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The Bad Conscience ofthe French: Review Essay mE BAD CONSCIENCE OF mE FRENCH: Review Essay by Wm. Laird Kleine-Ahlbrandt Department of History Purdue University 115 Petain's Crime: The Full Story of French Collaboration in the Holocaust, by Paul Webster. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1992. 225 pp. $24.95. France was the only country to sign an armistice with Nazi Germany (22June 1940). In the aftermath oftheir capitulation, the French scrapped the Third Republic institutions that had existed since the 1870s, a governmental system which had served the country longer than any other since the Revolution of 1789. The National Assembly held its last session on the afternoon of 10 July 1940 in the white stucco Grand Casino at Vichy. An overwhelming majority ofsenators and deputies-659 to 80 with 17 abstentions-gave World War One hero Philippe Petain the authority to create a new constitution. Although most legislators seemed to desire the continuation of the representative system, their action transferred complete executive and legislative power to the anti-democratic marshal. On 11July, he arrogated to hims~lfthe position of Chiefofthe French State, assuming full powers to appoint and remove ministers and secretaries of state and to enact and enforce laws. This sweeping assumption of command was never ratified by the French people or their representatives, but formed the main legal underpinning of Petain's personal dictatorship. Petain ruled his fief from Vichy's Hotel du Parc where the offices ofhis deputy (the head of the government) and the minister of foreign affairs were also located. Many members of the conservative Catholic upper classes welcomed the Vichy regime as a golden opportunity to purify the nation of the malicious influences of Socialists, Freemasons, and, especially, Jews. They hoped to inaugurate a National Revolution to create a new order of corporatism, female domesticity, agrarianism, religious 116 SHOFAR Winter 1996 Vol. 14, No.2 conformity, and traditionalism. Liberte, Ega/ite, Fraternite was scrapped in favor of Travail, Famille, and Patrie (Work, Family, and Country). Many French saw Vichy as a positive force to reverse decades of moral decline. The Catholics emphasized the development of clericalism. They wanted to atone for the sin in which France had lived since the Revolution. They especially applauded the interjection of religion into the public schools and the subsidy of parochial schools. The industrialists wanted to destroy Socialism. They welcomed the anti-trade union legislation which would keep the workers in their place. The right-wing technocrats and civil servants wanted the authority to bring discipline and order to government. Petain was their man. He believed as they: that the French needed direction; that the people had to be led like soldiers; and that strong executive leadership would transform individualism into an organic monolith and create a true Gallo-Roman General Will. .As a consequence, the Vichyites gave France the most repressive political system since the dictatorship of Napoleon III (1852-1870). The government dissolved the trade unions, suppressed freedom of speech, and outlawed membership in undesirable organizations. It dismissed "unreliable" magistrates, councillors, bureaucrats, and soldiers. On 18 October 1940, the regime published its Statut des lUi/s, legislation which aped the Nuremberg laws of the National Socialists and intended to "cleanse" French society of Talmudist influences. The decree prohibited Jewish participation in certain professions and barred them from certain positions, including the officer corps, teaching positions, most civil service jobs, from the courts, the press, and the entertainment industry. The Vichy revolutionaries wanted especially to obliterate what they perceived as pernicious Jewish influences in the movie industry. Despite the decree's racial foundation, it established a religious standard, defining a Jew as anyone who had three Jewish grandparents, or two Jewish grandparents if the spouse was also Jewish. Eight months later, a second Jewish Statute was promulgated. This decree called for a purge of the Jews from all worthwhile and important jobs, those of the professions and the crafts. The number of Jewish doctors, lawyers, and architects, for example, would be reduced 98 percent. The law also provided for the confiscation ofJewish business and the deprivation of various personal rights, like attendance at movie theaters, cafes, and museums, and restrictions on shopping. While these antisemitic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 115-122
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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