Robert O. Paxton's classic study of the aftermath of France's sudden collapse under Nazi invasion utilizes captured German archives and other contemporary materials to construct a strong and disturbing account of the Vichy period in France. With a new introduction and updated bibliography, "Vichy France" demonstrates that the collaborationist government of Marshal Pétain did far more than merely react to German pressures. The Vichy leaders actively pursued their own double agenda--internally, the authoritarian and racist "national revolution," and, externally, an attempt to persuade Hitler to accept this new France as a partner in his new Europe.
Robert Owen Paxton is an American political scientist and historian specializing in Vichy France, fascism, and Europe during the World War II era. After attending secondary school in New England, he received a B.A. from Washington and Lee University in 1954. Later, he won a Rhodes Scholarship and spent two years earning an M.A. at Merton College, Oxford, where he studied under historians including James Joll and John Roberts. He earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1963. Paxton taught at the University of California, Berkeley and the State University of New York at Stony Brook before joining the faculty of Columbia University in 1969. He served there for the remainder of his career, retiring in 1997. He remains a professor emeritus. He has contributed more than twenty reviews to The New York Review of Books, beginning in 1978 and continuing through 2017.
This is a well-rounded work on the Vichy years that is at times sympathetic, but Paxton does point out how odious this regime could be.
Vichy was not coerced by Germany, but tried endlessly (and unsuccessfully) to make agreements with their German conquerors. It was Vichy that rounded up "immigrant" Jews who had sought sanctuary in France and sent them to their death in Germany. It was Vichy that was impotent to prevent total annexation in November 1942. It was Vichy that fruitlessly attempted to make a Peace Accord out of the Armistice. After the Americans entered the war, Petain and Laval thought they could arrange a peace between Hitler and the Allied forces (Britain and the U.S.). What planet did these two inhabit? Obviously their Anglophobia and pro-German viewpoint gave them a blinkered myopia.
Petain, Laval, and Darlan in their quest of Vichy power are well exposed in this book of Paxton; perhaps there could have been more on their human side. Also there is little on post-Normandy France.
Mr. Paxton stresses that only a small percentage of the population was actively involved in the Resistance (which is to some extent understandable when German retribution was swift). A significant portion of the population feared the Allied invasion.
this is the book i want to write, except i want to write it about algeria, and not vichy.
it's impossible to overestimate the impact this book had on modern France, and the history of the country. it has been said (and rightly so) that this book could not have been written by a frenchman - it had to be done by an outsider. this was the first book to really explode the history/memory conflict, and call into question all the history that everyone believed to be true regarding WWII.
this is the story that answers the now-famous question in france, "what did you do during the war, daddy?" france was occupied from the beginning of the war, and set up a collaborationist government in the south of france, in vichy. this government colluded with the germans to export at least 8,000 french jews to the concentration camps east. that means, the french government themselves made the lists and rounded these people up. while the number is small, it is mostly small because those are the only ones with proof. it's important to note also that france was amazingly anti-semitic (see the dryfuss affair to start), and if the war was based merely on ideology, france probably would have aligned with germany. but because of the deep fissures between the countries and their terrorial arguments, vichy is what happened.
the pervasive national narrative up until paxton was the story of the french resistance and charles de gaulle. there was no mention of vichy, no mention of papon and barbi and the others that would be tried for crimes against humanity forty years after the war. and with one book, paxton toppled one of the most popular heroic narratives to exist after WWII.
honestly, this is the book that started the contemporary history movement (that is based largely in france, with henri rousso doing most of the heading up stuff), that started asking questions of the heroic war narrative - asking, wait, what really happened? what aren't you telling us? what is the story of the losers? did people disagree? what is the dark side?
Robert O. Paxton's Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order recreates the political functions and ideological underpinnings of France's collaborationist government during the Second World War. Paxton spurns the suggestion that Vichy was merely imposed on the French by Nazi invaders; although literally true, this framing ignores how heavily Vichy drew on reactionary strands of French society. Disenchantment with the instability of the Third Republic, backlash against the leftist Popular Front of the '30s and guilt and rage over France's military defeat (and the country's long-dormant Anglophobia, which Dunkirk and Britain's sinking of the French fleet exacerbated) enabled Petain, Laval and Darlan (among others) to install an authoritarian regime with little fuss, and a reasonable degree of popular support. Thus the "National Revolution" of Petain's government was less that than a counterrevolution: the Petainists imposed a variety of reactionary policies, from dismantling democracy to replacing secular schools with Catholic education, from an obsession with agricultural development as an antidote to urban decadence to passing anti-Semitic legislation and repressing socialists and communists, all of which needed little encouragement from the Nazis. Nor were Vichy's leadership mere puppets: Petain, self-servingly, framed himself as a "shield" to spare France the hardships of direct occupation (an argument Paxton dismantles by showing Vichy military cooperation with the Axis and collaboration in the Holocaust) and maintaining a neutral foreign policy (America continued to recognize Vichy as the legitimate French government through 1942). As war turned against the Axis, Laval in particular hoped to use Vichy's "neutral" status to negotiate a peace between the Allies and spare France from invasion - a gambit which failed, as the Allies distrusted him and the Germans viewed him and Petain with contempt. Both the political and moral ledger of the Second World War do not reflect well on Vichy; far from a "shield" from German depredations, it perpetrated its own cruelties in tandem with the Third Reich while allowing the French Right to settle scores with liberal, leftist and religious enemies. The book's sole shortcoming is a focus on policies and politics over the experiences of everyday Frenchmen and women, though that's been well-covered in other works. It remains a worthy analysis of this troubling time, showing how easily fascists can coopt conservative grievances to their own benefit - and how nationalism can be perverted to collaboration.
I rarely find myself reading history books these days, but ‘Vichy France’ was a totally engaging experience. Paxton focuses in on the Vichy government during the German Occupation. Two things really struck me. The first was a growing awareness of why the ‘Vichy’ French felt the need to actually collaborate with Germany even when the Germans, to some extent, seemed fairly uninterested in that collaboration. Having been defeated and occupied, and I think believing, as most people did at that time, that Germany would soon win the war, it was important to insure against losing French land to their victors, losing their colonies to Germany’s allies, and seeing their economy destroyed in the post war peace talks. This was a genuine concern following the way France and the Allies had squeezed ‘the German lemon until the pips squeaked’ following the 1914-18 war. It was something I never really thought about before. The second thing that struck me was how that Vichy government used the occupation to push through their own nationalist, anticommunist, and racist policies by suggesting a German coercion that didn’t seem to have existed. I am always amazed to find out how fascistic and antisemitic the whole of Europe was between the wars, and how much we like to heap all our sins on Hitler and the Nazis. People are so naughty!
I got this book because after years of liking the movie, "Casablanca", and knowing very little except that it was a temporary government permitted by the Germans, I wanted to know something about Vichy.
I was hoping for a book that might explain a) why the Germans allowed/created this entity, b) how it operated, and c) how did it affect the lives of people in France and French territories during it's existence.
While not specifically recommended by a co-worker who has a PhD in WWII history, he thought it might be a good.
It's definitely not the book I was hoping for. But, having said that, it is an exhaustive (and exhausting) history of the politicians and laws of Vichy France. For a historian it may be just what they hoped for, but not me. It was one of the driest and most unappealing books that I have read in the past decade.
But I did read it all. Always hoping that it would deliver what I wanted. And, in a strange way, it did. It was the appendices (or notes) that actually gave me a glimpse in to why Vichy France existed and how people lived in it. So, perseverance paid off.
I wanted to read about Vichy France after reading Irene Nemirovsky’s 'Suite Francaise', set in the early days of the Nazi occupation of France in 1940. Nemirovsky’s novel explores the dilemmas faced by individuals as they grapple with the moral dilemmas posed by occupation and I wanted to read a non-fiction background to the times. However, I found ‘Vichy France’ a dry and difficult read. If you are looking for a social history of the occupation or the impact of occupation on the everyday lives of French people, this is not the history for you. The book very much concentrates on the political, diplomatic and government aspects of Vichy.
My main gripe with this book is the complex structure – a not atypical paragraph is; "The elimination of communism followed by parliamentary socialism opened the way for these outsiders of the Left. René Belin became minister of industrial production and labor from 14 July 1940 to 23 February 1941 and remained minister of labor until 18 April 1942. Raymond Froideval and Georges Lefranc served on his staff. Some of the anti-Communist union officials had already gotten their pre-1936 jobs back with the suppression of the Communist party in September 1939. Antibolshevism carried Georges Dumoulin, Marcel Roy, and others as far as cooperation with Abetz’ labor propaganda newspapers in Paris, La France au travail and L’Atelier. Dumoulin went on to serve as inspector-general of the Comités Sociaux, those stillborn local mixed committees of workers, administrators, and employers foreseen under the Charte du travail, when Henry Lagardelle became minister of labor in 1942. Marcel Roy was named a workers’ delegate to the Organization Committee for the automobile industry. Even a number of more circumspect union leaders cooperated for a time with the new labor machinery, if Georges Lefranc’s memory is correct." (Loc 5192)
Phew, that’s a lot of names of individuals and organisations being juggled in that paragraph, with only the briefest introduction to each of them. If there was ever a book that needed a Cast List it’s this one but unfortunately none is provided. The book was published in 1972 and I think, with the allegedly short attention span of 21st century readers, it would be structured differently if written today.
The book is clearly well researched, and one of Paxton’s key themes, is that the Vichy government aimed to sweep away the perceived failings of the ‘decadent’ Third Republic and start anew. “Collaboration no longer meant merely accomplishing one’s daily round under enemy occupation. Collaboration now meant taking advantage of a foreign army to carry out major changes in the way Frenchmen were governed, schooled and employed” (Loc 536). The Sections on Collaboration demonstrate that a broad section of French political operatives on both the right and left, as well as civil servants and industrialists supported and were supported by the Vichy regime.
Paxton’s research demonstrates how little the civil service changed from the structures in place during Vichy and post-war France, which provided a stability and continuity valued above everything else before and after ‘liberation’. As Paxton summarises ‘At bottom, however, the decisive reason holding men to the Vichy solution was an instinctual commitment to public order as the highest good.’ (Loc 5468)
Robert Paxton is best known for his short book on "generic" fascism, but this book is the one that really made his career in academia. it was originally published in 1972 and shattered the mythologies of Vichy up to that time. It's still cited in contemporary books on occupied France and the major findings hold up. It is very much worth reading today. The historiographical introduction to the 2002 edition is also very good, and could be teachable in history research methods courses.
A brilliant academic book on one of the most disgraceful regime of cowards, criminals and cretins to have ever disgraced the Earth. Vichy, a regime ran by squabbling technocrats and traditionalists, and any apologia attached to it is demolished by Paxton's brilliant study. A job well done.
I have had a longstanding interest in how people rationalize their wrongdoing. Paxton's history of Vichy addresses this problem on a grand scale. No other choice, better than the alternative, to preserve something, to salvage something and so on… It is hard to think about Vichy after the fact and not become judgmental, but Paxton does a wonderful job of putting the reader into the situation and gets as close as i can imagine to allowing the reader to see things as they saw them. In the end I felt that what Pétain wanted [an anti-semitic, patriarchal, authoritarian state] was itself so bad that i had no sympathy for his rationalizing his pact with Hitler, and no sympathy for the leaders of Vichy in the post-war period. Of course, that would have been an easy judgment to make without reading Paxton. The importance of reading Paxton was that it allowed me to feel that I had "been there" and had abundant reasons for my judgment.
Groundbreaking, fantastic, must-read for Vichy etc. If you've read anything about Vichy written in the last 40 years, they cite him. Can you imagine writing a book with such explosive and enduring impact? I only wish. I have a history crush on Paxton and think I'd probably get all stammery and silly if I met him.
A fascinating look at a what happened to France when they chose not to rebuff Hitler & his minions. There is a nice balance of both the French side & the German side of the Occupation, and I for one, learned quite a bit, more than I ever did in school, that's for sure! It's no wonder that every book that is written about this time, uses Robert Paxton as a source.
While I like Paxton's other book enormously -- and I really liked the writing here -- I found I got bogged down after about 1/3 the way through and moved on -- or rather -- skimmed my way home..., so to speak....
When Hitler and his tanks, troops, and Stuka dive-bombers blitzkrieged across France, reaching Paris in six weeks, the French leaders and people thought that Hitler, like Napoleon, would control the continent of Europe for decades. The patriotic socialist politicians of France fled into exile, leaving behind the conservative, pro-fascist, pro-Catholic, and pro-life conservative leaders who were eager to collaborate with the Nazis. Hitler thought it was advantageous to allow them to organize a puppet government in Vichy France, the agricultural region southeast of Paris.
For many decades after the Allies invaded the beaches of Normandy, expelling the Nazi invaders, the French, ashamed of their past, clung to the myth that few French collaborated with the Nazis, that most French eagerly supported the Resistance in resisting the Nazis.
Robert Paxton’s book, Vichy France, was both a sensation and very controversial when it was release in 1972, causing the French to revise their collective memory of the uncomfortable history of Vichy France. Quoting from his Wikipedia page: “In the preface to the 1982 edition of Vichy France, Paxton disagreed with the assertion of his opponents that he had written in "easy moral superiority" from the perspective of a "victor": "In fact [it] was written in the shadow of the war in Vietnam, which sharpened my animosity against nationalist conformism of all kinds. Writing in the late 1960s, what concerned me was not the comparison with defeated France but the confident swagger of the Germans in the summer of 1940." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Paxton After you read Paxton’s book you should also read the book by WD Halls to hear many interesting stories of how both Catholic and Protestant clergy and laymen collaborated with and resisted the policies of the Nazi regime and Vichy France during World War II. Halls had so many footnotes to Paxton’s history that it was abundantly clear that the Paxton book was the primary history of Vichy France.
This blog also references a blog on the Vatican II decree on Religious Freedom, which discards the medieval notion that the absolute monarchies and the Catholic Church are partners, and the modern notion that since the Communism is the enemy of the Catholic Church, and since Fascism is the deadly enemy of Communism, then the Church can tolerate Fascism. Vatican II embraces democracy and rejects fascism.
The Vichy regime in France that collaborated with the Nazis in World War II: Were they your garden variety, scumbag opportunists? Or were they brave souls who sacrificed their reputations to mitigate as much as possible the evils of the occupation?
Actually, most of them didn't fall on that continuum at all. First, some history:
June, 1940: Germany invaded France. Within a few weeks, the German army had seized the northern half of France including Paris. The government of the Third Republic abandoned France and turned leadership over to Marshal Phillipe Petain, a popular World War I hero.
Germany established an east-west line across France. North of that line was the Occupied Zone under direct German control. In the south, the Germans allowed Petain to form a collaborationist regime in Vichy, France. The regime was to govern the “Free Zone” of southern France and France’s colonies. Nominally, Petain’s regime was the French government, and France was neutral in World War II. But actually, Vichy was almost completely subordinate to Germany’s authority.
November, 1942: To defend against an Allied offensive from North Africa, the German army moved south and occupied the former “Free Zone.” Germany continued to recognize the Vichy regime as France’s government, but Vichy exercised almost no control over territory.
June, 1944: After the successful Normandy invasion, Allied troops liberated France and the Vichy regime was eliminated.
On to the book review: In 1940, after the German invasion, Petain & Co. made a catastrophic misjudgment: That Germany had won World War II and France had lost; and that France would have to find its way in the New Europe that Hitler was building. Vichy's overriding aim was to persuade Germany, as the reigning European power, to allow France to continue as a political entity and player.
Hitler, on the other hand, just wanted France's material support and manpower for the war effort. He wanted no trouble from France that would require diversion of resources from the fronts. A compliant "French" government in Vichy suited his needs.
Vichy had almost no leverage to apply to Germany. It suggested it could be helpful by acting as a neutral in diplomacy with the U.S. Hitler ignored that. It suggested that an easing of the terms of occupation would increase productivity and popular support for Germany. Hitler ignored that, too. The one bargaining chip it had was the powerful French naval fleet, which was based in France's colonies. But Vichy never convinced Hitler that they could or would deliver the ships. And after 1942, they were off the table.
Did Vichy act as a "shield" against Nazi exploitation? The author says no. The data is a little shaky, but living standards in Vichy France don't seem to have been any better than in occupied areas.
Most importantly, did Vichy protect Jews and others from the camps? In the post-war trials, the Vichy defendants claimed they did. They noted that 92% of the native Jews in other occupied countries disappeared while 95% of French Jews survived.
This is impressive but misleading. To meet German deportation quotas, Vichy targeted foreign Jews who are not included in the 95%. The author points out the real question: Were less Jews shipped out by Vichy than would have been taken by Germany without Vichy? Not really. And early in the war, Vichy had some latitude to facilitate Jewish escape but didn't use it.
Some Goodreads reviews found the writing in this book to be dry. I disagree. The author makes many droll observations about policies and personalities. It is intended to be an authoritative history, so there is a lot more detail and supportive data than a casual reader needs. But a very worthwhile read.
Named after the town in which it organized its government, Vichy France was a French collaborationist (with Germany, that is) led by Marechal Philippe Petain during the World War II. After the initial shock of France surprisingly quick defeat against Germany, Petain and other figures as Pierre Laval and Admiral Francois Darlan chose to offer armistice to Germany, fearing that France could potentially fall into social disorder, rather than evacuating themselves just like General de Gaulle and Free French did. Vichy French, composed of traditionalists, fascists and generally anticommunists, believed that by collaborating with Germany, they could earn a place in a new european order led by Germany. These people went so far as replacing the old Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite with Travail, Familie and Patrie. In this goal, it tried its hardest to return themselves as a normal state allied with Germany, with eagerness to contribute to Axis’ war effort which even made Hitler cautious. However, in its quest to retain french sovereignty, Vichy ended up turning into more of a German subject as the war turned against Germany. After the war, Vichy France contributed towards the rebuilding the new France by its tendencies to favor technocrats, which in turn contributed to the centralization of french bureaucracy, making it more effective than before, putting French economy towards the path of dirigism and moderating the anticlericalism of french government.
This monumental 1972 study of Vichy France overturned previous ideas to show that Vichy France was not primarily a Nazi puppet; it arose organically under the pressure of the French military collapse, representing the development of preexisting trends in French politics and society. It wasn't a Nazi puppet so much as a French ultraconservative self-coup. Paxton extensively goes over their debates, their personell, their laws, and their diplomacy to show this. The Nazis pressed them into some individual actions, but little more.
The thing is, Vichy failed. They failed in their domestic policy, as conservative agrarian-focused economics didn't meet the needs of the modern world; even they themselves acknowledged that. They failed even worse in their foreign policy, as Hitler wasn't interested in independent allies and wouldn't ease the onerous Armistice terms even when Vichy was eager to partner with him. And because of that, they failed to gain popular support, as Frenchmen didn't see improvements in their life.
This is an engrossing history of a certain era that interests me. His writing is clear and interesting. He includes two introductions which are immensely helpful in understanding his approach and thesis since he first published his book in 1972 and this most recent edition from 2001. This paperback copy has a nice heft and the internal photos are helpful for placing faces to names especially with the endless last names starting with the letter D.
A recommendation for anyone interested in this historical period.
For a while, this was the absolute most vital source for the Vichy period of France. It was accessible and available. Even today it is still a good read, but is beginning to grow long in the tooth and, in my opinion, a new work is needed that uses the new sources that have come out since publication.
Absolutely still worth a read for those interested.
A good supplement to this info is the 30-odd pages on Vichy in Mazower's "Hitler's Emprie". Covers a lot of the same ground using newer sources
The author quite frequently gets bogged down in a lot more detail than all but the most obsessed reader would find desirable. However, he has enough section headings that it's easy to skip to the next one. It's not a lively read but I recommend it for anyone interested in seeing what can happen when the evil side wins.
Less of a history of the Vichy government and France's occupation during the second world war than it is a social history of France during and after the occupation. Though I steer clear of social histories in general, I found this one to be a fairly palatable work on a subject I was not super familiar with. Overall, fairly interesting.
If I had a better grasp of French history, I would have enjoyed this book far more. Heavily researched and painstakingly committed to contemporary records, this account of French government during WW2 is thorough and full of detail. But lacking anything other than a cursory understanding of the time, I gleaned much less than I had hoped.
Un très bon ouvrage sur l'histoire de la France sous l'épisode de Vichy. Une bonne explication mais dommage qu'il n'y ait pas plus d'archives françaises exploitées bien que l'auteur explique les raisons de cette situation.
Je recommande pour ceux qui veulent en savoir plus sur Vichy par leur propre moyen.
Excellente analyse, nuancée, complète et soigneusement documentée de ce qui s'est passé en France de la défaite en 1940 à la Libération en 44/45, mettant en relief et en contexte la complexité et souvent le flou des choix à faire en situation de guerre et d'occupation.
Really the one book you want to read about the current understanding of France under occupation. In fact if you want to understand the true occupation and its impact on later French history, start with this one.
This year I have been engaged on a reading project intended to learn more about the defeat of the French army in 1940 and the subsequent occupation of most of the country by Germany. Robert Paxton's Vichy is the most thorough going treatment I've read so far. The other histories I've read so far treat smaller aspects of the historical record - the military defeat, the occupation of Paris etc. - Payne's book reflects deep work in the archives and many interviews. Although undoubtedly dated, the book was published in 1973, it has, so far provided the deepest foundation for this project. For example, and as a novice reader, I learned that France never signed a peace treaty with Germany. There was an official surrender and then an armistice. This meant that for twenty-nine months the French and the Germans were negotiating various aspects of the occupation. And this armistice was what allowed the rump state of Vichy to exist. The fact of the armistice didn't mean that the Germans didn't exploit and eventually terrorize the French people but every so often the Germans would accede to French proposals; however, as the book amply demonstrates the Vichy government existed in a fantasy wherein they believed they could achieve more than they ever did. It's also a story of accommodation moving to collaboration, of brutal antisemitism, and politicians jockeying for power on the ruin of a defeated France. Highly recommended.
This seminal book first published in 1972 exploded the myth that Vichy was imposed by the Nazis in the face of massive French resistance. It also ignited public discussion of Vichy in France itself with Paxton being subsequently called as a witness in trials of former Vichy officials. Paxton describes how Vichy hoped to become an equal partner in the new Nazi German dominated Europe, while at the same time maintaining the fiction of neutrality. Vichy’s actions were in part motivated to save her fleet and her empire but when even these were lost at the end of 1942, Paxton shows how Vichy was motivated by fear of an allied invasion and a desire to become a broker in a future peace treaty.
Vichy was never a fully signed up Fascist regime but a proponent of a mix of socially conservative, Catholic, agrarian, anti-Communist, anti-Anglo-Saxon and anti-Semitic ideologies. Despite this Vichy was domestically a technocratic regime with the same civil servants running the Vichy war economy later in charge of post war economic planning as if nothing had happened.
Not a light read with plenty of detail and statistics but a serious historical classic.