Accommodation or Collaboration:
Examining Policy and Life in France During World War II
There are presently two primary camps held by scholars of Vichy government and World War II in regards to the popular topic of France’s involvement in the oppression of its Jewish residents during World War II. One faction argues that the actions of the French during the German occupation of France were necessary to protect the nation, claiming that the occupation was one of accommodation. The second group argues that policy, at least for the first two years of the German occupation, was controlled by the new Vichy government and that the anti-Semitic legislation was supported by French politicians without Nazi persuasion; therefore, their occupation was one of collaboration or, at the very least, one of culpability. This project will examine the arguments for and against both perspectives, accommodation and collaboration, through a heavy examination of Vichy regime policies, including the French colonies of northern Africa; international relations between France and Britain, Germany, and the United States; and the public opinion and actions of the French government and people during the German occupation of France. This thesis will argue that France collaborated with the Germans during the occupation until the Vel d’Hiv Roundup upon which Germany took control of the nation, deeming them a puppet state, and that the French are therefore accountable for the crimes against the Jewish inhabitants of France and the French colonies of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, up to July 16th and 17th, 1942.
Preliminary research has provided an abundance of primary source material in French, English, and translations of French and German to English. A primary source that will be useful in understanding the mood in France during the war is a collection of letters sent to people residing in France during the war with friends and family in the United States. Memoirs and collections of politicians, their families, and their staff will demonstrate political opinions and concerns during the war. The primary documents directly involving Dwight D. Eisenhower, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Marshal Pétain offer a broad scope of facts and opinions of the German-controlled portions of France in the north and the southern Vichy region, including the three French colonies of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia in northern Africa. Beyond the primary source material provided by people, there are also the texts of legislation passed throughout the war and transcripts of political addresses. In terms of legislation, focusing on the laws passed to oppress Jewish communities will be just as important as including secondary source analysis of enforcement of the laws.
Secondary sources are equally as abundant as the primary resources and quite diverse on the topic of Vichy collaboration versus accommodation. This is important and vital to this thesis because an examination of the debate requires careful analysis of many facets of French society during the war. Some approaches have been solely focused on legislation and international relations. Other scholars have approached the topic in terms of memory after the war or experiences under either the Vichy or German governments. Few scholars have focused on major events, such as the Vel d’Hiv Roundup and the Allied invasion of French territories in northern Africa, called Operation Torch. Meanwhile, some historians have examined Vichy in a broad scope to include all of these. The core scholars supporting the camp of accommodation are Simon Kitson, Philippe Burrin, and John Sweets. The core scholars supporting the collaboration camp are Michael R. Marrus, Robert Paxton, and Denis Peschanski.
Understanding whether France collaborated with Nazi Germany or had accommodated them and their policies as a means of protecting their citizens and culture is a crucial step toward creating a complete narrative of the climate in France during World War II. The issue had largely been avoided by the general French population and media until 1995 when the President of France, Jacques Chirac, acknowledged the involvement of the French police in the Vel d’Hiv Roundup and admitted French culpability in the extermination of both French and foreign-born Jewish people living in France during the German occupation. Thereafter the debate of France as a puppet state under the Germans during World War II flourished with both scholarship and wider access to records from the time. Groundwork research does lean in favor of the camp that France collaborated with the Germans and additional examination of both primary and secondary sources are likely to further support this stance.
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