Vichy France: Its history and coinage

Started by <k>, April 01, 2017, 05:49:29 PM

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<k>

From Wikipedia, French prisoners of war in World War II:

Although no precise estimates exist, the number of French soldiers captured during the Battle of France between May and June 1940 is generally recognised as around 1.8 million, equivalent to around 10 percent of the total adult male population of France at the time. After a brief period of captivity in France, most of the prisoners were deported to Germany. In Germany, prisoners were incarcerated in prison camps, but the vast majority were soon transferred to work details, working in German agriculture or industry.

The absence of a large proportion of the male population of France also had important consequences on the position of women in occupied France, and charity fundraising on behalf of the prisoners played an important role in French daily life until late in the occupation. Limited repatriation of certain classes of POWs did occur from 1940. Nevertheless, many prisoners remained in German captivity until the defeat of Germany in 1945. Prisoners who returned to France, either by repatriation or through escaping, generally found themselves stigmatised by the French civilian population and received little official recognition.




Below you see two charity stamps, issued in 1941, for French prisoners of war.
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<k>

#31
When Hitler invaded Poland, he did not think that France and Britain would go to war against Germany. He thought they were too weak and defeatist. It was not a war he wanted, and he tried to defeat Britain in 1940 during the Battle of Britain, without success. His real aim was to attack the Soviet Union. He wanted to turn it into a slave state and colonise it with his "Aryan" Germans.

Despite the risk of fighting on two fronts, Hitler could not control his impatience, and in June 1941 he invaded the Soviet Union. This was despite the fact that in 1939 he had formed a pact with the Soviet Union, so that he could invade Poland. He associated communism with Slavs and Jews, and he hated all three with a pathological fury.

Pro-Nazi collaborators, in particular Jacque Doriot and Marcel Déat and their parties, formed a volunteer legion to fight on the Eastern Front, called the Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism.

Below you see Doriot in his Nazi uniform, looking rather better fed than many of his fellow Frenchmen.
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<k>

Propaganda posters, urging the French to fight for the Nazis against communism. The Vichy government kept its distance from the extreme collaborators and never fought alongside the Nazis.
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<k>

In October 1941 the LVF printed a souvenir stamp sheet, symbolising their war against the Russian bear. These stamps were also actually used by the LVF to send letters from the Eastern front.
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<k>

These field post issues for the LVF were put on sale in December 1941. The planes are presumably on their way to attack Moscow.
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<k>

After the defeat of France, the Vichy government strove to put a new system in place, in the hope that it would eventually be regarded as a partner of Germany and Italy, in Hitler's New Order. After Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, the French realised that the Axis powers were not interested in France, other than to exploit it for their war aims. From that point onward, French disenchantment with Vichy began to grow.

Although Vichy France was nominally independent, Germany found numerous cynical methods to ensure her compliance. Germany still held many French prisoners of war captive, for instance.




From Wikipedia, French prisoners of war in World War II:

The relève (relief) was a policy championed by Pierre Laval in which, in exchange for French workers volunteering to work in Germany, a proportional number of prisoners would be released. The policy was announced in June 1942 and soon became extremely unpopular and divisive across French society, and among the prisoners themselves. The Vichy government had originally hoped that a much greater number of prisoners would be released under the scheme, but the Germans refused to repatriate prisoners in the proportions which Vichy had suggested. In the end, around 100,000 prisoners were repatriated under the scheme. Many, however, were old or sick prisoners who technically should have been released under earlier quotas, rather than the peasant soldiers portrayed by Vichy propaganda.

The failure of the relève to attract sufficient numbers of French workers led to its abandonment in favour of the forced Service du travail obligatoire (STO; "Obligatory Work Service") in 1943.

The implementation of forced labour deportations from France was accompanied by a new policy. For every French worker who arrived in Germany, one POW could be "transformed" into a "free worker" (travailleur libre). Prisoners had the option and could choose to be transformed from being a prisoner of war to become a free worker in a German factory. Around 221,000 prisoners joined the scheme. The policy benefited the Germans, for whom the prisoners were a good source of extra labour, but it meant they were also able to transfer to the front German soldiers guarding POW camps, freeing 30,000 of them as a result of the policy.

The continued imprisonment of French soldiers was a major theme in the Vichy propaganda. Prisoners of war featured in the programme of moral rejuvenation promised as part of the Révolution nationale (National Revolution). A recurring idea was the idea of prisoners of war as martyrs or penitents, suffering in order to redeem France from its pre-war excesses. The period of detainment was therefore depicted as a form of purification which would overcome internal divides within France and atone for the defeat of 1940.

It took several months for relations and friends to discover the fate of their relatives and name of casualties. Initially, only very few prisoners, usually those working in important civilian industries, were sent back to France. For wives and families of prisoners of war, life under the occupation was particularly hard. In pre-war France, the husband was generally the household's chief wage earner, so many households saw a sharp drop in income and living standards. The large proportion of men in prisoner of war camps changed the gender balance in jobs. Many women took over running family farms and businesses, and others were forced to look for employment.

From the early repatriations, returned prisoners were generally treated with pity, suspicion and disdain by French civilians. Many believed that they had only been allowed to return in exchange for agreeing to collaborate. Later Vichy propaganda had implied that prisoners lived in good conditions, so many civilians believed that the prisoners had suffered much less than civilians during the conflict. As veterans of the 1940 Battle of France, the prisoners were blamed for the French defeat and portrayed as cowards who had surrendered, rather than fight to the death. They were also unfavourably compared with other men of their generation who had served in the Free French Forces or Resistance.





Below are images of two Vichy propaganda posters, dealing with the subject of Frenchmen who went to work in Germany, in exchange for the release of French prisoners of war.
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<k>

#36
In April 1942, to commemorate the 130th anniversary of the Battle of Borodino, the LVF issued some surcharged labels to help their cause: the fight against "Bolshevism". One of the stamps shows volunteer Legionaries giving the Nazi salute, against a scene of their Napoleonic military forebears. The Nazis and Fascists constantly linked themselves to the martial spirit and traditions of their ancestors.

Research has shown that Frenchmen often had ulterior motives for joining extremist collaborationist organisations. Woman in particular often joined them with the intention of obtaining the release of a friend or relative from a German prison camp, or to gain better access to food and rations, or else simply to improve their social life. The French had to endure grim conditions, as a result of Nazi pressure. Different people found different ways to cope, but to avoid collaboration yet remain safe was extremely difficult or often impossible.
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<k>

The Vichy government disliked the idea of these extremists volunteering to fight for the Nazis. It therefore formed its own so called Tricolor Legion, a legion of volunteers who would be assigned to the legimate military business of the Vichy state. In this way it hoped to attract people away from the LVF. It issued stamps for the Legion's cause in late 1942. The Nazis predictably objected to the existence of the Tricolor Legion, so it was dissolved and its members were transferred to the LVF.
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<k>

The Vichy government, from its earliest months, enacted anti-semitic legislation. Vichy was neither Nazi nor pro-Nazi in itself and tried to keep its distance from the extreme pro-Nazi collaborators. Yet the French authoritarian right had its own specifically French tradition of anti-semitism. Despite this, it went further and collaborated with the Nazis - far more than it needed to or should have done, and sometimes for terrible reasons. Some Vichy politicians worried that if they did not cooperate with the Nazis in persecuting the Jews, then the Nazis would install their own Nazi-led puppet administration and government in France.

The Nazi persecution of the Jews went through various stages of escalation. Eventually, probably by 1942, Hitler seems to have realised that he might not win the war, so he decided to murder as many Jewish people as possible in the meantime. Some Jews managed to escape to the small Italian occupied zone of France, where the Italians, despite being Fascists and allies of Hitler, protected them. Still, around 70,000 French Jews died as a result of the Holocaust.

See:

1] Vichy France: Racial policies and collaboration.

2] Vel' d'Hiv Roundup.

3] René Bousquet.




Below, Bousquet, managing to look both decadent and arrogant.
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<k>

From Wikipedia: Operation Torch was the British-American invasion of French North Africa during the North African Campaign of the Second World War, which started on 8 November 1942. It was intended to clear the Axis powers from North Africa, improve naval control of the Mediterranean Sea, and prepare the way for an invasion of Southern Europe.

Hitler had insisted that Pierre Laval was made prime minister of Vichy again in April 1942, in order to ensure that the government was sufficiently collaborationist.

Hitler ordered Case Anton to occupy Corsica and then the rest of the unoccupied southern zone of France, in immediate reaction to the landing of the Allies in North Africa (Operation Torch) on 8 November 1942. Following the conclusion of the operation on 12 November, Vichy's remaining military forces were disbanded. Vichy continued to exercise its remaining jurisdiction over almost all of metropolitan France, with the residual power devolved into the hands of Pierre Laval, until the gradual collapse of the regime following the Allied invasion in June 1944.

By the summer of 1943, the Resistance had become a serious threat to the Vichy regime, and large parts of the French police and administration were actively sabotaging German interests. The Nazis therefore encouraged Laval to set up the Milice française, generally known as the Milice, with the help of Joseph Darnand, a former member of the Cagoule in the 1930s. The Milice now waged a pitiless war on the Resistance, transforming France into a thorough-going fascist state. This phase did not last for long, because the Allies invaded north-western France in June 1944 and the south in August.

By September the Germans had almost completely withdrawn from France, taking their eager hard-core collaborators with them: Doriot, Déat and Darnand. They also took with them Laval and Pétain, against their will, and these now refused to cooperate any more with the Nazis. In Sigmaringen, Germany, Doriot, Déat and Darnand formed a sort of fascist government in exile. Doriot was killed in February 1945: he was strafed by a plane while driving in his car. Déat managed to escape to Italy and hide, dying there in 1955. Darnand was sentenced to death after the liberation and executed by firing squad on 10 October 1945.
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<k>

#40
Meanwhile, de Gaulle returned to France, a little too early, as the Nazi stragglers were determined to kill him.

As his procession came along the Place de la Concorde on Saturday 26 August, it came under machine gun fire by Vichy militia and fifth columnists who were unable to give themselves up. Later, on entering the Notre Dame cathedral to be received as head of the provisional government by the Committee of Liberation, loud shots broke out again, and Leclerc and Koenig tried to hustle him through the door, but de Gaulle shook off their hands and never faltered. While the battle began outside, he walked slowly down the aisle. Before he had gone far a machine pistol fired down from above, at least two more joined in, and from below the FFI and police fired back. A BBC correspondent who was present reported:

"... the General is being presented to the people. He is being received...they have opened fire! ... firing started all over the place ... that was one of the most dramatic scenes I have ever seen. ... General de Gaulle walked straight ahead into what appeared to me to be a hail of fire ... but he went straight ahead without hesitation, his shoulders flung back, and walked right down the centre aisle, even while the bullets were pouring about him. It was the most extraordinary example of courage I have ever seen ... there were bangs, flashes all about him, yet he seemed to have an absolutely charmed life."

That evening, the Wehrmacht launched a massive aerial and artillery barrage of Paris in revenge, leaving several thousand dead or injured.The situation in Paris remained tense, and a few days later de Gaulle, still unsure of the trend of events asked General Eisenhower to send some American troops into Paris as a show of strength. This he did 'not without some satisfaction', and so, on 29 August, the US 28th Infantry Division was rerouted from its journey to the front line and paraded down the Champs Elysees.

The same day, Washington and London agreed to accept the position of the Free French. The following day General Eisenhower gave his de facto blessing with a visit to the General in Paris.




Here you can watch de Gaulle's visit to Paris, as shooting continues all around. At one point you see him calmly puffing on a cigarette.  :D

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<k>

There followed some terrible scenes of revenge in France, but that is hardly surprising.

Also, Laval was arrested by the French government under General Charles de Gaulle. In what some historians consider a flawed trial, Laval was found guilty of high treason, and after a thwarted suicide attempt, he was executed by firing squad on August 20 1944.

Pétain was also tried and convicted for treason. He was originally sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison. He died in 1951.

The Vichy regime left a complex and bitter legacy, with which Frenchmen had to come to terms in their different ways.

From Wikipedia:

Mitterrand came under fire in 1992 when it was revealed that he had arranged for the laying of a wreath of flowers on the grave of Philippe Pétain each Armistice Day since 1987. Pétain had been the leader of French forces at the dramatic Battle of Verdun in World War I, for which he was revered by his contemporaries. Later, however, he became leader of Vichy France after the French defeat by Germany (June 1940) in World War II, collaborating with Nazi Germany and putting anti-semitic measures into place.

The placing of such a wreath was not without precedent. Presidents Charles de Gaulle and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing had wreaths placed on Pétain's grave to commemorate the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the end of World War I. Similarly, President Georges Pompidou had a wreath placed in 1973 when Pétain's remains were returned to the Ile d'Yeu after being stolen. Nonetheless, Mitterrand's regular annual tributes went beyond the marking by his predecessors of exceptional occasions, and offended sensibilities at a time when France was re-examining its role in the Holocaust.
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<k>

So my topic ends happily, more or less. Vive la France!




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