FRANCE :Vichy and Marshal Pétain. Pierre Laval.

Christopher Jones defends Marshal Pétain: La défense du Maréchal Pétain est un droit reconnu par la Cour Européenne de Strasbourg (arrêt du 23 septembre 1998)
It is interesting that despite the biography posted, the right to defend Marshal Philippe Pétain has been recognized by the European court at Strasbourg.  Even after the war, many non communists were very unhappy with the imprisonment of the Marshal and prominent among was Charles de Gaulle.  Considering that the lyrics of "Maréchal, nous voilà" stress the family, the fatherland and work I do not see that it is at all so inappropriate. Regarding Marshal Pétain, he was condemned for "intelligence with the enemy" which is patently ridiculous.  The anti-semitic campaign under Vichy was never brought up in the trial.  France had no other option than armistice, and even Göring said that the armistice was Hitler's biggest blunder at Nuremberg.  We should not forget that "socialist" president François Mittérrand laid a wreath at Pétain's grave, which I hope will be transferred to the crypt at Verdun.

RH: Verdun explains why

Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain

was a hero in France.   He was a military and political leader and France's greatest hero in World War I (1914-1918). Pétain was educated at the Saint-Cyr military academy and the École Supérieure de Guerre (army war college) in Paris. As a general during World War I, he won fame for his successful defense of Verdun against the Germans in 1916. Later, as commander in chief, he did much to restore morale in the French army after a series of mutinies in 1917. He was made a marshal of France the following year. I agree that the song praising him is  much healthier than the nasty "Marseillaise".

Adriana Pena says: Of course, people should have the right to defend Marechal Petain. And anybody who they feel like defending.  After all, it is a principle of law that everyone has a right to a defense in a court of law. But a right to defend is not the same thing as an exoneration....

RH: Pétain is a much more attractive person than his henchmen, Pierre Laval and Darlan. We have discussed Darlan. Here is Learning Curve's account of Laval: Pierre Laval was born in Auvergnac, France, on 28th June, 1883. After obtaining degrees in law and natural sciences he went into business. A member of the Socialist Party, Laval was elected to parliament in 1903. On the outbreak of the First World War Laval joined the French Army.

After the war Laval political views changed dramatically and he re-entered the Chamber of Deputies as a right-wing conservative. One opponent pointed out that this was no surprising as Laval reads the same from the left or the right. Over the next few years he held several cabinet posts including foreign minister and was prime minister in 1931-32 and 1935-36. During his periods of office he worked closely with Aristide Briand to establish good relations with Germany and the Soviet Union.

In October 1935 Laval joined with  Britain's foreign secretary Samuel Hoare in an effort to resolve the crisis created by the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. The secret agreement, known as the Hoare-Laval Pact, proposed that Italy would receive two-thirds of the territory it conquered as well as permission to enlarge existing colonies in East Africa. In return, Ethiopia was to receive a narrow strip of territory and access to the sea. Details of the Hoare-Laval Pact was leaked to the press on 10th December, 1935. The scheme was widely denounced as appeasement of Italian aggression and Laval and Hoare were both forced to resign.

Laval returned to pursue his business career and built up a commercial empire based on newspapers, printing, and radio. When the German Army occupied France in 1940 Laval used his media empire to support Henri-Philippe Petain and the Vichy government. He also used his influence in the National Assembly to give Petain dictatorial powers. Two days later on 12th July 1940, Laval was named as head of the government and Petain's legal successor.  Laval developed a close relationship with Otto Abetz, the German ambassador in France, and on 22nd October, 1940, he met Adolf Hitler and proposed that the two countries should work closely together. At another meeting with Hermann Goering later that month Laval suggested a military alliance with Nazi Germany.  Some members of the government became concerned about these developments and on 13th December 1940, Henri-Philippe Petain ordered the sacking of Laval. He was also briefly arrested but Otto Abetz sent in troops to have him released and he was taken to Paris where he lived under the protection of the German Army. However on 27th August, 1941, a young student, Paul Collette, managed to fire four shots into Laval while seeing off French volunteer troops to take part in Operation Barbarossa.

Laval recovered and by the spring of 1942 he was ready to return to political life. After coming under increasing pressure from Otto Abetz, the German ambassador, Henri-Philippe Petain agreed on 18th April 1942 to recall Laval as head of the French government.  Laval now ordered the French police to begin rounding up Jews in France. He also took the controversial decision in June 1942 to send skilled labourers to Germany in exchange for French prisoners of war. In September he gave permission for the Gestapo to hunt down the French Resistance in unoccupied France. In January, 1943, Laval created Milice, a political police force under the leadership of Joseph Darnard. Within six months their were over 35,000 men in the force and were playing the leading role in capturing Jews and left-wing activists and having them deported to Nazi Germany.

After the D-Day Landings Laval moved his government to Belfort. With the allied forces making good progress Laval retreated to Sigmaringen and in May 1945 he fled to Spain. He was interned in Barcelona and on 30th July was handed over to the new French government headed by General Charles De Gaulle. Pierre Laval was charged with aiding the enemy and violating state security. He was found guilty and was shot by a firing squad at Fresnes Prison in Paris on 15th October, 1945.

Philip Zec, The Daily Mirror (30th October, 1940)

Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: April 16, 2005