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  • Vichy 2010
  • Richard J. Golsan

To all appearances, what the distinguished historian Henry Rousso labeled the "Vichy Syndrome" in the late 1980s is still alive and well in France ten years into the new millennium. Indeed, the troubled and troubling memory of les années noires and the traumas associated with them—the disastrous and humiliating defeat of summer 1940, collaboration with the Nazis, and French complicity in the Holocaust—continue to inform public political discourse, inspire compelling novels and films, and, through the power their memory has on the national conscience, inflect and inform other traumatic memories from the nation's recent past as well. These include, most obviously, the troubled memories of decolonization and la guerre sans nom in particular, but they also include those of World War I, of France's dark history of slave trade, and in a broader global context the memory of Communism and its crimes worldwide. Moreover, such has been the interpenetration of these memories, both in chronological and geographic terms, that Henry Rousso has stated that writing a book about a specific traumatic memory and especially a specific national context—a work like Le Syndrome de Vichy—no longer seems entirely valid or appropriate. What happened in France in World War II, and the legacy it left behind, now needs to be viewed in a broader European, and perhaps global, context. Moreover, as events at the trial of Maurice Papon in 1997-98 for crimes against humanity demonstrate, it is not an easy task to dissociate, for example, the crimes committed under Vichy from terrible crimes committed by later democratic regimes in France, like the brutal and murderous suppression of Algerian protestors by French police on the night of 17 October 1961. For this reason it is entirely legitimate, as Michael Rothberg has argued recently, to consider a specific historical traumatic memory not in isolation, but "multidirectionally," in association with other memories with which it has become inextricably linked.1 As if to take up this transhistorical and transnational challenge, writers of what might be called the "new generation" of writers dealing with the traumatic memory of World War II have explored that memory in a much wider temporal and historical context. These writers include Yannick Haenel in his novels Cercle and Jan Karski, Boualem Sansal in his deeply moving Le Village de l'Allemand, Sylvie Germain in Magnus as well as other works, and of course Jonathan Littell in Les Bienveillantes. But the list of these writers and works is, of course, much longer than this. [End Page 1]

If Vichy and its memory have increasingly become implicated, or imbricated, in the memories of other traumas from other times and other places, so to speak, this is not to say that they have entirely lost their French specificity, or that particular or particularly traumatic episodes from les années noires have not continued to attract wide public attention and controversy, as well as the attention of historians and scholars. Olivier Wieviorka's revisionist study of the D-Day Landings, the Battle of Normandy and the liberation, for example, has sparked renewed interest and debate on a topic already exhaustively (to say the least) studied and discussed.2 The terrible defeat of May-June 1940 also continues to spark interest, as reflected not only in media and historical exposés and controversies, but also among readers of Irène Nemirovsky's powerful, posthumous novel, Suite française. Even the problems and hardships, as well as the tastes and styles, of daily life under the Occupation have inspired new interest, perhaps most notably in the successful exhibition of powerful and often beautiful color photographs of Paris under the German yoke taken by André Zucca.

But if the memory of Vichy lives and thrives both in the specificity of the French historical context as well as in its imbrication in and implications for other traumatic historical contexts, it has also become a metaphor, on occasion, for moral and political corruption in the present. This was the case, for example, in Lydie Salvayre's powerful and disturbing 1997 novel, La Compagnie des spectres. But nowhere was the phenomenon more in evidence, and more controversial, than...


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