The Final Solution in France:
French indifference and cooperation in the roundup of Jews and their eventual deportation
This page is part of a project created for an introductory college class at UCSB on the Holocaust. It examines Vichy claims of helping the Jews and argues, based on evidence drawn from Robert Paxton’s book Vichy France : Old Guard New Order, 1940-1944, that in fact the Vichy more often than not facilitated the Jewish extermination.
When World War II ended many if not all of the high-ranking Vichy officials were put on trial for their collaboration with the fascist regime. Naturally during the trials the issue of Vichy cooperation in the roundups and deportation of Jews living in France came up. Xavier Vallat said “’that 95% of the Jews of French nationality are fortunately still living’” (Paxton, Vichy France : Old Guard New Order, 1940-1944, 365) in a statement comparing French cooperation in the Holocaust to that of other countries. Although the figure is exaggerated, it is true that in France a greater percentage of the Jewish population survived till the end of the war. However, their survival was not at all due to efforts by the Vichy government. As Paxton clearly illustrates, the Vichy government rarely if ever helped Jews and refugees and more often than not facilitated the extermination of Jews in France.
In the beginning of the war, before Vichy France was eventually occupied in 1942, many Jews fled the oncoming tide that was the German Blitzkrieg and ended up in France. However, on must not confuse the fact that many Jews ended up in France with any desire the French might have had to actually harbor these fleeing Jews. Paxton says that “Vichy objected vigorously when the Germans delivered more expatriate Jews into the unoccupied zone in the fall of the 1940” (Paxton, Vichy France : Old Guard New Order, 1940-1944, 371). The fact was that, in reality, France had always been an extremely anti-Semitic nation. The Dreyfus affair in the 19th century is a very good example of how in the past anti Semitism and manifested itself in French society. In fact, it could be argued that French anti-Semitism was more ingrained than it ever was in Germany.
Further incriminating for the Vichy regime, they “acquiesced in Article 19 of the armistice, which empowered Germany to demand the extradition of German citizens who had sought refuge in France. Under this provision, such prominent figures as Herschel Grynspan… were delivered back into German hands…” (Paxton, Vichy France : Old Guard New Order, 1940-1944, 371). Thus we see that because of this act any Jews or refugees who had come to France to flee the Nazi machine could now easily be deported back into its fold. Thus already the French were putting little to no effort into stopping the round up of the Jews.
Perhaps the worst example of Vichy cooperation and anti-Semitism can be seen in the fact that by denying any refugees citizenship, Pétain gave them no reprieve and safety under French law. Thus many refugees and Jews found themselves in camps surrounded by barbed wire, unable to move or improve their condition, by the time the Germans fully occupied France in 1942 (Paxton, Vichy France : Old Guard New Order, 1940-1944, 371).
The biggest blow to Vallat’s claim comes not however in the evidence of French cooperation but in their non-action. Many other governments, including Mussolini’s fascist Italy actually became safer places for Jews than France. The best example of a country’s aid to fleeing Jews is the Danish assistance to the Jews that got almost all of them into Sweden and away from the Nazis. In fact, only private citizens helped the Jews to escape Southern France into Italian controlled territory where there was a significantly higher chance of survival.