaims, two months after his appointment, his shocking formula: "I wish Germany victory. , because without it Bolshevism would settle everywhere. The French are deeply shocked by this statement by the head of government. The same is true of the great raids of the summer of 1942 against the Jews, which marked the decline of anti-Semitism, until then predominantly widespread among the population.

The anti-Semitic policy of the Vichy government

The first attacks on equality between Jews and non-Jews came not from the German authorities but from the Vichy regime. From October 3, 1940 - even before Hitler-Pétain's handshake in Montoire on October 24, 1940 - Jews of French nationality were endowed with a special status, which officially excluded them from the public service, the judiciary and the army and, unofficially, the liberal professions and the University. This text is based on racial and not religious criteria. In June 1941, decrees worsened this legislation, for example by limiting the percentage of Jewish doctors or dentists to 2%, that of Jewish students to 3%, etc.

Faced with such initiatives, the Germans in no way limited their own anti-Semitic measures: in December 1941, 743 notable French Israelites were arrested, then deported in March 1942. At the same time, a whole series of vexatious measures were imposed on the Jews: wearing a yellow star, do not fold, enter a public place (cinema, square ...), use only the last metro car, etc.

Vichy did not set out to exterminate the Jewish people, but he too participated in the Holocaust. At the request of the Germans, on July 16 and 17, 1942, French police arrested 13,000 foreign Jews residing in the area occupied during the Vel ’d'Hiv’ raid. They were parked in the Vélodrome d'Hiver in Paris, then in the Drancy camp before being deported to Germany. A month later, the French police organized new roundups, this time in the unoccupied zone. Then French Jews will also be arrested and deported. In total, out of around 350,000 Jews living in France before the war, nearly 80,000 were deported, a third of whom were French. Among them, more than 10,000 children and adolescents deported at the request of Vichy. 97% of these Jews arrested in France and deported did not return from the camps.

The turning point of 1942

November 11, 1942 marked a turning point for the Vichy regime. On that day, in response to the Anglo-American landing of November 8 in North Africa, the Wehrmacht violated the armistice agreements and invaded the southern zone. In Montpellier, General de Lattre de Tassigny, commander of the military division, decided to resist and tried, unsuccessfully, to train his officers and soldiers in action against the Wehrmacht. He was arrested and imprisoned in Clermont-Ferrand. But this attitude is well isolated: Pétain and the officers leading the 100,000 men of the armistice army decide not to react. In his report, the German official reports to Hitler: “The loyal French army is helping the troops. The French police are eager and full of good will. From then on, the popular belief in the Marshal's double game vanished.

Far from breaking away from Germany as the Occupation regime hardened, Vichy took the opposite approach. However, Pétain and Laval no longer really have the cards to negotiate: North Africa is in the hands of the Allies, the French fleet - which was scuttled in November 1942 so as not to be taken by the Germans - no longer exists. . Hitler therefore increased his demands: the deportations of the Jews accelerated and the deliveries of labor intensified, in order to replace the German workers who had become soldiers. After relying on volunteering - the promise of high salaries or the desire to see prisoners return (a prisoner was freed when three French workers left for Germany) - Laval established the S.T.O. At the same time, the economic exploitation of France is increasing; in 1943, a third of the national income went to the Reich. Collaboration even tends to become political and military. On the political level, in 1944, real fascists entered the government: Marcel Déat was appointed minister, along with two members of the Militia, one of whom became responsible for maintaining order.

The Militia, founded in January 1943, is a parallel state-subsidized police force under the authority of the head of government. The militiamen - who numbered 33,000 in 1944, including 10,000 having a real activity - must be volunteers, French by birth and "non-Jews". Engaged in the fights against the FFI, the Militia delivers summary justice and multiplies the executions and assassinations, for example those of the president of the League of the human rights, Victor Basch, aged eighty, and his woman, as well as those of former Israelite ministers Jean Zay and Georges Mandel. Vichy had begun its existence under the sign of guilt-inducing paternalism; he completes it under that of bloody repression.

The fall of the Vichy regime

After the landing of June 1944, the government of Marshal Pétain had little authority. Laval chairs a last Council of Ministers on August 17; then, Pétain was taken by the Germans to Belfort, then to Sigmaringen. Joined by Laval, Déat, Doriot, Darnand ... Pétain, half hostage, half volunteer, will become the moral leader of an illusory French government in exile, from October 1944 to April 1945. The approach of French troops will provoke the dispersion of this phantom government, and Philippe Pétain will decide to surrender. He will cross Switzerland on April 24 to go to France. He will be imprisoned on April 26, 1945 at Fort Montrouge, tried and sentenced to death (his sentence will be commuted to life imprisonment by De Gaulle). Other officials and supporters of Vichy (Darnand, Laval, Brasillach ...) were also sentenced between 1945 and 1946.

Described as illegitimate, the government and the Vichy regime have long been seen as a constitutional parenthesis that exempted the French state from all responsibility for acts committed during this period, including the persecution of Jews. This dark period in our history, which permanently fractured French society, has for several decades been the subject of patient - and not always serene - memorial work on the part of historians. In 1995, a speech by President Chirac recognized the responsibility of the French authorities and therefore of the state in the deportation of Jews to German extermination camps.


- The Vichy regime, by Henry Rousso. PUF, 2019.

- The Vichy regime: 1940-1944, by Marc Olivier Baruch. Text, 2017.

- La France de Vichy, 1940-1944, by Robert O. Paxton. Points Histoire, 1999.

Video: Paris - Liberation in August 1944 in color and HD


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