Not exactly one of France’s finest hours….
The year is 1940 and the German Army has just danced around the Maginot Line. For whatever reason, the French signed an armistice (read surrender) agreement with Germany that essentially brought an end to the Third Republic.
Under the armistice, France was to be divided into two sectors. The first was a German occupied sector that included the Atlantic coast, the English Channel front and Paris. The second was an unoccupied zone in the southeast that was to be administered by the “Vichy Government” in, surprisingly enough, the city of Vichy, the new French capital.
On July 10th of the same year, in a joint session of the French parliament, the Republican regime was formally dissolved and what became known as the Vichy Government (headquartered in the town of Vichy) was installed. At the helm of the new government was one Marshall Henri-Philippe Pétain, an 83 year old French veteran of World War I.
Basically a pro-German puppet government, the Vichy Government wound up exporting over 70,000 Jews to Germany to meet their fate in the concentration camps. As if that weren’t enough, they also exported over 650,000 workers to Germany in order to assist in the war effort. They even went so far as to try and replace the ideals of the French Revolution, “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity) with the much more German sounding “Travail, Famille, Patrie" (Work, Family, Fatherland).
After the Allies liberated France in 1945, the Vichy Government packed its bags and headed for Germany. Many were captured and returned to France to stand trial and summarily executed for their role in aiding the Germans. Marshall Pétain, by that time 87 years old, was also sentenced to death but wound up having it reduced to life imprisonment.
Disclaimer…The intent of this node is not to bash the French (no matter how easy a target they might be). I’m sure many of their valiant countrymen performed heroically under the Free French Government set up in exile under Charles de Gaulle. It is meant to point out that some of their other countrymen did have a lot to answer for.