Vive Ia France?

Old Frayed French Flag
Vive Ia France? - Patrick Carpenter


Fact alone is a poor storyteller. What a nation chooses to remember in its books, songs and around the table is a calculated attempt to construct a national psyche both fitting for its present and instructive for its future. This psyche drives the political, intellectual and cultural spheres of the nation and creates a persona congruent to the definition of what it means to be, for example, French, American, or Japanese. Therefore, the implication is that the persona of a nation is a malleable myth. It also may be self-perpetuating: by forming the political vision, politicians may then mold revisions in order to make them appear as a logical progression. But who decides what to remember? Who receives these views? How do they react?

By there very nature some members of society - most obviously the politicians, media, intelligentsia and artists - formulate views of the past, interpret history and invest it with meaning. The public has a diffuse memory; it comprises many different histories and sensibilities. Of these, it is the eye-witness that first controls the floor: "I was there" usually equates with gospel. As such, the messages received by the public en masse are modified by the individual. Some choose to publicize their own interpretations, some choose to forget. What a nation chooses to forget may be all the more revealing, especially if one holds the opinion that closet skeletons betray the truer persona. The history of memory, then, is the science of applied fiction or perhaps better called interpretive truth, and guarantees that scaffolding periodically be set up to redress outdated interpretations. Penultimate to the history of memory is time, in the sense of distance from the event. It overrides all aspects, subtly or drastically altering a nation's character through waves of revisionism, seeking definitions that suit the present narrative and conform to future visions. It may also act as a panacea, making examination of the past bearable. Herein lies the twist: the persona is therefore the interpretation of the past in the light of the present and not necessarily the reciprocal. History becomes the pupil rather than the lesson and the event updated to gel with the present mindset.

Lately it appears that in the run-up to the millennium, nations have begun to reevaluate their behaviors over the past century. The current generation of politicians has seized upon this with alacrity and used the opportunity to issue statements of apology on behalf of the past, present and future citizens of their country for wrong-doings alleged and committed. The cynic would read this as an astute way for a nation to improve international social posturing and/or broaden personal appeal. Apologies, even when heartfelt, are intangible currency. They may have a beneficial psychological effect, both for the wrongdoer and the victim. But, they scarcely cost anything except perhaps a pride that should have been checked years ago. In any case, the weight of the grievances are rarely on the breasts of the empowered generation. Moreover, they are seldom refused. For who wants to be seen in an unforgiving light?

France is arguably the nation harboring the most visible crise de conscience. Two years ago President Jacques Chirac chose to acknowledge what a generation of political leaders had not. He became the first to accept the French state's responsibility for the arrest and deportation of 76,000 Jews to German extermination camps during World War II by the Vichy. He went one step further this past December by handing over a file of all information assembled on Jewish citizens during the Vichy period to representatives of France's 600,000 strong Jewish community (the largest in Europe).1 In between these two gestures, French headlines brought out more of the less glorious aspects of the nation's history: the brutal repression of the Algerian rebellion in the late 1950s (spearheaded by Maurice Papan); the announcement by the French Catholic hierarchy of its own belated mea culpa in "acquiescing by its silence" in the persecution of the Jews; and the creation of a commission to track down confiscated art and property taken from the Jews during WWII.

France has always preferred, in the words of Pompidou, to "cast a veil and forget," but Vichy in the terms of France's historians is "the past that will not pass." Vichy has split French politics, spawned the Gaullist ideology, and haunted politicians and government officials. It has long divided those who otherwise would share the common belief that they were loyal sons of France. One thing is clear: the obsession with Vichy and the Occupation, since its reemergence as an integral national issue in the late 1960s, has shown few signs of waning.

At present is the trial of Maurice Papan, a former Vichy official who went on to become Paris' police chief under de Gaulle and a budget minister under President Giscard d'Estaing. Papan has been accused of complicity in crimes against humanity, ordering the arrest and deportation of 1,560 Jews when he was secretary-general of the Vichy government's administration in the Girond e, at the height of the war. The trial, begun last October and expected to conclude March 25th, has provided what is widely regarded as the final tangible opportunity for France to delve into its collective memory, and define the transgressions nagging at the national persona.

It is the intention of this paper to investigate certain crucial events in France's post-war history in conjunction with the Vichy problem and its sociological repercussions. It will focus primarily on the watershed trials of Klaus Barbie, Paul Touvier, and Maurice Papan, which provide a legal link to France's introspection and will also take into consideration the impact of cultural and scholarly interpretations that caused a resurfacing of the issues as well as reevaluation. Political implications will be duly noted. In order to better address the repercussions, it will be necessary to offer a brief definition of what the Vichy regime was, based on documented facts and established interpretations. In Rousso's The Vichy Syndrome, the conclusive argument is:

that internal quarrels left deeper scars than either the defeat or the German occupation. The crux of the matter, from the amnesty debates to the scandals of the seventies and eighties has been the existence of Vichy and the consequent emergence of a political resistance, which was organized to fight not only the Nazis but also the collaborators and the regime born of defeat. The same structural factors that make this crisis an archetype of Franco-French conflict have also shaped the way it has been remembered since the end of the war.2

To adequately assess his argument, it is necessary to investigate the depth of the roots of the Vichy syndrome in French society and how they have been treated in the post-war period.

The Armistice and Marshall Petain

Marshall Petain's deluded attempt to preserve the soul of the country by remaining "on the spot" actually tarnished it-perhaps permanently. It was a strange form of wisdom that did not ask whether, in fact, there could be any worse catastrophe for cultural and economic life than to let oneself be conquered "by a robber society.”3 But for Petain, the armistice was the "necessary condition for the survival of our eternal France."4 Petain based his decision on two key miscalculations: a quick German victory; and at the same time the belief that through collaboration, France would become a political partner on beneficial terms with the Reich. Thus the armistice opened a prolonged chapter of Franco-German relations and set off the Franco-French war. It was destined to divide the French people in all the more lasting fashion given that, in the view of many Vichy men, it was the enemy within rather than the occupying power that had to be eliminated.5 Alongside the divisions of prewar political ideologies now existed the divisions of interpretation of France's capitulation: an armistice to save France; an armistice that was the least of all evils; an armistice of betrayal.

Also crucial was the power that the Armistice gave Petain over the politicians. The political regime swept aside the ruling elite of the Third Republic and the Popular Front and it was placed into the hands of a minority groups thirsting for revenge. The regime was, in essence, a reaction against the revolution that the Popular Front had represented in the eyes of the majority of the French bourgeoisie. During its four year existence, the adherents of Vichy included both the old monarchist opposition to the Third Republic and the newer fascist and quasi-fascist opposition-indeed virtually all the critics of the liberal republican tradition save the Communists.6 "Better Hitler than Blum" had been their early slogan. The only point these opposing views had in common was their emphasis on the "enemy within." These views had been exacerbated by the world economic slump which resulted in aggrandizing anti-parliamentary feeling.

For most Vichy men, Petain' s vision of the national revolution meant what they labeled as restoring France to the French. This meant exclusion and worse: the hunt for Communists (both Moscovites and local French), Jews and later the laborers to be shipped to Germany under German war productivity agreements. These acts were accomplished while posing as paragons of public virtue.

The German Aspect

Collaboration with Germany can be reduced to two culminating issues: the wartime economy; and the participation in the Final Solution. In the former, records prove that France was considered the jewel in the captured crown of Europe and was subsequently exploited economically to the hilt. Under state collaboration agreements, it has been calculated that 42 percent of Germany's "special revenue" from abroad had been provided solely by France. France not only supplied agricultural produce but also strategic raw materials, war equipment, use of its transportation lines and networks. Most importantly, Germany was able to use French manpower in Germany in its war economy.7

The Reich expected the French state to collaborate on four counts, each were considered top priorities: help suppress 'terrorists' (i.e. Resistants, dissidents), hand over the Jews, transfer man-power to Germany and mobilize economic resources to an unprecedented degree. The French state complied with the demands of the occupying power, alleging that it did so in order to avoid the worst.8 But Hitler realized that by continuing to maintain the French state, the Reich would obtain far more efficiently than it would by force and would be in a position to use the State apparatus to its own profit. There would be no need for the Wehrmacht to take charge in the administrative domain and the safety of the troops would be guaranteed. It also prevented the French government from fleeing to London or North Africa.

The Jewish Aspect

Robert Paxton's book, Vichy State, demonstrated the willingness of Vichy to collaborate and the purely domestic origin of much of Vichy's most hideous legislation, stressing the continuity between Vichy and prewar French conservatism, reaction, and pro-fascist sympathies. Vichy's anti-semitism, which had concrete, official ramifications in law and justice, came from French anti-semitic traditions which long predating Nazism.

The French state did not go so far as to favor racial extermination but it did unremittingly enforce what Xavier Vallat, the general commissariat for Jewish questions, with the blessing of Petain, called state anti-Judaism. This xenophobic measure meant that the Vichy regime and the collaborationists were directly responsible for the deportation of a minimum of 75,721 French and foreign Jews (over 10,000 of which were under the age of eighteen). France had been a refuge for Jews before the war, so the wartime open anti-Semitic policies resulted in around one-fifth of the Jewish population vanishing into concentration camps. With a relatively small number of German officials "on the ground," the glaring conclusion is that French participation in these matters was not an example of the "stall for time, question everything" policies pro-Vichy arguments usually take. The French state was evidently incapable of protecting individuals of French nationality whom it claimed to be under its protection - to say nothing of foreigners.9 These figures help destroy the feeble attempts to construct the myth that there was both a good and bad Vichy and therefore directly discredit loyal Petainist revisionist accounts.

Rebels and Resistance

Despite de Gaulle's implicit underplaying of its existence, the Resistance, defined as a specific movement and not just a general manifestation, truly did have an original impulse within France itself. While it is impossible to assess the true number of French men and women who were involved, deeply or remotely, records illustrate that at the time of Liberation 220,000 cards were issued to voluntary Resistance fighters.10 This figure would seem to prove that the Resistance movement was confined to a small minority of citizens, even in the latter stages of the war, when the inherent dangers had greatly subsided. Little wonder then, that de Gaulle's post-war visions and exclusions were so widely embraced (see de Gaulle).

The development of the Resistance is fairly clear. The summer of 1940 was a time when rebellion was a more or less symbolic matter, made by those who opposed the Armistice and did not subscribe to the "Victor of Verdun" myth. By 1941 the Resistance had moved beyond this phase by taking root, with networking and founding movements already operational. The movement came to maturity in 1943 with the establishment of the foundations for an underground state. The convergence of the internal Resistance with the dissidents and Free French abroad led to a general cohesion and coordination of action. However, the nature of the internal Resistance was split along geographical lines: most of the rebels in the northern zone, perhaps because they found themselves in direct confrontation with the occupying power, wanted first and foremost to fight; in the southern zone, in contrast, the rebels were for the most part inclined to much more political forms of action.

The Role of the Communists in the Resistance

Apart from the Communists, not many leaders of the resistance were in a position to rapidly set up a truly popular organization. Their embrace of the Resistance appears to be forged along the lines that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Historical opinion is divided on the expediency of the Communists to join the Resistance. The more extreme suggests that communists did not start to resist until after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Others maintain that some communists did join the resistance, but not the French Communist Party (PCF) as such. The main catalyst was, however, the invasion of Russia which pulled together many of their enemies. Less than one month after the Nazis entered the Soviet Union, Vichy and various pro-Vichy movements appeared to be competing with vehemently for military cooperation to support the Reich in the decisive fight against Bolshevism. Pierre Laval and others equated Realpolitik with Anti-communism (not to mention anti-semitism).

The eventual incorporation of the PCF was particularly important for two reasons: they advocated and exercised a strategy of direct action; and by the nature of their ideology, changed the forces' internal and external relationships. Their strategy at first led to higher numbers of executions on both sides, heightened awareness, and indirectly caused suspicion as to their motives - owing to their political targets.

The importance of the Resistance in the history of memory actually outdistances the events that caused its formation: the war, the defeat, the Occupation. Such precursors had external origins or influences, whereas the Resistance was French and members proclaimed themselves as the true sons of France, fighting to save the nation from the Wehrmacht. Of course, Laval and other collaborators used the same argument, albeit from a significantly different angle. But the Resistance directed a worse reproach against the collaborationists than against the Germans themselves, harboring all the passion of a vengeance that is engendered in the course of a civil war.11

Members of the Resistance then, felt entitled to moral and political superiority over their fellow citizens -those with dirtied hands as well as those who tacitly acquiesced. The blood on the hands of the Resistance, and there was a great deal of it,12 was not seen by them as loyal French blood; it had been tainted with that of the boche. Clearly, such attitudes would be problematic during and after the Liberation, when attempts to were made to harmoniously integrate.

De Gaulle and the New French Myth

Charles de Gaulle, leader and founder of the Free French Army, saw the Armistice as an unpardonable error, with the result that a legitimate French government no longer existed. He appointed himself as France's true savior, first by working to ensure that France officially continued to take part in the war, later by liberating Paris and ultimately by forging a script of the war years in a manner appropriate to the nation's former perceptions of grandeur.

His liberation rested on two main ideological cornerstones: the obliteration of Vichy and the redefinition of the Resistance as an abstraction -an achievement not of the Resistants but of the "nation as a whole." Thus his version marginalized the Allies and the Resistance, and preferred instead to glorify a people in resistance without intermediaries such as political parties, movements, or clandestine leaders. France's elites agreed, either out of a desire to bury an ugly past or out of self-interest to avoid embarrassing scrutiny, and the general public, which deep down knew that the myth was a cavalier interpretation of reality, pretended that it was the truth. Thus Vichy became the creation of a small group of misguided men and the crimes committed were crimes of the Germans and of very small bands of collaborationists. Most of the population did, in fact, resist the Occupation in some degree. De Gaulle, his legitimacy unchallenged, was able to restore honor and patriotism.

Why the simultaneous exclusion along with a general accreditation of heroism for the nation? Because the Liberation - as was widely acknowledged - would transform French politics. This could lead, if not carefully monitored, to more civil unrest and a new chapter in the Franco-French war. To prevent such escalation, France would require a purge.13 The misguided needed to be brought out (pardoned in many cases, or at least receive symbolic sentencing) so that the nation could associate the myth with proof and believe judgment had left most vindicated. At its outset, the purge was aimed at the entire right wing, the collaborationists (Petain received a death sentence, commuted to life imprisonment; Petainists were effectively barred from retaining office). But later this came to encompass the Communists, who had attempted to restore their political virginity by playing hard on their role as Resistants. However, they were perceived by de Gaulle (who did not like to share the spotlight with distinguished and legitimate heroes) as a political threat. Thus, by discrediting them and hatching his own competing myth, de Gaulle intentionally rendered it impossible that the Resistance could unite the country.

The Trials

Trials are the permanent and definitive methods of molding a nation's persona. A verdict is the final word on more than the individual tried; it also finalizes judgment on the correlative aspects of the case. History is made on the block. The judge is forced to write history and pronounce historical judgment based on the facts in his possession - where memory may rather remain selective and historians cautious in their interpretations. The timing of the trial is also crucial, as courts must interpret both the law and collective memory. Memory and witness testimony may be sharpest immediately after the event, but the national mood may not be prepared to begin processing victims. Conversely, testimony after significant time lapse is unreliable and inadmissible.

In the few noteworthy post-war trials, it was evident that amnesty and leniency were in the national mood. A reprieve from the war, the Liberation, and the purges was desired - despite the fact that the ties that bound some collaborators with their German counterparts were undissolved. The first tangible signs of change in the national mood came in 1964, the year that Jean Moulin's ashes were moved to the Pantheon. Moulin was a Resistance member betrayed and then murdered by the German, Klaus Barbie. He was an important, symbolic martyr and brought France back to embracing the Resistance. Twenty years had passed since the Liberation, time enough for a new generation with new interpretations to arrive on the scene. They had reread the Occupation and had moved to credit the Resistance fighters. Thus the commemoration of Moulin the martyr was superseded by the commemoration of Moulin the Resistant. The issue now at hand was the inability of the Gaullist myth to eradicate repressed bitterness towards the collaborators as well as its unaccountability for why so few misguided were able to wreak so much havoc on the soul of the nation.14

Nineteen sixty-four was a watershed year in France legally as well. In June 1964, a bill suspending the statute of limitations as defined by the Nuremberg Trials and the United Nations Charter passed unanimously. Ironically, the law was passed with the intention of bringing Nazi war criminals to justice, however its effect was ultimately to reopen French wounds and to involve the courts in complex affairs reminiscent of the purge trials at war's end.15 Only two years earlier, the sentencing of Josef Eichmann to death in Jerusalem had opened the possibilities to condemn the anti-semitism that was the essence of Nazism. This put Vichy in an entirely different light. No collaborator or member of Vichy had been indicted at the time of the Liberation for acts pertaining to the deportation of Jews and crimes committed in connection with the Final solution had been left out of the debate altogether. So Eichmann was tell-tale: the nation's collective memory was about to be legally reexamined.

Paul Touvier

On 23 November, 1971, President Pompidou attempted to quietly pardon the former official of the Milice. Touvier had received two death sentences in absentia immediately after the war, but had not been "captured" by the time the statute of limitations took effect. The pardon was an ignorant display of poor timing and reading of the mindset of France on Pompidou's part. The same year, the cultural milieu had picked up on the growing interest in the World War II period, not just in France but in Western culture generally. More films were targeting this era, and thereby calling for closer and more detailed inspection of its history. By all accounts, the most important film on the Occupation was the French The Sorrow and the Pity,16 a direct rebuke of the Gaullist myth. Through individual testimony, interspliced with French newsreels and German propaganda film, the director Marcel Ophuls broadened the chasm between history and memory. All the while he was pointing to the lesson that the German presence was not the sole or constant determinant of the actions of Vichy France. It also revealed a continual thread of anti-semitism. This was important also because the early 1970s was a period of a reawakening of the Jewish conscience, which would play vital roles in the later examinations.

With a public swept into confrontation by The Sorrow and Pity, Touvier's pardon was widely seen as excessive provocation by Pompidou. It was also in direct opposition to the hard-line policy the government had taken on Klaus Barbie, who was arrested in Bolivia on request by France. Touvier and Barbie had exercised similar responsibilities.

Touvier typified the extremist wing of the collaboration as a member of a parliamentary unit created by Vichy for the express purpose of combating the Resistance. Public outcry, predominantly from Jewish organizations and Resistance groups, pushed him into hiding. Only in 1981 did an examining magistrate indict Touvier, and not until 1989 did police unearth him in a priory near Nice.17 Touvier's trial proceeded in 1994, after a 1991 acquittal was overturned. In 1994 he was found guilty of executing seven Jewish members of the Resistance who had been taken hostage in revenge for the killing of a German officer, and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

In contradiction to the earlier collaboration trials, the defense could not argue the familiar character issues, as Touvier was an ardent anti-semite and Nazi waging war for Christian civilization. He never expressed remorse at the crime of rounding up the seven Jewish men. Like the Barbie case, Touvier's anti-Jewish activities were first seen to be secondary to his battle against the Resistance, but owing to the strict designation given by the Minister of Justice, emphasis was necessarily shifted to racially motivated crimes. According to the Minister of Justice:

Not included under the head of crimes against humanity are acts alleged to have been committed against the person of members of the Resistance. These acts were war crimes for which the statute of limitations is now in effect, and they do not appear to constitute crimes against humanity (that is, inflicted on civilians during the occupation). Because resistance fighters fought against the Vichy regime and the army of occupation, they are considered to have been volunteer combatants, as they themselves have always forcefully insisted and as the law has recognized legally, therefore, they cannot be confused with the civilian population.18

Ironically therefore, in order to prove that Touvier was guilty of crimes against humanity, the prosecution had to argue that he obeyed German orders in sending the Jews to their deaths, when in fact the evidence pointed largely to him acting on his own. Thus the prosecution had to run the risk of exonerating Vichy and enforcing the hoax that the Germans were to blame for everything bad to receive a guilty verdict.

Klaus Barbie

The Barbie affair and trial had obvious parallels to the details of the Touvier case. Although Barbie had, like Touvier, been convicted of war crimes in 1952 and 1954 and twice sentenced to death in absentia, he managed to elude the feeble efforts to arrest him, surpassing the statute of limitations. Therefore, the 1983 indictment against Barbie concentrated on three specific crimes categorized as crimes against humanity and thus were not subject to the statute of limitations. These involved charges that he had personally planned and supervised, with the full knowledge that many of those affected would be killed: the arrest and deportation in February 1943 of 86 Jews; the deportation of 44 Jewish children and five adults in 1944; and the deportation on 11 August 1944 of some 650 Jews and members of the French Resistance (of whom over 300 died in concentration camps). The courts had learned from the Eichmann and Touvier examples.

The infamy of Klaus Barbie was not his anti-semitism, but the fact that he was the torturer and murderer of Jean Moulin. At the trial the government aimed therefore to shape the nation's collective memory, pushing it away from the darker Franco-French calamities. To the extent that Jean Moulin was a symbol of France's defiance of the enemy, Klaus Barbie was a symbol of Nazi barbarism. His unrelenting hunting of guerrilla fighters in the Lyon region (the capital of the Resistance) and subsequent admittance of this information made the trial hugely symbolic for France.

But the trial was to be remembered forother, unanticipated reasons. Maitre Jacques Verges, Barbie's defense attorney, based his trial not so heavily on the "one-small-cog-in-a-complex-machine"' argument that had been anticipated, but rather on the question of a state's moral legitimacy to try Barbie for crimes against humanity when similar crimes were being committed by the state in its overseas territories and blanketed in amnesty.19 Verges showed that Eichmann's trial had a lesson for the defense as well. He demonstrated the hypocrisy involved in judging a man as the representative of a defeated system when other totalitarian systems and forms of genocide still existed in the world.

The role of the Resistance was also discovered by Verges as the essence of the trial that led directly to the nation's psyche. The prosecution, and indeed the pubic in general, desired to take the political approach and emphasize the unity of the Resistance. It was therefore going to turn the trial into something larger than the Touvier affair: instead of focusing on one aspect of Nazism, the approach was to have stressed the struggle of the people against oppressive regimes. This would be an entirely different message to the world than an indictment on account of participation in crimes against humanity.

Verges anticipated this and was able to derail the strategy by publicly planting a series of overt threats to the Resistance that would have linked the Barbie's betrayal of Moulin to weaknesses and sub-plots in the Resistance movements. When former members began to speak out publicly against Verges they exposed the stratifications and multiplicity of aims inherent in the Resistance. Thus the prosecution was forced to shift emphasis away from its "loyal sons of liberty" argument and back toward the tried and proven argument of anti-semitism. The Resistance was reduced to silence, from which it has never fully recovered; while the Holocaust took center stage, a position from which it has not moved.

Ultimately Verges was unsuccessful in defeating the charges against Barbie because the authenticity and reliability of much of the eye-witness evidence directly linking Barbie to the crimes (there was only one case of documented evidence) was made highly suspect with the argument of the accuracy of memory over time. His allegations that the crimes committed had been the responsibility of other agencies such as the German Army or the collaborationist Vichy government were consistent with the other unsuccessful defenses against the charge of crimes against humanity. Such familiar arguments appear to anticipate defeat, and the court found Barbie guilty on all charges. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and ordered to pay symbolic damages.

Jean Leguay

Leguay's case, though it attracted far less publicity and attention from both the government and the general public, was the true watershed event and the essential step in the prosecution of Touvier and Barbie and other related cases. The 12 March 1979 indictment against Leguay for crimes against humanity marked the first time that this statute of limitations was applied to a French citizen. It set the legal and historical precedent, though it failed to arouse emotions or passions comparable to the future landmark Touvier and Barbie affairs.

From May 1942 to the end of 1943, Leguay had been the representative of the Vichy's Chief of Police, Rene Bousquet, in the occupied zone (Bousquet was to be charged later, in 1989 but murdered in 1993 while preparing for trial). Leguay was responsible for the deportation of large numbers of Jews from both the occupied and unoccupied zones. Both he and Bousquet were rehabilitated and permitted to pursue their careers. His case took ten years to come before the courts in 1989 - proving again that legal issues can move exceptionally slow when the government is not expressly in favor. By 1989 Leguay was dying, the Barbie trial had been over for two years and the nation had turned its Vichy obsession toward the arrest of Touvier. However, the investigation was complete, and the case about to be sent to a Paris court when Leguay died on 2 July 1989. In a break with custom, the statement declaring the case closed by virtue of death alluded to Leguay' s guilt: "The investigation established that Leguay, Jean, did participate in crimes against humanity committed in July, August, and September 1942."20

Maurice Papon

Described by Mitterand in 1994 as a "man of outstanding stature," Maurice Papon has become the second Frenchman since the Liberation to stand trial for his alleged crimes during Vichy. Indicted in January 1983, it has taken fourteen years for his case to come to court. The reasons are purely political. Mitterand, who was the last French president to deny the involvement of both the French nation and the French Republic in the Vichy state, consistently interfered with the criminal proceedings on behalf of his loyal subject and on behalf of the "postwar consensus on which modem France was built."21 It took a conservative president to break the taboo. Since the right-wing parties took power in 1993 the courts have moved faster.

The particulars on Papon's case are consistent with the preceding landmark trials: judged to have committed crimes against humanity and not war crimes, the statute of limitations offers no sanctuary forthe 85 year-old pensionist. But unlike Touvier, who was relatively low ranking Papon is to be the first member of the Vichy ruling class to be judged. He is also the first member of the post-war elite to represent Vichy guilt. He even had a place in de Gaulle's Fifth Republic presidency, as a prefect of Paris, where he was in charge of the police during the repression - some say massacre - of Algerians in 1961. Unlike Barbie's case, Mr. Papon left behind a paper trail of signatures that directly link his authority in the round-ups and deportations of the Jewish community. To these, Papon has assumed the familiar lines that he, as a local official under foreign military occupation, had no freedom to disobey orders and was unaware the fate that awaited the deportees. According to the lower court magistrates, there is a mountain of evidence that suggests otherwise. One particular case in point was a Nazi request in 1942 to round up Americans at the same time that requests were made to round up Jewish families. Papon did not obey the order concerning the Americans, receiving no subsequent punishment or retribution from either the SS or his prefect, while he did obey the orders concerning the Jews. Thus, the prosecution alleges, Papon was able to exercise free will in administering the responsibilities of his office.22

The trial has followed the historical pattern, hinging on whether, as Papan claims, he was only a cipher, or whether he was a willing and efficient tool of genocide - not necessarily out of anti-semitism or pro-Hitler beliefs, but from self-interest. Papan, it appears clear, was no ideological supporter of the Nazis, nor was he ardently anti-semitic. His fault may very well be his obsession with career advancement. As the number two civil servant in the Gironde, he soon acquired a reputation for being "quick and reliable" to German military officials. Though he never abandoned his post, when it later proved politically expedient to be seen on the side of the Resistance, Papan established contacts with the Resistance and personally rescued a number of what he called "interesting Jews" that eventually helped him escape the postwar purge - and have now been used in his defense.

As important to the verdict will be how responsibility in a crime against humanity is read. Hannah Arendt, in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, grasped the crux of a crime against humanity. Eichmann and his defense had steadfastly insisted that he himself had never committed an overt act, but rather was guilty only of following the orders of hegemony. The jury saw this as the crime in-and-of-itself. Arendt explains:

What the judgment had to say on this point was more than correct, it was the truth: in such an enormous and complicated crime as the one we are now considering, wherein many people participated, on various levels and in various modes of activity ... there is not much point in using the ordinary concepts of counseling and soliciting to commit a crime. For these crimes were committed en masse, not only in regard to the number of victims, but also in regard to the numbers of those who perpetrated the crime, and the extent to which any one of the many criminals was close to or remote from the actual killer of the victim means nothing, as far as the measure of his responsibility is concerned. On the contrary, in general the degree of responsibility increases as we draw further away from the man who uses the fatal instrument with his own hands.23

One would expect that France would also soon come to the same conclusion.

It may be dangerous to propose that the trial of Maurice Papan is too limited in its accusations to satisfactorily encompass the stain of 1940-1944. But there is a vital element to Vichy that lies outside the confines of the trial's allegations. Crimes against humanity, a term which has come to be read as crimes against victims of the Final Solution, neglects what many believe to be the most crucial aspect of Vichy: the Franco-French Civil War. Most of the apologetic posturing done of late has been directed towards the injustices suffered by the Jews. Vichy was an exclusionary regime, but its worldview, unlike Nazism, did not place hatred of the Jews at its center.24 There were collaborationists responsible for eliminating the Resistance, a movement with both Jew and non-Jewish membership. The Touvier and Barbie affairs are therefore better illustrations of the dilemma to convict on the basis of crimes of anti-semitism, war crimes, or crimes against the Resistance - or combinations thereof. Critics of the Papan trial in particular, and subsequently of the political posturing of France and other European nations, are suggesting that such events are illustrative of countries (other than Germany) succumbing to worldwide pressure from Jewish lobbies to accept a share of responsibility in the Final Solution.

Papan's case has brought new questions which lie outside of the legal jurisdiction as well. These have shaken France in a way that Leguay or Touvier or Barbie could not. How could one so easily escape the purges and prosecutions surrounding the Liberation? How could one pass so fluidly into the government of de Gaulle, a man who Papon had previously labeled a traitor? How could one with such a past continue to thrive throughout his career, never once apparently being held back?

What ultimately may be at risk in the aftermath of this trial is the somewhat sanctified image General de Gaulle still appears to command. De Gaulle's calculations for rebuilding the Republic will be re-exposed, in a harsher light, with negative implications for the Gaullist myth. His image may become one where the left hand is shown condemning Vichy, collaboration and the na'ive Petain, and the right hand preferentially escorting the thousands of middle-ranking Vichy officials back into post-war government. What did it mean then, to be misguided? Is this term reserved purely for those Vichyists who had directly fought the Resistance or had been responsible for the deportation of French forced laborers? More importantly, what did it mean to resist? Furthermore, the heroic stance of de Gaulle is coming under criticism. The far right has made comments that it is easier for one to resist in London than to resist in Paris, essentially pushing for de Gaulle and Gaullism to join Papan on the block.

De Gaulle's choices were, in a sense, vindicated. National unity was restored; France was accepted as one of the victors of the war and the foundations for thirty years of economic and social progress were laid. His shrewdness appeared to have paid dividends. It is now accepted that de Gaulle and his entourage used Papan and other collaborationists in a calculating utilitarian manner, banking that their damaged resumes would ensure blind loyalty. But the decision to blind the nation, albeit with its consent, to the wounds of Vichy has come back to haunt.

The far right, and parts of the center right have dismissed the trial as a pointless, damaging display. But this should be expected from the platform of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has discounted the Holocaust as a mere "detail in history" and expressed outrage at the recent apologies by the church, finding it incredible, "that people who were not even born at the time of the events should come ... to ask for pardon." Brash words, but one can hear in them the strains of Pompidou and more recently Mitterand, who felt the whole period best forgotten - "one cannot go on living on bitter memories and resentment for ever."25

But the younger generations increasingly want to know and much of the older generation appears willing to reopen their memories for introspection. Almost two-thirds of French people regard Vichy as a relevant issue today. Those under 25 are especially insistent that Vichy is something that still has important connotations for their lives. A recent poll in L'Express found that 72 percent of the population approves of the prosecution of Papon, while just under half of those surveyed hoped that the trial would also focus on the wider role of the Vichy administration.26


Vichy appears to have become a two-way street. The memory of the regime, and thus the conflicting representations that serve to inaccurately define it, has been denominated the root of the nation's central issues. All values, all antagonisms have been sourced from this four year period. At the same time, the Vichy era has been taken by some to serve as a screen on which the nation can project its current conflicts and controversies. The conclusion therefore, is that one first needs to have a grasp of Vichy before one can ever hope to identify the true persona of the nation, the true flavor of France. Much like the emphasis given the American Civil War, Vichy has become the crossroads of France's being in this century.

Touvier, Leguay, Bousquet and Papon - four former Vichy officials who were called on to atone for their pasts. The Final Solution is the chain that binds, but there it ends. In manner and achievement their differences are noteworthy: Touvier the fascist and violent man, the others unexceptional in ideology or manner and best distinguished from one another by their career advancement. Of the four, only the trials of Touvier and Papon have incited widespread interest -along with Barbie. From these it appears that Papon's trial offers the nation the broadest possibility for introspection. Touvier and Barbie were famous for who they were, or more accurately, whose lives they took. Such characteristics inhibit diagnosis on a national level. Papon, the man, is relatively uninteresting: a calculating careerist to the degree that any search for a strong personality goes unrewarded. It is the issues behind Papon which spread out into the functioning of the Vichy and postwar government systems that have captivated the public. The consequences threaten France's postwar mythology.

The Resistant Marcel Bloch, a Jew, in his memoirs written shortly before he was caught and executed, eloquently predicted the arduous task facing his country in the years to come:

A day will come, of that I am convinced, after no matter how long a delay, when this old and sacred soil of France, from which, in the past, so many harvests have been lifted -harvests of free thought and of judgment unrestrained -will once more burgeon into ripeness. In that happier future many secret records will be made public. Gradually the mists of ignorance and malice, which now begin to gather about the most terrible collapse in all the long story of ournational life, will thin ... and those on whom the duty falls will see through them to the truth beyond.27

It may have shocked him to know that after fifty-six years, his country was still awaiting the day of reckoning.28


Patrick Carpenter graduated from the University of Redlands with a degree in Political Science and is now concentrating in International Economics and International Relations at The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.