The articles that appear in this issue are focused studies based on empirical research that shed light on particular individuals, institutions, events, or places under the German occupation of northern France, the Vichy regime, and Italian-occupied southeastern France. Each represents a piece of a larger puzzle that remains, still today, a lively debate: was the Holocaust in France primarily the responsibility of the Germans? Or did French initiative, based in homegrown antisemitism, add its own contribution, making a bad situation significantly worse?
To some observers, the fact that this question has not yet been answered for the larger public represents a French national pathology, what Henry Rousso called "The Vichy Syndrome."1 While France is not the only country in Europe to be home to such a debate—witness Poland—its endurance is nonetheless striking, an "obsession" in the public sphere ever since the publication of the French translation of Robert O. Paxton's Vichy France: Old Guard, New Order, 1940–4 in 1973.2 Paxton shattered the longstanding myth that under Maréchal Philippe Pétain's Vichy regime, France had pursued a policy of collaboration outwardly in order to have greater autonomy and thereby better protect the French from the much harsher policies that the Germans might have enacted. Rather, Paxton argued that the regime and its fascist ideology had deep roots on the French Right, and actively sought to collaborate with Germany to achieve its own aims. Originally, Paxton's book was received badly in a France then united around the myth that the whole country had taken part in the resistance, in one way or another. Quickly, though, it initiated the debate that continues to this day.
The question of the fate of the Jews of France has become particularly important in this ongoing public debate, and here too, Paxton was an important early voice. His Vichy France and the Jews (co-authored with Michael Marrus) argued that Vichy's Jewish policy was developed on French initiative, a fulfillment of the goals of indigenous antisemites and xenophobes rather than a response to German pressure.3 The focus on xenophobia's long history in France was Marrus and Paxton's way of dealing with the strange fact that of the estimated 77,000 Jews deported from France to German death camps in occupied Poland (representing about a quarter of the French Jewish population on the eve of the war), two-thirds were immigrants. Jews who were citizens of France were, for the most part, deported only later and in much smaller numbers than foreign or stateless Jews.
In the media and in culture more broadly, the debates about French responsibility in the Holocaust continued to rage even after 1995, when Jacques Chirac became the first president to acknowledge French participation in the deportations of Jews from France. Since then, state leaders have taken further steps to acknowledge the full extent of France's participation in persecuting Jews: every president since Chirac affirmed a French role in the Holocaust; the so-named Matteoli Mission was established to look into the question of wartime looting of Jewish property; Holocaust memorials and museums have multiplied, with state support; and Holocaust educational programs have become compulsory in the public schools. Nevertheless, to read the press, even in [End Page 1] 2019, the question of France and its Jews in 1940–44 remains a passé qui ne passe pas (a past that does not pass), as Eric Conan and Henry Rousso put it in 1994.4
In many ways, today's public debates represent challenges to the republic itself. The more the state takes responsibility for the Holocaust, the more its critics use the issue to express other frustrations. On the Right, France's increased Holocaust memorialization has been portrayed as a symptom of the decline of French sovereignty in the face of Europeanization and globalization. In this regard, Eric Zemmour's 2014 Le Suicide français offers a counter-narrative that flies in the face of now-accepted historical research, resurrecting Vichy in order to reassert French honor.5 The political Left remains relatively quiet on the issue, although a small group of anti-Zionists...