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.
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.
November 16, 2006
Henry Rousso, The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France since 1944 (Harvard University Press, 1991), p. 157. ↩
Pascale Froment, René Bousquet, revised edition (Paris: Fayard, 2001), concentrates on the public career. ↩
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. ↩
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. ↩
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. ↩
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. ↩
Joly, Vichy dans la “Solution finale,” p. 421. ↩
Robert Gildea, Marianne in Chains: In Search of the German Occupation, 1940–1945 (London: Macmillan, 2002). ↩
See Dominique Veillon, Vivre et survivre en France, 1939–1947 (Paris: Payot, 1995). ↩
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. ↩