Outing Villains and other Undesirables in France and Britain
The millstones of justice do grind exceedingly slow but grind exceedingly fine. News of the grinding was especially welcome with the announcement on December 27, 2015 that the French government will release the records of 200,000 persons who were thought to be associated with the Vichy regime, the wartime French State led by Marshall Philippe Petain during World War II, and who were responsible for the deportation of 76,000 Jews to their death in the Nazi death camps.
The names of those who took part in some way in the deportations, and for the persecution and discrimination of Jews during the dark years in French history, the years of the so-called "French State", from June 1940 until August 1942, located in Vichy, the town of undrinkable water, will be made known. Its history is unique because the French State was the only country legally outside of Nazi German controlled territory to be involved in the Holocaust
The grinding was slow since the files of the records have been held in the Police Museum in Paris for 75 years. For some time some people considered the Vichy regime as legal and legitimate. This was the case even after notorious events: the infamous Statute des Juifs of October 3, 1940, which banned Jews from employment in the civil service, teaching, military, press, and entertainment; the meeting of the Head of State Philippe Petain and Adolf Hitler on October 24, 1940, the horrendous Vel d’hiv roundup on July 16, 1942, in Paris by French police of more than 13,000 Jews; and the deportation of Jews that began on March 28, 1942, from Drancy to the death camps until August 1944.
This view even more regrettable since the highest court in France, the Conseil d’Etat on February 16, 2009, acknowledged the French responsibility, government, police, and railroad (SNCF), for the deportations. The court held that the Nazi regime did not force the French to betray their fellow citizens.
The release of the records comes at an opportune moment after the savage attacks on Jews in France by Islamist terrorists, and the increase in anti-Semitism over the last year. Even more important the release may reveal the true record of French people who past is ambiguous or controversial. Many of the French villains are known, such as the despicable anti-Semites such as officials, full of hate, such as Xavier Vallat or Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, or publicists such as Lucien Rebatat, editorial writer of Je suis partout and author of Decombres.
Some of the many of the heroes and heroines are well known: the courageous villagers, 70 of whom have been honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous among the Nations of the small mountain town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, and its pastor the pacifist Andre Trocme; Madeleine Barot and the Protestant religious group CIMADE.
The publication of the records will be important for finally revealing the truth about those who were not villains or heroes, but about whom there has always been uncertainty or controversy. The least important in this regard are movie stars and popular entertainers such as Maurice Chevalier or Edith Piaf. The most important are two issues: one is the mystery concerning the arrest of Jean Moulin, considered the leader of the French Resistance; the other is the record of Francois Mitterand who was to become President of France in the Fifth Republic.
There have been years of mystery about Mitterand. As a young Catholic law student he was sympathetic to right-wing politics, and a group called National Volunteers, though apparently he was not a member of violent right-wing groups such as La Cagoule (the Hood). Mitterand had been a POW during World War II, then an employee of Vichy working with POW group. At this stage he was an admirer of Petain, whom he met, writing on March13, 1942 of him as a person whose “demeanor is magnificent, his face that of a marble statue.”
Mitterand resigned from his Vichy job, but he had received La Francisque, the highest Vichy civilian medal, awarded for services rendered to the French state. Whether he can thus be considered a collaborator, even if in a minor role, is a matter of judgment. He then transformed himself into a Gaullist, making a secret trip to London in November 1943 and meeting General de Gaulle in Algiers. Mitterand can thus be regarded as a “Vichy-resister,” both part of the Vichy regime and of the Resistance, but the record of his resistance activity is scanty and ambiguous.
The true Mitterand is even more difficult to discern since while he was president of France he continued to lay flowers on the tomb of Petain, 1984-1992, saying he was honoring the victor of Verdun, not the Vichy Head of State. Equally disturbing was his continuing friendship with Rene Bousquet, the wartime head of French police who was responsible for the arrest of Jews by the French police. After the war, Bousquet in fact financially helped the presidential campaign of Mitterand who maintained the close relationship with Bousquet until the end of the latter’s life when he was assassinated by an apparently insane gunman on June 8, 1993 while he was finally awaiting trial for his role in the war.
An interesting question is whether Mitterand had any real beliefs or was simply like a character he admired, the character in Balzac’s novels, Eugene de Rastignac, who may be viewed as an ambitious social climber?
One hopes that the publication of the records will finally reveal the truth about Mitterand. One also hopes that this will lead the British government finally to reveal the truth about another controversial figure, the Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII. Hanging over his history is the question of whether Windsor can be considered a traitor to Britain.
Before his abdication from the throne, Windsor sent Hitler a telegram wishing him happiness and welfare for his 47th birthday, soon after the Nazis occupied the Rhineland in March 1936. After his abdication, Windsor and his wife the former Wallis Simpson visited Berchtesgaden as the guests of the Fuhrer in October 1937, and then met with Joseph Goebbels. The photo of the meeting has the royal couple smiling with Hitler. During the war, Windsor asked the Nazis to protect his houses in Paris and Cannes, which they agreed to do. The Nazis proposed to restore Windsor to the throne if they conquered Britain.
Wallis was under suspicion for having an affair with the Nazi diplomat and future Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop who sent her 17 carnations, one for each night they spent together. American ambassador Robert Bingman reported to President Roosevelt that many in Britain thought she was a spy, though he thought it unlikely.
The Nazis had recorded the utterances of Windsor, always indiscreet and very loose in his words. The Windsor files were buried in Germany, in a metal canister covered in a raincoat recovered by the U.S. “Documents Men.” It is now time for the UK to reveal everything about Windsor, who thought Hitler was very great man and that it would be a tragic thing for the world if the Fuhrer were overcome. Will the records reveal, as is believed, that Windsor gave the Nazi salute when he met Hitler?