Accommodation or Collaboration:
Examining Policy and Life in France During World War II
Guilty! A scholar, like a jury, cannot be quick to judge. Evidence must be observed, facts obtained and analyzed, testimonies heard, and only then can an opinion be formed. Doing so, however, has been no easy feat for scholars studying the German occupation of France and the so-called “Free Zone” in the south controlled by a new French government based in Vichy, France. The reason for the lack of scholarship was because the French government kept many Vichy records unavailable to researchers. The increase in scholarship began in the mid-1990s after French President, Jacques Chirac, acknowledge France’s culpability in the deportation of French and foreign-born Jewish people living in France during the German occupation. The secondary sources before this confession had been on the resistance, examinations of Charles de Gaulle, and French oppression under Vichy. Moreover, the dialogue was almost completely controlled by Robert O. Paxton during that fifty-year period. The secondary sources written after the confession included the same topics and new ones such as memory and arguments of collaboration versus accommodation. This paper will argue that new sources clarify the actions of both the French and German governments during the occupation, allowing a clear debate between French collaboration or accommodation with the German occupiers.
Two historians that have consistently remained in the camp of collaboration are Paxton and Michael R. Marrus. Paxton remains the leading scholar on Vichy and has not only written several books on the regime, but he has also been the most prominent reviewer of content published in the field. In Vichy: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944, Paxton provided the first serious analysis of the French government as collaborators with their German invaders. He did this through a chronological methodology and covered events, documents, and experience throughout both occupied France and the Vichy-governed south of France. Paxton’s prior work, Parades and Politics at Vichy: The French Officer Corps under Marshal Pétain, focused specifically on Pétain and his military. Paxton argued that the French Army was “a self-aware and cohesive social group [that] not only survived; it played an active role in the Vichy regime.” Paxton’s later work was a collaboration with the like-minded Michael R. Marrus. Vichy France and the Jews examines people and actions in France during the occupation and argues that Vichy was created in fear of the Nazis and their anti-Semitic legislation and actions were evidence of collaboration.
These three books provide the foundation of an analysis of whether the Vichy regime collaborated with the Germans or whether it was a puppet state and merely accommodating the Germans from the beginning of the occupation of France. They deliver a varied analysis on multiple perspectives of the occupation and remain heavily discussed in other scholarly works.
For over a decade after the Paxton and Marrus texts were published their opinions of collaboration were challenged. These other scholars favored accommodation and their works argued that the French relationship with the Germans was delicate and far more complicated than Marrus or Paxton made it out to be. The main scholars in the accommodation camp are John F. Sweets, Philippe Burrin, and Simon Kitson. The accommodation perspective, which uses the resistance groups as the foundation of their viewpoint, evaluates similar evidence to Marrus and Paxton’s collaboration arguments while approaching the evidence with new ideas to support the accommodation argument.
Sweets’ Choices in Vichy France: The French under Nazi Occupation is the foundational source on accommodation. In this text, he directly critiques Paxton’s collaboration perspective and argues that resistance must be redefined and the weight of popular political films such as Le Chagrin et el Pitié (The Sorrow and the Pity) on the German occupation of France need to be addressed as biased. Sweets’ other works, such as “Hold That Pendulum! Redefining Fascism, Collaborationism and Resistance in France” share the same argument of a need to reassess the argument of the Vichy government collaborating with the Germans. Burrin’s Face under the Germans: Collaboration and Compromise focused on French resilience and argues that despite scholarship on the topic, the residents of France stand by the fact that their actions were a means of surviving the war.
Kitson, like Paxton, has remained in a dialogue with scholars examining life under Vichy. He has frequently addressed new ideas and opinions in works supporting the collaboration argument. However, Kitson’s accommodation approach remains different than other scholars supporting the accommodation argument, particularly in The Hunt for Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in Vichy France, which Kitson claims to examine anti-German counterespionage under Vichy using mainly primary source material and little scholarly analysis. Furthermore, Kitson also published an article in Intelligence and National Security discussing this new approach of analyzing the Vichy experience through counter-espionage. Kitson has also continued his accommodation analysis of Vichy in Contemporary European History where his article argued that American historian Paxton’s Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944, the lack of French scholarship on Vichy, and an over-focus on the Resistance kept the scholarly literature from acknowledging anti-German movements by smaller parts of the Vichy government, such as the police. Kitson, Burrin, and Sweets provide the foundation of the accommodation camp through new approaches to examine the Vichy era and engaged in dialogue with scholars that accuse the French of collaborating with the Germans, particularly Paxton.
There are some secondary sources on the Vichy era that do not particularly address collaboration or accommodation directly. However, these sources provide a clear analysis that can support one argument or the other. Bertram M. Gordon, Henry Rousso, and Éric Conan’s work focuses on Vichy Syndrome and the French publications, not all of which are scholarly, altering French memory of the occupation. Conan and Rousso defined Vichy Syndrome as an epidemic of literature published on life under Vichy from scholars, journalists, and non-academics after the 1995 confession of culpability which would cloud an authentic and scholarly narrative for new research. The two most significant works are Rousso’s The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France Since 1944 and Rousso’s collaborative follow-up with Conan, Vichy: An Ever-Present Past. These analyses of Vichy Syndrome support the collaboration theory because they show a progression over time of an attempt to alter memory for a more sympathetic view toward the actions of Frenchmen during the occupation.
Scholarship after President Chirac’s speech heavily focused on experiences, particularly of French Jews and foreign-born residents of France. Donna F. Ryan’s The Holocaust and the Jews of Marseille: The Enforcement of Anti-Semitic Policies in Vichy France was one of the first. Ryan examines Vichy legislation and its enforcement to present the experience of the Jewish community in Marseille under the Vichy regime and expand upon Paxton’s work and collaboration perspective. This particular work is significant because it received praise from both Paxton and Sweets for its new perspective, which it was at the time, and its thoroughness. However, Ryan’s argument never explicitly labels the French as collaborators and states, “Few in Marseille, whether departmental officials or private citizens, fully comprehended the deadly intentions of the Nazis [sic] war these measures would never have been enacted.” Similar sources include Julian Jackson’s France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944, Michael Curtis’ Verdict on Vichy: Power and Prejudice in the Vichy France Regime, Adam Rayski’s The Choice of the Jews under Vichy: Between Submission and Resistance, and Daniel Lee’s Pétain’s Jewish Children: French Jewish Youth and the Vichy Regime. The largest difference is that these three sources are more direct on their stance than Ryan.
Jackson’s France, like much of Paxton’s work, takes a chronological approach. This thorough source argues that anti-Semitism and xenophobia existed in France long before Germany invaded. France is a significant source on the accommodation versus collaboration debate because it contains at least a small examination of each perspective of life under Vichy. This includes the Resistance, women, legislation, public opinion, power struggles, and even post-war trials of politicians.
Curtis’ Verdict on Vichy has some similarities to Conan and Rousso’s Vichy such as their arguments of the Vichy era being one of repression, how The Pity and the Sorrow created new dialogue on life under Vichy, and that the post-war trials changed public opinion of the Vichy regime. Like most, Curtis nodded to Paxton’s work in the field that began the critique of Vichy; however, Curtis argued that the French government presented the Vichy regime as an illegitimate takeover of the Third Republic to alter the peoples’ memory. Rayski’s The Choice of the Jews under Vichy takes a unique approach but also focuses on memory. He argues that Vichy persecuted the Jewish community and was a complete accomplice to Hitler’s Final Solution, no gray area. Lee’s Pétain’s Jewish Children focuses completely on Jewish children in southern France in the so-called “Free Zone”. Lee’s work is one of the most recent, from 2014, and argues that there were multiple zones during the German occupation of France and that the experience during the occupation varied dependent on whether the person lived strictly under the Nazis’ control, the Vichy regime, or both. Lee also argues that life in the zones under both governments was the most severe. These sources will provide a vital perspective to the arguments of accommodation and collaboration because they include the long history of existing scholarship with new perspectives.
Early secondary sources provided analyses of international relations and international critiques of France’s actions with Germany, as well as their military and policy decisions. Some of these sources include works by William L. Langer, Robert Aron, Dorothy Shipley White, and Milton Viorst. These sources provide an early analysis of the Vichy regime from a political perspective. Moreover, the more recent book, An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 by Rick Atkinson, provides a fresh perspective on Langer, Aron, White, and Viorst’s works. Though the theses in their texts may not seem particularly relevant to the accommodation or collaboration argument, they offer examples of policy and motives for an array of the Vichy regime’s actions. Another source focusing on policy is Adrienne Doris Hytier’s Two Years of French Foreign Policy: 1940-1942 which examines the Vichy perspective of policy for the first two years of the occupation when the argument of collaboration versus accommodation is most focused.
Works that have been published after the 1995 confession of President Chirac have changed in tone and grown in quantity, but they are more varied in perspective and methodology than ever before. Until 1986 there was a public presentation of accommodation while scholarly work was scarce but dominated by the collaboration perspective. For the following ten years, the sources took new approaches to discuss accommodation and critique the prior work of the collaboration scholars but remained fairly uncontested by scholars supporting collaboration, who remained out of the dialogue in this window of time. Scholarship recently has become fast paced and interactive between scholars of both camps, accommodation and collaboration. Through an analysis of the debate in these sources, one can argue that the French collaborated with the Germans during the occupation until 1942 after Germany took control of the nation, making France a puppet state; therefore, the French are accountable for the crimes against the Jewish inhabitants of France and its territories.
Aron, Robert, and Georgette Elgey. The Vichy Regime: 1940-1944. Translated by Humphrey Hare. New York: MacMillan Company, 1958.
Burrin, Philippe. France under the Germans: Collaboration and Compromise. New York: New Press, 1996.
Conan, Éric, and Henry Rousso. Vichy: An Ever-present past. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1998.
Gordon, Bertram M. “The ‘Vichy Syndrome’ Problem in History.” French Historical Studies 19, No. 2 (Fall 1995): 495-518.
Hytier, Adrienne Doris. Two Years of French Foreign Policy: Vichy, 1940-1942. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1974.
Kitson, Simon. “Arresting Nazi Spies in Vichy France: 1940 – 1942.” Intelligence and National Security 15, No. 1 (Spring 2000): 80-120.
________. “From Enthusiasm to Disenchantment: The French Police and the Vichy Regime, 1940–1944.” Contemporary European History 11, No. 03 (2002): 371-390.
________. The Hunt for Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in Vichy France. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.
Langer, William L., and S. Everett Gleason. The Challenge to Isolation 1937-1940: The World Crisis and American Foreign Policy. Vol. I. London: Royal Institute of International Affairs., 1952.
________. Our Vichy Gamble. New York: A. A Knopf, 1947.
Marrus, Michael R., and Robert O. Paxton. Vichy France and the Jews. New York: Basic Books, 1981.
Paxton, Robert O. Parades and Politics at Vichy: The French Officer Corps under Marshal Pétain. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1966.
________. Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944. New York: Knopf; Distributed by Random House, 1972.
Rousso, Henry. The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France Since 1944. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991.
Sweets, John F. Choices in Vichy France: The French under Nazi Occupation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
________. “Hold That Pendulum! Redefining Fascism, Collaborationism and Resistance in France.” French Historical Studies 15, no. 4 (Fall 1988): 731-758.
Viorst, Milton. Hostile Allies: FDR and Charles De Gaulle. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1965.
White, Dorothy Shipley. Seeds of Discord: De Gaulle, Free France, and the Allies. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1964.
 Robert O. Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944 (New York: Knopf; Distributed by Random House, 1972), 392-399.
 Pétain’s French military is not to be confused with the Charles de Gaulle’s military, which was usually called, Free French or Fighting French and fought with the Allied Powers.
 John F. Sweets, Choices in Vichy France: The French under Nazi Occupation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), vii-xi.
 Éric Conan and Henry Rousso, Vichy: An Ever-Present Past (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1998), xi.
 Michael Curtis, Verdict on Vichy: Power and Prejudice in the Vichy France Regime (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2002), 4-9.
 Daniel Lee, Pétain’s Jewish Children: French Jewish Youth and the Vichy Regime, 1940-1942 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 4-14.
 Their work includes: William L. Langer, Our Vichy Gamble (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1947).; William L. Langer and S. Everett Gleason, The Challenge to Isolation 1937-1940: The World Crisis of 1937-1940 and American Foreign Policy (New York: Published for the Council on Foreign Relations by Harper, 1952).; Robert Aron and Georgette Elgey, The Vichy Regime: 1940-1944, trans. Humphrey Hare (New York: MacMillan Company, 1958).; Dorothy Shipley White, Seeds of Discord: De Gaulle, Free France, and the Allies (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1964).; Milton Viorst, Hostile Allies: FDR and Charles De Gaulle (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1965).