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The Jew Hater

In August 1978, an enterprising French journalist, Philippe Ganier-Raymond, tracked down a nearly forgotten eighty-one-year-old French exile in Madrid named Louis Darquier de Pellepoix and cajoled him into conversation. Ganier-Raymond had brought along a tape recorder concealed in a fan.

The resulting interview was published in the French newsweekly L’Express on October 28, 1978, under a sensational title: “At Auschwitz They Gassed Only Lice.” Louis Darquier (the “de Pellepoix” was fake, like a great deal else in his life) had been the Vichy French government’s second commissioner for Jewish affairs between May 1942 and February 1944.

Darquier’s unrepentant diatribe was, in the words of historian Henry Rousso, a “trigger”1 that set off one of those periodic national shouting matches that have, since the early 1970s, driven forward an enduring French fascination with the Vichy regime. Darquier’s outrageous words had multiple effects. They helped place French anti-Semitism at the center of debates about Vichy, a position which that subject has never lost, at some cost to historiographical balance. They gave a decisive boost to the efforts of French lawyer and Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld to bring some responsible Vichy French officials to justice, in formal recognition of Vichy’s complicity in the deportation of Jews from France.

In the aftermath of the Darquier scandal, France became the only major participant in World War II other than Germany to prosecute any of its own citizens for crimes against humanity. In 1979, Jean Leguay, the representative of the Vichy chief of police in the occupied zone, was the first of several senior French civil servants to be indicted on this charge. Leguay had helped organize the notorious arrest by French police and internment under dreadful conditions of 12,884 Jewish men, women, and children in the Vélodrome d’Hiver, a Paris bicycle stadium, on July 16 and 17, 1942, whence they were deported to Auschwitz. Leguay died in 1989, before his case came to trial, but his boss René Bousquet, Vichy police chief, whose direct responsibility for the Vél d’Hiv arrests Darquier had underlined, was indicted in 1991.

Darquier’s interview finally gave several French polemicists, led by the University of Lyon literature professor Robert Faurisson, the opportunity to make their case, in major newspapers, that the Final Solution never happened. This intensified the debate over whether Darquier’s brand of anti-Semitism is something permanent and deep in French culture that persists today.

In London, the editor and writer Carmen Callil was already tracking Darquier, for she had been treated by the Jungian analyst Anne Darquier, who had died of alcohol and sleeping pills. Soon after Ann Darquier’s death, Carmen Callil was startled to see a monocled bully with the same name as her friend in Marcel Ophuls’s brilliant 1972 documentary film about Vichy, The Sorrow and the Pity. Could the monstrous Louis Darquier de Pellepoix be related to Anne? Carmen Callil set off on a quest that became a consuming passion, to find out everything about this talented young woman and about the parents who had deserted her and whom she had come to hate. The result, many years later, is Bad Faith: a sprawling, untidy, passionate, and engrossing account of a dysfunctional family and its head, one of the leading anti-Semitic activists of interwar and wartime France. (The book includes her own English translation of the full text of Darquier’s 1978 interview in an appendix.)

Ganier-Raymond called Darquier “the French Eichmann.” He was mistaken. There was nothing banal about Louis Darquier’s evildoing. Where Eichmann had been a master of patient planning and dogged application, Darquier was a gambler, a spendthrift, a womanizer, a probable bigamist, an embezzler, a heavy drinker, a brawler, and a man who spent as little time as possible in his office.

If anyone could be called the French counterpart of Eichmann, he would be René Bousquet, the Vichy French chief of police. Bousquet appears frequently in Callil’s book, for it was indeed he who actually supervised and administered the deportation of Jews from France that began in the spring of 1942 and went on until August 1944. Bousquet has had no biographer comparable to Carmen Callil,2 for his life was more conventional than Darquier’s. But Bousquet mattered more.

René Bousquet was one of those serious and ambitious French youths from country towns who chose the prefectoral corps—the highly trained functionaries who administer local government in France—as his route to the top. In his first post, at Montauban in March 1930, he won national fame and a medal by saving people from a flood in the Tarn River. He ascended the Third Republic’s administrative ladder rapidly, in part by energy and meticulousness, in part by cultivating the right people, including the influential Sarraut family in Toulouse, and politicians of the center who gave him staff positions, notably in the crucial Ministry of the Interior. This is how he got to know the rising star of the center-right, Pierre Laval. Bousquet gave no hint of antirepublican or anti-Semitic sentiments—indeed any overt political expression would have violated his professional code as a civil servant committed above all to the efficacy of the state. During the rout of 1940 he reinforced his reputation for cool efficiency. The Vichy regime, seeking to base its authoritarian power in a rejuvenated prefectoral corps, made Bousquet prefect of the Marne Department in September 1940.3 At thirty-one he was the youngest prefect in France. Bousquet was further promoted in 1941 to prefect of the whole Champagne region. In April 1942, Pierre Laval, now Vichy prime minister, named him secretary-general for police in the Ministry of the Interior—in effect, national police chief.

In the postwar purge trials Bousquet received the light sentence of five years of “dégradation nationale” (a deprivation of civic rights). He had already awaited trial for three years in jail. His alibi was that the Germans themselves removed him from office in December 1943 and confined him under house arrest in Germany in June 1944 for not meeting their impossibly high standards of servility. After the war he was a prosperous banker and backer of François Mitterrand’s political career. He was awaiting trial for crimes against humanity when he was assassinated at his apartment door in June 1993 by Christian Didier, an apparently deranged publicity-seeker.

Louis Darquier could hardly have been more different. A mediocre student, he went to work for an international grain merchant. His Jewish employers found him work-shy and casual with other people’s money and discharged him with remarkable discretion and courtesy. It was only later that he put international grain merchants at the center of his anti-Jewish diatribes. This man’s real talent was for war, and even there he blotted an outstanding World War I fighting record by leaving his unit without a formal mustering-out. He fought well again in May and June 1940. But between the two wars, peacetime France seemed to offer him no outlet until he was seriously wounded in the Paris street fighting of February 6, 1934. Forming a patriotic association of the wounded of February 6, Darquier found his real calling in far-right activist politics. At first only a casual anti-Semite, Darquier developed an obsessional Jew-hatred when Léon Blum became the first Socialist and the first Jew to serve as French prime minister in June 1936. Darquier was elected to the Paris City Council, where he denounced the “Jewish conspiracy” and scuffled with colleagues.

After the defeat of 1940, Louis Darquier—sporting a phony noble name, a monocle, a cane, and with a notoriously short fuse—was one of those far-right activists who found Marshal Pétain’s regime at Vichy too moderate. He moved to Paris in search of Nazi patronage and more money (his subsidies from the Nazis had begun in the 1930s). His time came in May 1942 when the Nazi occupation authorities forced him on Laval as commissioner for Jewish affairs, in place of Xavier Vallat, a more “respectably” nationalist anti-Semite who had expressed too openly his dislike of his Nazi interlocutors. Eventually the Nazis themselves, who preferred that their anti-Semitism be administered in orderly fashion, had enough of Darquier’s sloth and corruption and had him fired in February 1944. At the Liberation, he was sentenced to death in absentia by the purge court. He had, however, already escaped to Madrid, where he lived out his days as a translator.

Darquier and Bousquet both left remarkable images on film. It was the sight of Darquier in Ophuls’s The Sorrow and the Pity, being presented to Himmler’s assistant and Gestapo leader Reinhard Heydrich at the Ritz Hotel in Paris on May 6, 1942, “in an ill-fitting suit, smiling uneasily,” as Callil describes him, that set her off on her long quest. Bousquet appears not only in Ophuls’s film but also in Claude Chabrol’s L’Oeil de Vichy at the same May 1942 meetings. Here the new French police chief, youthful, athletic, smiling, and eager, bounds forward to meet his German opposite number, SS General Oberg, who had just been appointed head of German police operations in occupied France. Bousquet’s desire to please and to succeed are palpable. One senses that he wanted to show the Nazis that a Frenchman, too, could be efficient and ruthless.

The hurried application to France in spring 1942 of the new Nazi project to exterminate all the Jews of Western Europe brought together the odd couple of Bousquet and Darquier, united mainly by their ambition. It took both the methodical administrator and the thuggish activist to accomplish Vichy France’s participation in the Nazi extermination project. But they fit differently into the Vichy universe. Bousquet belonged to the French administrative elite whose presence gave Vichy legitimacy at first; Darquier belonged to a later stage when the French elites began to leave the sinking ship, and when the Germans intervened more directly in Vichy affairs. Both Vichy and the Germans quickly learned that Darquier was in many ways wholly unfit for the job. He kept his job mainly because it was too expensive for Vichy to try to remove him, and he was too well protected by several Nazi bigwigs.

Although Carmen Callil’s long search was first motivated by curiosity about Ann Darquier’s father and mother (the daughter of upwardly mobile Tasmanian landowners whose fantasy of marrying a French “viscount” was as lively as Louis Darquier’s fantasy of being one), she has given a mostly accurate account of the complicated story of how Vichy’s anti-Semitic project—to expel the “excess” of foreign Jews who had entered France since 1918 and especially in the 1930s)4—dovetailed with the Nazi project of extermination. She makes a few surprising errors (Cardinal Suhard of Paris was never a member of Pétain’s cabinet; and the Battle of Stalingrad did not begin on July 9, 1942). One might have wished for a little more clarity about the successive stages of the Nazi project, and how extermination replaced earlier plans for expulsion after Hitler failed to defeat the Soviet Union in the summer and fall of 1941 and after the war escalated to a worldwide conflict with American entry in December. But so far as the French were concerned, it might hardly seem to matter whether the Jewish deportees were headed for Madagascar or for Auschwitz.

  1. 1

    Henry Rousso, The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France since 1944 (Harvard University Press, 1991), p. 157.

  2. 2

    Pascale Froment, René Bousquet, revised edition (Paris: Fayard, 2001), concentrates on the public career.

  3. 3

    A prefect somewhat resembles the governor of a small American state, except that he (or nowadays, sometimes, she) is appointed and answers only to the Minister of the Interior.

  4. 4

    It is well to remember that France had accepted, proportionally, more Jewish refugees during the 1930s than any other country, including the United States, raising its foreign-born population to 7 percent of the total. Both traditional French republican hospitality to refugees and the bitter backlash it generated by 1940 form part of the story.

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