In June of 1940, the German army, the Wehrmacht, occupied Paris, France. The prime minister of France at the time, Paul Reynaud now realized that Germany couldn’t be stopped and wanted to move the government to France’s African territories and continue with its work from there. The vice-premier, Philippe Pétain, and Maxime Weygand, supreme commander of the armed forces, were against this. They wanted the government to remain in France and negotiate an armistice instead. As a result, Vichy France was established after the French surrender to Germany on June 22nd, 1940. The name was taken from the administrative capitol of the new government located in Vichy, France located in the central part of the country.
Negotiating with Adolf Hitler
Reynaud lost the vote and resigned. President Albert Lebrun appointed Philippe Petain as the new premier. Right away he started negotiations with Adolf Hitler and by June 22nd they had agree to, and signed, the armistice. France was divided into occupied and unoccupied zones, Germany would have direct control of 3/5ths of France including the Atlantic coast and Western France. The remainder of the country would be governed by the French government at Vichy with Henri-Philippe Petain as its head.
Vichy France Facts
Client state of Nazi Germany (1940–42)
Puppet state of Nazi Germany (1942–44)
“Travail, Famille, Patrie”
Translated to English: “Work, Family, Fatherland”
Vichy France Anthem:
The Song of Marseille (official)
Maréchal, nous voilà!
Marshal, here we are! (unofficial)
Capital: Vichy (de facto)
Parisa (de jure)
Capital-in-exile: Sigmaringen (1944–1945)
Government: Authoritarian state
Chief of the French State
1940–1944 Philippe Pétain
President of the Council of Ministers
1940–1942 Philippe Pétain
1942–1944 Pierre Laval
Legislature: National Assembly
Armistice with Germany
The armistice also stipulated the surrender of all the Jews located in France to Germany. The French Army was disbanded, of it only a force of 100,000 men remained whose function it was to keep the order in the country. The French soldiers that were captured by the Germans up to that point remained prisoners of war. The new French government also agreed to instruct its citizens to not resist the Germans.
Vichy France Video
Importance of the Vichy Government
The Vichy government was strategically important for both Great Britain and Germany during World War II because of its armed forces in Syria and their presence on the Eastern Mediterranean. The Allies were concerned that the Vichy government would allow the Germans to establish airbases there, which would put them at a significant disadvantage.
Free French Army and Syria
In June of 1941 the British army together with the Free French entered Syria. After fighting through the heavy resistance from the Vichy army they
captured the capital of Syria, Damascus. An armistice was signed and for the remainder of the war Syria had pro-British regimes.
Expanding the Vichy Secret Police
To battle the growing French Resistance, it was decided that the Milice, the Vichy secret police, was to be expanded. By 1944 it had over 35,000 members most of which were focused on investigating and crushing the French Resistance. Similar to the Gestapo they did pretty anything it takes to get the information that they wanted including torture and served as judge, jury and executioner to those that they wanted to get rid of.
France after D-Day
After D-Day many of the resistance groups that operated within France came forth and helped the liberation efforts of the Allies. Philippe Petain and the rest of his government fled to Germany and established an exiled French government there.
By 1945 the heads of the Vichy government were arrested and some of the top brass were executed for their part in the war crimes.
Chasing Collaborators into the 1980s
From the 1980s and forward, there were some trials of accused war criminals in France that occurred based on the work of various Nazi hunters to include Beate and Serge Klarsfeld. Some of these men were tried for a second time with the notable personnel brought to trial including: Paul Touvier, Klaus Barbie, Maurice Papon, René Bousquet (the head of the French police during World War 2) and his deputy Jean Leguay.
Both Leguay and Bousquet were convicted for their roles in the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup that occurred in July of 1942. During the Algerian War that occurred from 1954 to 1962, a number of the French collaborationists from WW2 joined the OAS terrorist movement. In this timeframe, Jacques de Bernonville was able to escape to Canada followed by Brazil. Jacques Ploncard d’Assac would become and associate and advisor to the Portuguese dictator, António de Oliveira Salazar.
In the early 1990s, René Bousquet (former Vichy official) would be assassinated while awaiting trial in Paris. In 1949, he had been partially acquitted and amnestied. The next year, Paul Touvier (former Vichy official) was convicted of crimes against humanity and Maurice Papon saw a similar conviction in 1998 (he was released three years later due to health concerns and passed away in 2007).
Vichy France References
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, But Not for All: France and the “Alien” Jews, 1933-1942. Last Viewed: 11 January 2014.
Nazi Diplomacy – Vichy, Last Viewed 10 January 2014.
Simon Kitson’s Vichy web-page, Last Viewed: 11 January 2014.