World War II: NAZI Diplomacy--Vichy (1940)


Figure 1.--Here Marshall Pétain is shaking hands with Reich Chancellor Hitler at their meeting in Montoire (October 24). The man in the middle his Hitler's translatorr, Dr. Paul Schmidt. Foreign Minister Ribentrop stands to the right. I'm not sure who the German at the fasr left is. It was here that Pérain introduced the term "Colaboration" to the Frenmch people. It would take on increasingly sinister tone as the true nature of Hitler and the NAZIs became apparent. Collaboration greatly assisted the German war effort as they werec able to gain access to French economic resources. France proved to be the single most important support of the German war effort. The step Pétain refused to take was to enter the War on Germany's side.

Hitler in the armistice negotiations after Paris fell permitted an unoccupied zone in southern France, about one-third of the country. This was probably to enduce the British to also submit to NAZI dominance. After meeting with Franco at Hendaye, Hitler's train headed back to Montoire where he met with Marshall Pétain (October 24-26). Accounts of the meeting vary somewhat as do the relative roles of Laval and Pétain. The meetings took place at Montoire, primarily because it was an isolated location close to the main Paris-Hendaye rail line. A rail tunnel was close in case of a British air attack. Hitler believed that the defeat of France and Pétain's anti-Communist views would enable him to get Vichy's support for the war with Britain and eventually the Soviets. The French wanted improved relations with her NAZI masters. of particular concern were the French POWs who had been interned in the Reich and the staggering reparations imposed on France. The actual meeting took place in a train car just outside Montoire's train station. At Montoire Pétain announced Collaboration in the new European order as French policy. This was the genesis of the term for those who cooperated with the Germans during the War. At the time, Laval and Pétain were convinved that the Germans had won the War and the only hope for France was to cooperate. Pétain like Franco did not behave as Hitler expected. He refused to give the Germans access French North Africa. While he was willing to collaborate, he was not willing to declare war on Britain. German Minister von Renthe-Finck wrote that Montoire, “constitutes the greatest defeat of German policy …. if there had not been Montoire, there would probably have been no allied landing in North Africa.” That is probably an exageration. Hitler's focus was rapidly shifting east and any German military commitment to North Africa seems unlikely. Even so, Hitler clearly did not get what he wanted. Hitler's interperrter, Dr. Paul Schmidt, writes, “I am inclined to regard the winner of Verdun as the winner in the duel of diplomacy at Montoire.” In the discussions of Vichy's role in the new European Order, Pétain "listened to Hitler in silence. Not once did he offer a sympathetic word for Germany". Vichy France remained a neutral state. The meeting itself was secret. It was only announced to the French public several days later when Pétain spoke to the French people on the radio (October 30). Pétain declared, “ It is with honour and to nmaintain French unity, a unity of 10 centuries , within the framework of a constructive activity of the new European order, that I embark enter to-day the path of collaboration. ” [Why ..., p.5] This is generally seen as the beginning of organised French collaboration with the NAZIs. Actually collaboration had already begun, including actions against Jews.

Armistice (June 22)

Paris fell (June 14). Churchill offered a union of France and Britain. The French Government rejected the offer. [Freidel, p. 337.] French Prime Minister Reynaud resigned (June 16) and was replaced by Marshall Pétain, the hero of Verdun in World War I. Pétain immediately asked for an armistace (June 17). France capitulated June 22. Hitler had found the railroad car in which the Germans had signed the armistice in 1918 and the armistace was signed at Compiègne. France was out of the War and Britain now faced the Germans alone. The terms of the June 1940 armistace between Germany and France divided France into an occupied and unoccupied zone, with a rigid demarcation or boundary line between the two. Hitler in the armistic negotiations permitted an unoccupied zone in southern France, about one-third of the country. This was probably to enduce the British to also submit to NAZI dominance.

Vichy Developments

The NAZIs occupied the north and Atlantic coast of France. These were the areas most critical for persuing the war against Britain. It also cut France off from their former ally. The rest of France was left unoccupied to be administered by the Pétain's Government at Vichy. The Unoccupied Zone was essentially central and southern France. As Paris was in the occupied zone, the capital of unoccupied France becme Vichy where Marshal Pétain set up his government. Pétain appointed Pierre Lavalt, then Vice-President of the Council, Minister of State in his Cabinet (June 22). The Royal Navy attemted to decommission the French Fleet at Oran, but has to open fire, sinking ships and killing French sailors (July 3). This poisons relatioins with Vichy. Laval is nominated as Pétain's successor (July 12). Hitler appointed Otto Abetz as ambassador to Vichy. Laval first met with Abetz in Paris (July 19). Pétain without NAZI promting issues regulations depriving Jews of Frenmch citizenship--Vichy's own Nuremberg laws (October 3).

Laval Meeting (October 22)

Hitler stopped his train headed forHendaye to meet Franco at Montoirehad in central France so he could confer with Pierre Laval, Vichy Minister of State (October 22). As a result, Laval apparently convinced Pétain, who was not anxious to meet Hitler, to do so. Historians disagree as to Laval's and Petain's roles. Some see Laval as a committed fascist who wanted to completely throw in France's lot with the NAZIs while Pétain was committed to French independence. Others believe the two were more in agreement. It is true that Laval took a number of steps suggesting his support for the NAZIs, but it is also true that Laval because of his position was in much closer daily contact with NAZI officials.

Franco Meeting (October 23)

The German Führer traveled by rail to Hendaye on the Franco-Spanish border to meet with Franco (October 23). Hitler had made his decession to invade the Soviet Union and wanted to gain the support of his allies. He assumed that Franco, who he had helped to install in power, would join his anti-Bolshevick campaign. Hitler's goals were impaired by several factors. One, the British had defeated the Luftwaffe in the skies over England. This must have given Franco come pause concerning the inevitability of Germnan victory. Two, geographically Spain is a peninsula jutting west into the Atlantic. Spain if it entered the War would be exposed to the Royal Navy and a naval emargo which would damage its still shaky economy. Three, Franco had been briefed by Abwehr (German military intelligence) commander Admiral Canaris. Franco and Canaris had become close during the Civil War. Canaris had been apauled by the NAZI brutality he had witnessed in Poland. He told Franco privately that Hitler was now obsessed with Russia and would not risk any kind of diversion in Spain. Thus Franco refused to be cowed by Hitler. When Franco and Hitler met, Franco did not reject Hitler's entreaties to enter the War. He did make expansive demands. Franco demanded more colonies in Africa at Vichy's expense. Franco wanted French Morocco, parts of French Algeria and an expansion of Spanish Guinea. Hitler rejected these demands. The two also discussed "Operation Felix", a German plan to seize British-held Gibraltar. Franco argued that it made no sence in closuing the front door of the Meditterean as long as the British controlled the back door (Suez). Hitler was not accustomed to be spoken to as Franco did. Hitler told Musolini that, "I would rathger have three or four teeth extracted than go through that again". After the meeting with Franco, he traveled on to meet with Pétain and Mussolini which also proved to be frustrating exercizes for the Führer now accustomed to extreme deference.

Pétain Meeting (October 24-26)

After meeting with Franco at Hendaye, Hitler's train headed back to Montoire where he met with Marshall Pétain (October 24-26). Accounts of the meeting vary somewhat as do the relative roles of Laval and Pétain. The meetings took place at Montoire, primarily because it was an isolated location close to the main Paris-Hendaye rail line. A rail tunnel was close in case of a British air attack. Hitler believed that the defeat of France and Pétain's anti-Communist views would enable him to get Vichy's support for the war with Britain and eventually the Soviets. The French wanted improved relations with her NAZI masters. of particular concern were the French POWs who had been interned in the Reich and the staggering reparations imposed on France. The actual meeting took place in a train car just outside Montoire's train station. At Montoire Pétain announced Collaboration in the new European order as French policy. This was the genesis od the term for those who cooperated with the Germans during the War. At the time, Laval and Pétain were convinved that the Germans had won the War and the only hope for France was to cooperate. Pétain like Franco did not behave as Hitler expected. He refused to give the Germans access French North Africa. While he was willing to collaborate, he was not willing to declare war on Britain. German Minister von Renthe-Finck wrote that Montoire, “constitutes the greatest defeat of German policy …. if there had not been Montoire, there would probably have been no allied landing in North Africa.” That is probably an exageration. Hitler's focus was rapidly shifting east and any German military commitment to North Africa seems unlikely. Even so, Hitler clearly did not get what he wanted. Hitler's interperrter, Dr. Paul Schmidt, writes, “I am inclined to regard the winner of Verdun as the winner in the duel of diplomacy at Montoire.” In the discussions of Vichy's role in the new European Order, Pétain "listened to Hitler in silence. Not once did he offer a sympathetic word for Germany". Vichy France remained a neutral state. Hitler did not get French particpation in the War. But it is absurd to think of this as a terrible defeat. Collaboration mean that Hitler would have complete and unhinfered access to the enormous resources of France to confuct the War. Ironically, the resources he expected to obtain in the Easdt never materialized. Rather it was the resourxces ontained in the West, primarily France, that supported the German war effort.

Pétain Radio Broadcast (October 30)

The meeting itself was secret. It was only announced to the French public several days later when Pétain spoke on nation-wide rafio broadcast (October 30). Pétain informed the French people that he had met with Reich Chancellor Hitler and had aceppted the principles of the "mew European order". He insisted that France remained "soverign" and that imposed the obligation to defend French soil. "To erase divergencies of opinion, to subdue dissesions in her colonies--that is my policy. The Ministers are responsible to me, and to me alobe, and history shll judge." He continued, Frenchmen, aew days ago I had a meeting with the Chancellor of the Reich. This meeting raised hopes and caused anxiety. I owe you an exlanation on this subject. Such an interbiew was only possible four months after our military defear, thanks to the dignity of the French peoplein the face of their ordealand thanls to the enormous effort toward regeration which they have made. It was only possible also, thanks to the heroismof our sailors, the energy of our colonial leaders, and the loyalty of the native populations. France has rllied. This first meeting between victor and vanquished signifies the first vindication of our countryIt was my own free will that I saccepted the Führer's invittion. I have been under no 'diktat,' no pressure from him. Collaboration between our two countries was considered. I accepted the principle of it. The application will be discussed later. To all those who await to-day the salvation of France I wish to say that the first duty of every Frenchman is to trust. Those who doubt and those who harden their hearts I would remind that the most praiseworthy reserve and pride if persisted in to excess are in fanger of losing their effectiveness. He who has taken charge of the destiny of France has the duty of creating the nost favourablke atmosphere to safeguard the interests of the country. It is with honour and to nmaintain French unity, a unity of 10 centuries , within the framework of a constructive activity of the new European order, that I embark enter to-day the path of collaboration. In the near future the load of suffering of our country may thus be lightened, the lot of our prisoners improved, the burden of occupation expenses be lessened, and thus the line of demarcationmay be rendered more flexible, and the administration and provisioning of the territoiry facilitated. This collaboration must be sincere. All thought of aggression must be excluded from it. It must conform to a patient and deliberate effort. An armistice, after all, is not peace. France has numerous obligations toward the victor. Until now I have spoken to you as a father. To-day I speak to you as the leader. Follow me. Leep your trust in eternal France." The rdio then broke into the Marseillaise. [Why ..., p.5] Pétain had begun using the term earlier, but Montoire is gebnerally seen as the beginning of organised French collaboration with the NAZIs. Actually collaboration had already begun, including actions against Jews.

Collaboration

Pétain replaced Paul Renaud as premier on June 17, 1940. His first objective was to end the War and bloodshed. His larger goal was to establish a long-term political relationship with NAZI Germany. Stunned with the collapse of the French Army, Pétain saw an armistice as necessary to stop further bloodshed and to begin the creation of a relationship with a Germany. Pétain, Laval, and other Vichy associates believed that the NAZIs would quickly defeat Britain and establish Germany as the dominant country in Europe. Some Vichy politicans used the term "une Europe allemande--a Europe dominated by Germany. Despite the humiliating defeat, Pétain and his Vichy associates convinced themselves that France, as a colonial power and a major European power would be potentially useful ally to Germany in the new NAZI-dominated European order, un nouveau ordre européen. Pétain spoke to the French people made a speech on the radio October 11, 1940. He mentioned the possibility of France and Germany working together once the War ended. (At the time only Britain was actively fighting the NAZIs.) Pétain in his speech used the term "collaboration", associating the word with the idea of working with Germany in the post-War era. This was the origin of the word "collaborationist" that had such negative connotations after liberation in 1944. Pétain and Laval saw collaboration with the NAZIs as the way in which France might secure a place at the table with Germany in Europe once the War was over. Collaboration for Pétain was a wy that France could establish it's good faith and willingness to accept Germany's role as the dominant force in Europe. Pétain saw collaboration as the only way of advancing France's interests. Pétain's primary concerns were the return of 1.6 million French POWs, the safety of the French population, a reduction in the war indemnity, and Vichy's sovereignty over Occupied and Unoccupied zones. Collaboration for Pétain was needed to ensure that his Government was given time to rebuild France based on the principles of Vichy's National Revolution. The French people were shocked by the defeat of the French Army. The Popular Front and the Third Republic were thoroughly discredited. Thus Pétain and his right-wing allies were able to initiate their ideological reforms of French society. Vichy persued collabration as a matter of policy. Pétain and his Vichy Government, however, were not an entirely free agent. The German having defeated the French army had insisted on provisions in thar armistace convention that compeled French cooperation ith occipation authorities. Article 3 required France to cooperate with the German military authorities. The Germans had the right and ample power in the Occupied zone.

Falacies

There were two central falacies to Petain's and Laval's policy of collaboration. First, the Germans had not yet won the War. At the time while the French had been defeated, the RAF haf defeated the Luftwaffe over Britain, the first major Allied victory. Second and even more obvious was the fact that Hitler could not be trusted. That was proven at Munich. If the Germans won the War, Hitler could so what ever he wanted to France. And NAZI officials were contemplting dividing up France into small provincial states which would never again pose a threat to Germany. Pétain and Laval could have done nothing to prevent that. Hitler could have tken any action he wanted and implemented them by fiat. France would have had to meekly submit. Relative restraint during the War should not be taken as an indication of post-War restrint. Restraint during the War served NAZI purposes. It kept France quiet while German authorities looted the French economy. We note comments in Goebbels diary explaining why an action against another subservient national leadere was not taken dufring the War, "After all, we must have something to do after the war!" [Goebbels, February 20, 1942.] Even as the Pétain-Hitler meeting was taking place, NAZI think tanls were hard at work studying how to deal with France after the War was won. The leading idea was to Balkanize France, turn it into a number of small countries subsrvient to the Reich. Northeastern France and Belgium along with the Netherlands would be annexed to the Reich. Alsace-Loraine was annexed to the Reich during the War. Later in the War so was northeastern France, but this was a meaningless act as the Allies had already landed in Normandy.

Sources

Freidel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Rendezuous with Destiny (Little Brown: Boston, 1990), 710p.

"Why Petain accepted 'New Order': Marshal's account of meeting with Hitler," The Glasgow Herald (October 31, 1940). p.5.






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Created: 9:27 PM 2/27/2010
Last updated: 9:05 AM 8/15/2011