Vichy France - Historiographical Debates and France's Responsibility: The "Vichy Syndrome" - "French Jews Vs. Foreign Jews": Myth or Reality?

"French Jews Vs. Foreign Jews": Myth or Reality?

Although this claim is rejected by the rest of the French population and by the state itself, another myth remains more widespread than this one. This other myth refers to the alleged "protection" by Vichy of French Jews by "accepting" to collaborate in the deportation—and, ultimately, in the extermination—of foreign Jews.

However, this argument has been rejected by several historians who are specialists of the subject, among them US historian Robert Paxton, who is widely recognized and whose foreign origin permits a more distant and objective judgment on the matter, and historian of the French police Maurice Rajsfus. Both were called on as experts during the Papon trial in the 1990s.

Robert Paxton thus declared, before the court, on 31 October 1997, that "Vichy took initiatives... The armistice let it a breathing space." Henceforth, on its own Vichy decided, on the domestic plan, to implement the "National Revolution" ("Révolution nationale"). After having designated the alleged responsibles of the defeat ("democracy, parliamentarism, cosmopolitanism, left-wing, foreigners, Jews...") Vichy put in place, as soon as 3 October 1940, the first "Statute on Jews." From then on, Jewish people were considered "second-zone citizens ".

On the international plan, France "believed the war to be finished". Thus, as soon as July 1940, Vichy eagerly negotiated with the German authorities in an attempt to gain a place for France in the Third Reich's "New Order". But "Hitler never forgot the 1918 defeat. He always said no." Vichy's ambition was doomed from the start.

"Antisemitism was a constant theme", recalled Robert Paxton. It even opposed itself, at first, to German plans. "At this period, the Nazis had not yet decided to exterminate the Jews, but to expel them. Their idea was not to make of France an antisemitic country. To the contrary, they wanted to send there the Jews that they expelled" from the Reich.

The historical turn took place in 1941–1942, with the pending German defeat on the Eastern Front. The war then became "total", and in August 1941, Hitler decided on the "global extermination of all European Jews." This new policy was officially formulated during the January 1942 Wannsee Conference, and implemented in all European occupied countries as soon as spring 1942. France, which praised itself for having remained an independent state (as opposed to other occupied countries) "decided to cooperate. This is the second Vichy." The first train of deportees left Drancy on 27 March 1942, for Poland—the first in a long series.

"The Nazis needed the French administration... They always complained about the lack of staff." recalled Paxton, something which Maurice Rajsfus has also underlined. Although the American historian recognized during the trial that the "civil behavior of certain individuals" had permitted many Jews to escape deportation, he stated that:

The French state, itself, has participated to the policy of extermination of the Jews... How can one pretend the reverse when such technical and administrative means have been put to this aim?

Evoking the French police's registering of the Jews, as well as Laval's decision, taken in August 1942 in all independence, to deport children along with their parents, Paxton added:

Contrary to preconceived ideas, Vichy did not sacrifice foreign Jews in the hope of protecting French Jews. At the summit of the hierarchy, it knew, from the start, that the departure of these last ones was unavoidable.

Despite Paxton's assertion about Vichy knowledge "from the start", deportations from France did not start until summer 1942, several months after mass deportation from other countries started. Part of the population housed at the Dachau concentration camp, which had been opened since 1933, was Jewish, and major death camps in Poland and Germany were opened in 1941 and early 1942.

Paxton then evoked the case of Italy, where deportation of Jewish people had only started after the German occupation—Italy surrendered to the Allies in mid-1943 but was then invaded by Germany and fighting there continued through 1944. In particular, in Nice, "Italians had protected the Jews. And the French authorities complained about it to the Germans." In this instance, deportations from Italy started immediately upon its invasion by Germany. In fact, the rise of Benito Mussolini and Italian fascism had drastically curtailed Jewish immigration during the inter-war period, and Italy had passed drastic anti-Semitic laws in 1938 that stripped Jews of their citizenship. Ultimately, a similar proportion of Jews from Italy as from France were deported.

More recent work by the historian Susan Zuccotti finds that the Vichy government facilitated the deportation of foreign Jews rather than French ones, all else equal, until at least 1943:

Vichy officials hoped to deport foreign Jews throughout France in order to ease pressure on native Jews. Pierre Laval himself expressed the official Vichy position... In the early months of 1943, the terror Munz and Feldman described in German-occupied France still was experienced by foreign Jews like themselves. It is difficult to know exactly how many French Jews were arrested, usually for specific or alleged offenses, but on 21 January 1943, Helmut Knochen informed Eichmann in Berlin that there were 2,159 French citizens among the 3,811 prisoners at Drancy. Many had been at Drancy for several months. They had not been deported because, until January 1943, there had usually been enough foreigners and their children to fill the forty-three trains that had carried about 41,591 people to the east... By January 1943, however, foreign Jews were increasingly aware of the danger and difficult to find. Nazi pressure for the arrest of French Jews and the deportation of those already at Drancy increased accordingly. Thus, when Knochen reported that there were 2,159 French citizens among the 3,811 prisoners at Drancy on 21 January 1943, he also asked Eichmann for permission to deport them. There had been no convoy from Drancy in December and January, and Röthke was pressuring Knochen to resume them. Röthke also wanted to empty Drancy in order to refill it. Despite Vichy officials' past disapproval and Eichmann's own prior discouragement of such a step, permission for the deportation of the French Jews at Drancy, except for those in mixed marriages, was granted from Berlin on 25 January.

Whatever the Vichy government's intent initially or subsequently, the numerical outcome was that less than 15% of French Jews, vs. nearly twice that proportion of non-citizen Jews residing in France, died. More Jews lived in France at the end of the Vichy regime than had approximately ten years earlier.

Read more about this topic:  Vichy France, Historiographical Debates and France's Responsibility: The "Vichy Syndrome"

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