(CRISIS and WAR in EUROPE, 1937 to 1940 – continued)
Marshall Pétain, anti-Communist, anti-Semite and head-of-state, shaking hands with Adolf Hitler, October 24, 1940.
Internment of Jews at Pithiviers, in north-central France.
Germans had begun looting artwork from Paris almost immediately after their conquest of that city in mid-June, 1940.
On July 3, ten days after the German-French armistice, the British sank the French fleet, the British unwilling to have the French navy serve enemy forces. Two days later Britain and France broke relations.
Among some French, Britain was viewed with hostility and France's head of state, Marshall Pétain, was a hero. He had been the hero of Verdun – no matter that the Battle of Verdun had been a mistake. Pétain was conservative by temperament and education. He blamed the Third Republic and its liberal democracy for the French defeat. In its place, he set up an authoritarian regime. What Pétain ruled was not called a republic. It was now called the French State. The republican motto of "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" was swept aside and replaced with "Work, Family, Fatherland."
Fascistic-minded people within the Pétain government launched a program known as the "National Revolution" in which much of the republic's secular and liberal traditions were rejected in favor of the promotion of an authoritarian and paternalist Catholic society. Pétain, amongst others, took exception to the use of the inflammatory term "revolution" to describe an essentially conservative movement but was otherwise a willing participant in the transformation of French society. He himself described Vichy France as "a social hierarchy" and rejected "the false idea of the natural equality of men."
Pétain proclaimed anti-Semitic laws. The imprisonment of his opponents and foreign refugees had begun. The French State had begun persecutions of Jews and Marxists, in tune with Hitler's hostility to both. Before the German occupation and collaborationist regime would come to an end, France would have camps filled with Jews and other undesirables and there would be deportations eastward to extermination camps. Leon Blum, a moderate socialist and France's premier in the mid-thirties, was among the Jews persecuted by the Pétain regime. Blum was arrested by the authorities in September 1940. He would be put on trial in 1942 and charged with treason for having "weakened France's defenses," and he would be turned over to the Germans and put in Germany's Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps.
Pétain championed a rural, Catholic France that spurned internationalism. As a retired Generalissimo, he ran the country on military lines. The anti-socialism and communism expressed as "Better Hitler than Blum" was still alive among the middle class. Meanwhile, many Frenchmen believed that it was de Gaulle and his Free French who were the agents of a foreign power – the British.
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