Marrus, Michael R. Paxton, Robert O. Vichy France and the Jews. Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1981.
Word Count: 752
Three distinct antisemitic trends in Vichy France
Vichy France and the Jews is research that has been done rereading evidence, correspondence, and documents from the persecution of the Jews in France during World War II. It is worthwhile to highlight some of the critical trends of antisemitism at the time, as well as that which separates French racism from other national discriminatory natures.
Some background is provided into the history of anti-racist measures, helping to establish the surprise with which the French encountered the success of racist movements (25-71). Foremost, loi Marchandeau prohibited antisemitism in the press and had been passed shortly before the invasion. It would be replaced with the Statut des juifs, legislation updated during the war (3). In the first statute effects were primarily felt by civil servants, but as the war drew on, its goals would be expanded in revisions to include mandatory identification, property sequestration, and ultimately death for all Jews in Occupied France. Other empirical restrictions on the activities of Jewish communities included race-exclusive leagues such as l’Ordre des Médecins established August 10, 1940 that effectively excluded Jews from medical practice (160). A similar measure was taken shortly afterwards for lawyers.
Reconciliation of trending French sympathies for the Allies that grew through the war and simultaneously increasing sanctioned persecution of the Jews can be difficult (201, 210). Three examples are useful in addressing this: that of Theodore Dannecker, SS judenreferat, of Xavier Vallat, Commissioner-General of the Jewish Question (CGJQ), and of Ambassador Otto Abetz.
Upon arrival August 12, 1940, Theodore Dannecker, a young officer of the SS, was tasked with bringing the “‘gut antisemitism’ - a visceral hatred undisciplined by reason, patriotism, or a sense of public order” of Germany to France (89). At the time, this proved complicated; even the Marshall Pétain had friends in his inner circle that he wished to ensure were exempted from early legislation (207). Dozens of property crimes and other violence had been directed against Jews in the countryside of France before German invasion, to be sure, but officially these had been hitherto rightly viewed as illegal acts (34, 182). The nature of these crimes were personal rather than organized, and did not near the level of the atrocities experienced during the war. Marrus and Paxton even point to the irony that legislation preventing refugees from getting jobs or obtaining worthwhile occupations created the very conditions of criminality that they were explicitly charged with preventing.
The invasion of France also saw antisemitism drift into the sphere of politics and diplomacy. For one powerful figure, the Ambassador Abetz, “antisemitism [was] one of the levers to replace the reactionary grip of the Church and Army in Vichy France by a popular, anticlerical, pro-European … mass-movement” (78). The use of antisemitism as a tangent factor in contingent political battles directed mass opinion in a manner uncharacteristic of the liberal or communist antisemitism extant in France before occupation.
Xavier Vallat was the Commissioner-General of Jewish Questions in France. Original enthusiasm led to his public admission that “aryanization had produced an unleashing of greed’” (156). He “proclaimed himself a champion of ‘state antisemitism,’ the regulation of Jewish existence by state agencies for the benefit of all Frenchmen” (89). The position was offensive to the Germans, though not entirely out of step with the general strategies that they employed, because the French created the position independently of Germany and without forewarning. While for some, it could be seen as a way of heading off some of the more strict German rules for Jews, it also behaved more harshly towards certain groups of Jews as well (83). Arguably, it is the deviation from German guidelines that may have led to his dismissal.
The successor of Vallat, Louis Darquier, would be a complete contradiction in terms to the first Commisioner-General. With three arrests, he took the level of antisemitism to another level (283). By the time he was appointed in 1942, Laval had taken office and persecution of the Jews already well outside the legal bounds of French sovereignty, began to escalate well out of all legal and moral bounds (251). While the Germans influenced Vichy France greatly, it is a tragedy that such a high level of complicity existed, and co-operation was present even outside of the specifically antisemitic departments, “it was not the PQJ who conducted the arrests and guarded the trains, but regular police” (294).