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France Vichy


Vichy government
Vichy government

While millions took to the roads to escape the German advance, the French government left Paris for Bordeaux. On June 17 the government asked Germany for an armistice, after which aging Marshal Henri Pétain, the hero of World War I, was appointed prime minister. On June 22 France signed an armistice agreement in the same railroad car in which the Germans had signed the armistice of 1918. French armed forces were to be demobilized, the southern third of France would continue to be governed by the French, and the northern two-thirds was to be occupied and administered by the Germans with funds provided by French taxpayers. Reassuring the French people with a soothing, paternal radio voice, Pétain called upon France to lay down its arms and accept the armistice. Most French people, in shock over the quick defeat, followed his advice.

In the south, the government moved from Bordeaux to Vichy, where on July 10 it voted overwhelmingly to authorize Pétain to draft a new constitution. Under this constitution, Pétain became head of state and the final arbiter in all decisions, while a variety of ministers responsible to him carried out government functions. Pétain’s deputy, Pierre Laval, pushed the plan through the Chamber of Deputies.

The professed goal of the new regime was a national revolution, which would regenerate a decadent France by rerooting the nation in its traditions of religion, family, and the land. The squabbling and corruption of parliamentary democracy was now supposed to give way to the authoritarian efficiency of one-man rule. Legally and spiritually, the Third Republic, which was blamed for involving France in a war it could not win, was now dead. In fact, Vichy was a hodgepodge of competing factions and interests. The principal division lay between the traditionalists and the modernizers.

A majority of Vichyites were traditionalists who sought to contain capitalist competition, organize society into partially self-governing associations, and restore the influence of the Catholic Church. The modernists, who were closely associated with big business, wanted to push France forward through more active government intervention in the economy.

Although they were in the minority, the modernists gradually gained influence, in large part because their program called for measures that were more practical. If Vichy had a positive legacy, it lay in its efforts at government economic planning, which were continued after the war and helped remove obstacles to growth. One of the ironies of the Vichy regime was that in some ways it promoted modernization more effectively than the Third Republic had.

Yet Vichy also meant an active collaboration with Nazi Germany. Although Vichy leaders protested after the war that they had resisted German demands as much as they had dared, they were in fact convinced in 1940 that the future belonged to fascism. They actively cooperated in building the Nazi-dominated European empire, doing even more than Germany expected or demanded. Germany did not, in the end, reward France for this cooperation. France was required to supply Germany with hundreds of thousands of forced laborers and more material aid than any other German satellite. Despite their vast agricultural resources, the French ate more poorly and suffered more inflation during the war than any other western European people except the Italians. Alsace-Lorraine was again annexed by Germany, and in November 1942, the Germans occupied the southern third of the nation, thereby removing most of Vichy’s independence.

However, the most shameful acts committed by the Vichy government resulted more from its own hatreds than from German demands. Not only did Vichy hunt down and execute resistors to German rule, but it also initiated its own campaign of anti-Semitic persecution. Jews were fired from positions in the civil service, judiciary, army, public schools, and cultural institutions (publishing houses, newspapers, radio, and entertainment), and only a limited number were permitted to practice medicine and law. Vichy seized Jewish property, while Jews who had recently immigrated to escape persecution elsewhere were interned in concentration camps. Still worse was Vichy’s collaboration in the Holocaust. Vichy was not inclined to commit genocide itself and was anxious to keep French-born Jews under its control, all the better to strip them of their property. However, Vichy employed its own police and militia to round up Jewish men, women, and children, most of them foreign-born. They were then shipped in appalling conditions to German-occupied Poland and gassed in Nazi death camps. The death toll of Jews transported from France was about 75,000. "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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