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Vichy France or the Vichy regime (French: now called Régime de Vichy or Vichy; called itself at the time État Français, or French State) was the de facto French government of 1940-1944 (but Nazi Germany invaded the zone under its control in 1942 in Case Anton). The regime, of an authoritarian nature, was headed by Marshal Philippe Pétain.
While officially neutral in the war, Vichy France was largely a puppet government under Nazi influence, and collaborated with the Nazi, including on racial policies. It was opposed to the Free French Forces, based first in London and later in Algiers.
The fall of France and the establishment of the Vichy regime
France declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, following the German invasion of Poland. After the eight month Phony War, the Germans launched their offensive in the west on 10 May 1940, and were quickly successful, occupying Paris in mid-June 1940. The French leaders considered retreating to French territories in North Africa, but the vice-premier Henri Philippe Pétain and the commander-in-chief General Maxime Weygand, both insisted that the government should remain in France and seek an armistice with Germany.
Prime Minister Paul Reynaud resigned over the decision and President Albert Lebrun appointed the 84-year-old Pétain to replace him on June 16. Pétain began negotiations, and on June 22 signed the surrender agreement with Germany. The key section of the agreement divided France into two zones — occupied and unoccupied. Germany would control northern and western France including the entire Atlantic coast. The remaining two-fifths of the country would be administered by the French government with the capital at Vichy under Pétain. Furthermore, foreign Jews staying in France would be handed over to Germany. The French Army was reduced to 100,000 men and French prisoners of war would remain in captivity. The French had to pay the occupation costs of the German troops, and prevent any French people from leaving the country. The United Kingdom and the Vichy France government then broke off diplomatic relations on July 5 after the Destruction of the French Fleet at Mers-el-Kebir by British naval forces.
The Third Republic was voted out of existence by a majority of the French National Assembly on July 10. The assembly was meeting in Vichy, a city in central France, which was used as a provisional capital. The Vichy regime was established the following day, with Pétain as head of state. Pétain was given the power to rewrite a new Constitution but this was never done. He instead put forth three Constitutional Acts that suspended the Constitution of the Third Republic of 1875. These Acts suspended Parliament and transferred all powers to himself. On July 12th, Pétain designated Pierre Laval as Vice-President and his designated successor and appointed Fernand de Brinon as representative to the German High Command in Paris. Pétain remained as the head of the Vichy regime until August 20 1944. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood), the French national motto, was replaced by Travail, Famille, Patrie (Work, Family and Country). Pétain's vice-premiers were Pierre Laval and François Darlan. Paul Reynaud, who had never officially resigned as Prime Minister, was arrested in September 1940 by the Vichy government and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1941.
The Vichy cabinet, and its policies, were a mixed lot.
- Many Vichy officials, such as Pétain, were reactionaries who considered that France's unfortunate fate was a kind of divine punishment for its Republican character and the actions of its left-wing governments of the 1930s (see Popular Front). Reactionary writer Charles Maurras judged that Pétain's accession to power was, in that respect, a "divine surprise"; and many people of the same political persuasion, though not all, judged that it was preferrable to have an authoritarian, Catholic government similar to that of Francisco Franco's Spain, albeit under Germany's yoke, than have a Republican government.
- Some, like Joseph Darnand, were strong antisemites and overt Nazi sympathizers. A number of these joined the Légion des Volontaires Français contre le Bolchévisme (legion of French volunteers against bolshevism) or even Waffen SS units fighting on the Eastern Front.
- Some, in more technical administrations, were just technocrats who used their position to push various reforms that had been postponed during the Third Republic, many of which were later retained (examples include the foundation of the statistics office, which was to become INSEE after the war).
- Some members of the Vichy Government, such as young François Mitterrand, used their official positions as "insiders" in order to further the goals of the internal resistance.
Collaboration, up to the invasion of the free zone
Joseph Darnand was appointed head of the Vichy Milice, the wartime police. He held an SS rank and took an oath of loyalty to Hitler. Under Darnand and sub-commanders, such as Paul Touvier and Jacques de Bernonville, the Milice was responsible for the suppression of the French Resistance and the Maquis. As well, the Milice was responsible for promulgating German race laws, including working with area Gestapo head Klaus Barbie to seize Jews and other "undesirables" for shipment to detention centers and the Drancy deportation camp enroute to Auschwitz and other German concentration camps.
The Vichy France government collaborated with Nazi Germany on the application of its racial policies regarding the Jews. It helped in the deportation of 70,000 Jews. As an example, French police officers rounded-up 8,160 Jews and imprisoned them in the Winter Velodrome on 16 July 1942, from which they were led to concentration camps. French officers ran the transit camp at Drancy. While it is certain that the Vichy government and a large amount of its high administration collaborated in such policies, the exact amount of such cooperation is still controversial. In comparison to the Jewish communities established in other countries invaded by Nazi Germany, the French Jews suffered lighter losses in proportion. Former Vichy officials then claimed that they did as much as they could to minimize the impact of the Nazi policies, while critics contend that the Vichy regime went beyond the Nazi expectations, which originally concerned only foreign Jews staying in France, not French Jews.
A number of French individuals found fascist philosophies attractive and were advocating them even before the founding of the Vichy regime. Their far-right organizations, such as the Cagoule had greatly contributed to the destabilization of the French Third Republic in the 1930s, particularly when the left-wing Popular Front had been in power. Some of them had worked as a kind of fifth column in order to ease the German invasion. After Nazi control was established, some of these sympathizers actively assisted the Vichy regime, and in some cases, directly assisted the Nazis, in taking Jewish private property, destroying synagogues and other Jewish monuments, and in shipping Jews to Nazi death camps. Examples include founder of L'Oréal, Eugène Schueller, and his associates, André Bettencourt and Jacques Corrèze.
The Vichy regime also implemented compulsory work in Germany for young French men (service du travail obligatoire or STO), a move which pushed some of these young men to join the Resistance instead.
Relationships with the allied powers
To counter the Vichy regime, General Charles de Gaulle created France Libre (Free France) after his famous radio speech of June 18, 1940. Initially Winston Churchill was ambivalent about de Gaulle and he dropped links with Vichy only when it became clear they would not fight. Even so, the Free France headquarters in London was riven with internal divisions and jealousies.
The United Kingdom viewed the Vichy government with suspicion after severing diplomatic relations. In the armistice terms with Germany, the Vichy regime had been allowed to keep control of the French Navy, the Marine Nationale, and it was pledged that it would never fall into the hands of Germany. However, this was not enough for the Churchill government. French ships in British ports were seized by the Royal Navy. The French squadron at Alexandria, under Admiral Godfroy, was effectively interned until 1943 after an agreement was reached with Admiral Cunningham, commander of the Mediterranean Fleet.
However, there were still French naval ships under French control. A large squadron was in port at Mers El Kébir harbour near Oran. Vice Admiral Sommerville, with Force H under his command, was instructed to deal with the situation in July 1940. Various terms were offered to the French squadron, but all were rejected. Consequently, Force H opened fire on the French ships. Over 1,000 French sailors died when an old French battleship blew up in the attack. The incident provoked a great deal of resentment and hatred towards the UK within the French Navy, and to a lesser extent in the general French public. Further action was taken against French naval forces at Dakar in Senegal.
The next flashpoint between Britain and Vichy came in June 1941 when a revolt in Iraq had to be put down by British forces. Luftwaffe aircraft, staging through the French colony of Syria, intervened in the fighting in small numbers. That put Syria on the radar as a threat to British interests in the Middle East. Consequently, the Australian Army and allied forces invaded Syria and Lebanon, capturing Damascus on June 17.
One other major operation against Vichy French territory took place using British forces. It was feared that Japanese forces might use Madagascar as a base and thus cripple British trade and communications in the Indian Ocean. As a result, Madagascar was invaded by British and South African forces in 1942. It fell relatively quickly, but the operation is often viewed as an unnecessary diversion of British naval resources away from more vital theatres of operation.
US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt continued to cultivate Vichy and promoted General Henri Giraud in place of de Gaulle (as part of a larger political strategy). Even after the invasion of North Africa in 'Operation Torch', Admiral François Darlan, who had arrived in Algiers a few days before 'Torch', became the French leader in North Africa, rather than de Gaulle. The United States also resented the Free French taking control of St Pierre and Miquelon on December 24, 1941.
After Darlan signed an armistice with the Allies in North Africa, Germany violated the 1940 armistice and invaded Vichy France on 10 November 1942 (operation code-named Case Anton). Darlan was assassinated on December 24, 1942, and replaced by Giraud, but he commanded very little loyalty. It took until 1944 for Roosevelt to agree to recognize de Gaulle as the leader of the French.
Liberation of France and aftermath
Following the Allied invasions of France, Pétain and his ministers fled to Germany and established a government in exile at Sigmaringen.
In 1945, many members of the Vichy government were arrested and charged with high treason and other crimes. Trials ensued and some, including Laval and Darnand, were executed. Pétain was sentenced to death but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Others fled or went into hiding, such as Jacques de Bernonville who went to Québec, while some were not prosecuted for their crimes until much later, or at all. In 1993, former Vichy official René Bousquet was murdered while he awaited prosecution in Paris following a 1989 complaint for crimes against humanity; he had been prosecuted after the war, but had been acquitted in 1949. In 1994 former Vichy official Paul Touvier was convicted of crimes against humanity.
Until recently, the official point of view of the French government was that the Vichy regime was an illegal government distinct from the French Republic. While the criminal behavior of Vichy France was acknowledged, and some former Vichy officials prosecuted, this point of view denied any responsibility of the French Republic. However, on July 16, 1995, president Jacques Chirac, in a speech, recognized the responsibility of the French State for seconding the "criminal folly of the occupying country". 
- Henri Michel, Vichy, année 40, Robert Laffont, Paris, 1967.
- William Langer, Le jeu américain à Vichy, Plon, Paris 1948.
- Jean-Pierre Azéma et François Bedarida,Vichy et les Français, Paris, Fayard, 1996.
- Professeur François-Georges Dreyfus, Histoire de Vichy, Éditions de Fallois, 2004.
- Professeur Yves Maxime Danan, La vie politique à Alger, de 1940 à 1944, L.G.D.J., Paris 1963.
- William Langer, Le jeu américain à Vichy, Plon, Paris 1948.
- Général Albert Merglen, Novembre 1942: La grande honte, L'Harmattan, Paris 1993.
- State Collaboration Collaboration of Vichy France with Nazi Germany.
- Map of the "free" and "occupied" zones (main page; in French)
- Collaborator Maurice Papon Released
- Biography of Collaborator Jacques Doriot
- Biography of Collaborator Joseph Darnand
- Robert O. Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944 (London, 1972)
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