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The Jew Hater

To Carmen Callil’s credit, she has no illusions about Louis Darquier’s power and influence. Bousquet was by far the more important of the two. Hitler’s armistice with France rested on a deliberate bargain—leave the French some shreds of independence so that they could administer themselves, thereby economizing German money and men. If they had to depend on their own limited forces in France, the Nazis could not easily have found, arrested, and transported 76,000 Jews from France without instituting a reign of terror that would have caused them many difficulties. The Nazis needed French policemen and administrators far more than they needed anti-Semitic propagandists and rabble-rousers.

So Darquier was marginal at Vichy, whose more respectable elements shunned him. He undermined his own government’s efforts to save some French Jews, and consistently went further than Vichy wanted. He was not so much the “dark essence” of Vichy, as Carmen Callil says, as a measure of what Vichy would tolerate in pursuit of its opportunistic quest for a favorable place in the new German-dominated Europe.

Callil argues, plausibly, that Bousquet was happy to let Darquier take nominal charge of matters as commissioner for Jewish affairs, perhaps to cover his tracks later on, while actually doing the job himself. Those much-photographed meetings with Nazi officials of May 1942 were far too important to leave to an indolent miscreant like Darquier. They marked a turning point in at least three ways. They signaled the shift of control of German security in occupied France from the German army to the SS. Heydrich and Oberg had come to establish SS authority not only over French officials but over General Otto von Stülpnagel, the German military commander (Militärbefehlshaber) in France. Two other major subjects were under discussion, and they interlocked. One was the deportation of Jews, which, Oberg announced, was to start taking place immediately in France. The other was how both these deportations and the growing power of the SS in France would affect the French police.

Working in intimate consultation with Prime Minister Laval, Bousquet yielded on the Jewish issue in order to gain ground on the issue of French sovereignty in police matters. Bousquet told Oberg that France would make available for deportation ten thousand stateless or foreign Jews from the unoccupied zone—the only case in Western Europe where Jews were handed over to the Nazis from areas without any German occupation forces, and an example matched in Eastern Europe only in Bulgaria and Hungary. At the same time, the Nazis agreed that the French police would have independent authority on the understanding that they would arrest the enemies of the German Reich. The German police would make arrests in France only in cases of direct threat to their troops’ security.

Bousquet’s brand of collaboration is best called “collaboration d’état,” collaboration for reason of state. Even though it was the form of collaboration most widely practiced by Vichy authorities, it has not been easy for the general public to perceive. Most observers assume that collaboration with the German occupation required some kind of sympathy for Nazism. That assumption makes it hard to understand how someone like Bousquet—or even Laval, for that matter, who had never expressed anti-Semitic views before the war—fell in so easily with the deportations. Several things helped persuade them to cooperate with the Nazi project. One was that Vichy had from its early days wanted to diminish the French immigrant population. Vichy even tried to send refugees from the Spanish Civil War to Mexico.

At the very beginning of the occupation, Germany had expelled several thousand German Jews into France—at that stage Germany saw France as a “dumping ground” and not as a participant in a Europe-wide anti-Jewish policy. When the Nazis told Bousquet that they had prepared trains to deport Jews from France to the East, Bousquet and Laval, according to their own words, thought at once of the German Jews whom they had been trying for years to persuade the Germans to take back. Apart from this, there were other payoffs from the deal with the Nazis: not only greater autonomy for the French police but, for Laval, progress in his grand design for a lenient peace settlement with the German victors. Bousquet followed to the limit his lifetime ethic of administrative efficacy. If Jews (especially recent immigrants5 ) paid the price for Vichy’s opportunistic calculations, Bousquet and Laval were not overly concerned. The ambient anti-Semitism of the 1930s had its effect here: it helped make them indifferent.

Carmen Callil shares the general public’s difficulty in grasping the meaning of “collaboration d’état,” and she keeps labeling various members of her large cast of characters as simply “pro-German” or “pro-British” or “pro-American.” One needs a much richer sense of the different nuances of collaboration to make sense of all the motives at work. Some French did indeed cooperate with the Nazis out of ideological sympathy, though they were commoner in Paris than at Vichy. As for Darquier himself, Callil’s merciless dissection puts him closer to a third variant of collaboration, “collaboration alimentaire,” i.e., for profit. But even Darquier, the closest of all Vichy officials to Nazi thinking in his biological racism, bristled against his Nazi minders. His principal anti-Jewish activity, the “Aryanization” of Jewish properties, involved a partly successful effort to keep the Germans from taking them, though, in truth, they got the few major properties they really wanted. Still, we are not likely to have a more thorough, precise, and damning account of this sorry career.6

Darquier’s ideological heirs in France today are scarce and scorned. Of course they exist, and recent spikes in physical violence against Jews came to a horrifying climax in January and February 2006 with the kidnapping, torture, and brutal killing by West African immigrant youths of the Jewish student Ilan Halimi, singled out because his aggressors thought a Jew would be richly ransomed. There are two major differences between the anti-Semitism of the 1930s and that of today. Anyone who reads the newspapers and speeches of 1930s France is astounded by the openness with which hostility to Jews was expressed, even by prominent and respected intellectuals. Today such expressions are furtive and allusive, except among some Muslim immigrants. Alienated Muslim youths are responsible for virtually all of the physical violence. There remains the issue of the widespread criticism in France of policies pursued by the government of Israel, which some people call anti-Semitic, apparently blind to the fundamental difference between criticism of a government’s policy and a belief in the inherent harmfulness of an entire people. The racist sentiments that persist in France are far likelier to be directed against black or Muslim immigrants.

Although Darquier’s Commission for Jewish Affairs had little direct part in the arrests and deportations of Jews that began in spring 1942, it had plenty else to do. Its employees, numbering more than a thousand at any one time, worked until August 1944 tracking down Jews in hiding, identifying Jewish enterprises to be “Aryanized,” and spreading anti-Semitic propaganda. Some 40,000 Jewish businesses or properties were confiscated and turned over to the “provisional administrators” in France. Darquier’s commission was at the center of this activity. The most thorough student of the Commission for Jewish Affairs has shown that about 10 percent of its staff committed fraud.7

Thus the forcible transfer of Jewish property to “Aryans” and demonizing and exposing hidden Jews became part of everyday life in Vichy France. Everyday life has recently become the new frontier of studies of Vichy France. This follows a familiar cycle. First came high politics: how Marshal Pétain’s government responded to the German occupation with its own twin project of an authoritarian “national revolution” at home and accommodation with German victory abroad. At a later stage historians asked how this government related to the population and the society it governed; how fully it was supported; what interests it served; and how it obtained the cooperation of political and social leaders. Finally, in the last decade or so, historians have turned to daily life under German occupation.

Robert Gildea recently observed that there have been three versions of how ordinary French people lived through those bitter years.8 First there was emphasis on “the good French” who mostly followed De Gaulle or the Resistance and mostly rejected collaboration. Next came stories of “the bad French” who were asserted to have mostly accepted Marshal Pétain’s collaboration, and rallied to the Resistance only late and in small numbers. Finally came “the poor French,” who endured their country’s harshest years since the Black Death of 1381.

Richard Vinen’s The Unfree Frenchfalls squarely in the third camp. But whereas other writers have emphasized the penury and deprivation suffered by the French,9 Vinen emphasizes constraint. He is interested in those many French people “whose lives were governed by circumstances beyond their control,” such as the nearly two million prisoners of war; the 600,000 who worked in Germany, either as volunteers or as forced labor; working-class women; and refugees. Jews of course top anyone’s list of the constrained, but Vinen’s chapter on the Jews is his least developed. He even seems to describe “Aryanization” of Jewish property as mainly a German project.

Vinen provides much interesting information, especially for people who have not followed recent French scholarship. A large number of prisoners of war, for example, were not behind barbed wire but worked in Germany, many of them voluntarily, and under a great variety of conditions, sometimes not unpleasant. (It is worth recalling to American readers that—except for some American Jewish soldiers—Hitler largely observed the Geneva Convention for his American prisoners of war, not necessarily from softness of heart but because he wanted German prisoners to have the same protection.) Vinen explores the great variety of relations between women and German soldiers in the absence of most French young men, culminating in the punishment of “horizontal collaborators” by vehement crowds at the end of the war. Vinen shows also that the general jubilation at American liberation was considerably tempered in the bombed cities of Normandy. Most Americans have no idea that Allied bombing killed 60,000 French civilians, far more than German bombing, and that French people who experienced the bombing gave (and still give) the Americans who bombed at night from high altitudes low marks for courage and accuracy. In general, whereas World War I enhanced French national unity, World War II, with its occupied and unoccupied zones, its hungry cities and well-fed farmers, its profiteers and victims, its free and unfree, shattered it.

The study of daily life under occupation has inherent problems. Major issues of guilt and collaboration may recede as historians concentrate on the daily round of getting fed and warmed. When historical works on Nazism arrived at the study of daily life in the Third Reich, some critics complained that Alltagsgeschichte banalized the evils of Nazism. Vinen is well aware of these problems, which he discusses with considerable wisdom at the outset. Hunger, cold, and loneliness were indeed central concerns of most French people between 1940 and 1944, and belong in the historical account.

The main problem with Vinen’s book is his concentration on a single condition—the constraint people felt as part of their lives under the occupation. Constraint was surely a central feature of most French daily existence between June 1940 and August 1944. But constraint could take many forms and have multiple sources. In Irène Némirovsky’s surpassingly fine novella of the occupation, Dolce,10 two women, Madame Lucile Angellier and her mother-in-law, face multiple constraints. In addition to the unwanted presence of a German officer billeted in their house, the absence of their husband and son in a German prisoner-of-war camp, the edicts of the new government at Vichy implementing the “national revolution,” and shortages of practically everything, they faced the constraints of maintaining their family’s status in the village, constraints of social convention and respectability, and in addition, for Lucille, the authority of her censorious mother-in-law. But there was always room for counterpressures, refusals, and maneuvers. However one-sided the German officer’s power over the Angellier women, and the Angelliers’ relations with the comical Viscountess de Montmort and with the villagers, their daily negotiations with others did not always have the expected outcome.

To be fair, Richard Vinen shows very well, in the rich detail of his different cases, the great variety of ways in which constraints could be evaded or turned to a person’s benefit. All the more so because, like his countrymen the English historians Richard Cobb and Theodore Zeldin, he likes pointing out exceptions better than laying down generalizations. But he has set up the basic argument in a way that could reinforce a widespread but misleading view that the German occupiers ran things entirely their own way.

The most perceptive treatment of everyday life in France under the German occupation is still Philippe Burrin’s France Under the Germans: Collaboration and Compromise.11 Burrin shows the two partners engaged in a constant two-way jockeying for a tolerable modus vivendi. We are not speaking here of resistance, but of adjustment and accommodation in which the French sometimes had some leverage. Political sympathy was only one possible motive for accommodation. The physicist Frédéric Joliot-Curie, for example, whose laboratory at the Collège de France contained the only atom-smasher in Europe, was at first tempted to work with German physicists to keep it running. A year later, he was fully involved in resistance activity. Burrin’s rewarding method is to follow particular persons through their moments of decision and choice, laying out the degrees of freedom and constraint that governed their choices at each stage of the occupation. Burrin also describes the military and political background more satisfactorily than Vinen, who leaves major state initiatives and the war’s turning points largely to others.

Robert Gildea’s Marianne in Chains also shows how compromises took place on both sides. The mayors of the Loire Valley he studied struggled to make the least disastrous among unpromising choices. Sometimes a choice that was fervently applauded in June 1940—electing not to defend a Loire crossing, for example, lest it suffer the fate of Tours, leveled by the approaching German forces—looked less praiseworthy by 1944. Nevertheless many well-entrenched local mayors, including some Radicals and Socialists, survived the transitions of war, occupation, and liberation. Although both Vichy and the Germans might prefer to appoint a mayor closer to their own political opinions, they could not always dispense with local leaders who enjoyed respect and authority. Even in a time of constraint, well-entrenched mayors could influence outcomes. The unfree French, with their unoccupied zone and their own administration, had a little more room for maneuver—and for lamentable moral compromise—than many other occupied peoples.

Letters

Handing Over Jews January 11, 2007

  1. 5

    Vichy’s own discriminatory measures applied to all Jews, whether French citizens or not. When the Nazi deportations began, however, Laval tried to fill the quotas with foreign Jews. While about 70 percent of Jewish immigrants to France since 1930 perished, the losses drop to about 5 percent of the Jews long-established in France. See Laurent Joly, Vichy dans la “Solution finale”: Histoire du commissariat général aux Questions Juives (1941–1944) (Paris: Bernard Grasset, 2006), p. 848.

  2. 6

    It is regrettable that a campaign was mounted against Callil’s book because in a postscript at the end she expressed her “anguish” as her work brought her so close to the “helpless terror of the Jews of France, and to see what the Jews of Israel were passing on to the Palestinian people.” It is also regrettable that the cultural services in New York of the French Embassy yielded to this pressure on October 10 and canceled a reception in Callil’s honor.

  3. 7

    Joly, Vichy dans la “Solution finale,” p. 421.

  4. 8

    Robert Gildea, Marianne in Chains: In Search of the German Occupation, 1940–1945 (London: Macmillan, 2002).

  5. 9

    See Dominique Veillon, Vivre et survivre en France, 1939–1947 (Paris: Payot, 1995).

  6. 10

    Dolce has been published as the second part of Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française, translated from the French by Sandra Smith (Knopf, 2006), reviewed by Garbriele Annan in The New York Review, July 13, 2006.

  7. 11

    New Press, 1996, reviewed by Tony Judt in The New York Review, May 23, 1996.

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