Vichy France Regime, Blog 1, Pro-Life, Pro-Catholic, and Fascist

Many Christians view abortion as the only moral issue that matters, that they do not care what other political stands a party take, if a party is against abortion, that is the party Christians should support.

The danger of such a narrow view is apparent when we review the history of the only anti-abortion, pro-Catholic regime in France after the French Revolution, the fascist regime of Vichy France that collaborated with the conquering Nazis.  The leaders of this pro-Catholic Vichy regime were also deeply anti-Semitic, and cooperated with the Germans to persecute the Jews from the earliest days of the regime.  The Vichy regime was also deeply xenophobic in its immigration policies.  Communism was the mortal enemy of the Christian faith, most Catholics saw fascists as allies in their struggles against communism.

The study of Vichy France also gives us insight into the political situation of Europe during the time of the Vatican II Church Council, and why the Catechism begins its discussion of the commandment, You Will Not Bear False Witness, with the assertion that first one must be on the side of the truth to keep from telling lies.

Was the reputation of the Catholic Church harmed by the collaboration of the Vichy regime?  There is no single clear-cut answer to this question.  The study of the Vichy regime is most valuable when used as a study on how Christians should live their lives under a secular and ungodly regime.  Most of the bishops were compromised in their dealings with the Nazis and the Vichy regime, only one Vichy bishop spoke out against collaboration, many bishops were forced to resign at the war’s end.  However, many Catholic clergy and laymen opposed the anti-Semitism of the war years.  Communists and Catholics jointly fought against the Nazis in the French Resistance, and much pro-Catholic legislation introduced by the Vichy regime was retained after the war.  We can be cautiously optimistic in our views, many Catholics and priests lived out their faith in difficult times, although many Catholics and priests collaborated with the Nazis.

THE HISTORY OF THE HISTORY OF VICHY FRANCE

The trauma of the Nazi occupation, living through yet another World War fought on French soil, and the civil war in France fought between the Resistance and the Vichy collaborators was so deep that the French constructed the de Gaulle myth that most French were part of the Resistance from the very beginning.  The French policy is to keep the state archives confidential for fifty years.  French police happily collaborated with the Germans when the rounded up the Jews to send them to the death camps, pictures of these French gendarmes were air-brushed out of the pictures in this period.

There was not any public discussion or study of the realities of the extent of the collaboration during the Vichy regime until the seventies.  The view that collaboration with the Nazis was widespread was considered heretical and unthinkable until the ice was broken by the 1970 French film, The Sorrow and the Pity,[1] which was not shown on French television until 1981.[2]  The ground-breaking book, Vichy France, Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944, used mostly German archives to provide a more balanced view of this painful history.[3]  We will use this book and another book, Politics, Society and Christianity in Vichy France as major sources for our blogs on Vichy France.

Professor Merriman of Yale University is a main source for this section, he discusses how the French viewed the history of the Vichy regime.  He lived in a village in France for many years several decades ago when memories of Vichy France were still fresh and when many were alive who lived through the German occupation.  He has stories of people who every day see directing traffic the gendarme who sent their friends and neighbors to the death camps.  His lectures are interesting because he expects his students to study the material on their own, his lectures on what life was actually like for ordinary people during these historical times.

This is John Merriman’s discussion of Vichy France in his European History class:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3G0O3nMB1k&list=PL3A8E6CE294860A24&index=23

This is John Merriman’s discussion of Vichy France in his French History class.:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4-BGTJDBY8&index=18&list=PLMptTpi3a4bdqk56cdO-6q_siFAhESUWp

In the next lecture he discusses the French Resistance:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5NNaMiXQ-4&index=19&list=PLMptTpi3a4bdqk56cdO-6q_siFAhESUWp

THE GERMANS INVADE FRANCE IN BOTH WORLD WARS

When World War I broke out the German armies marched through Belgium and in a month’s time raced to within 43 miles of Paris.  There they were stopped at the Battle of the Marne, the Germans and the Allies tried to outflank each other, eventually digging trenches that reached to the sea, and both sides dug in for years and years of brutal trench warfare.  Millions and millions perished.

Finally the Germans were forced to retreat, but before the war crossed into Germany the Germans asked for an armistice.  Millions and millions died on French soil, none on German soil.  The Germans on the home front thought they were winning the war.  The common man in the streets of Berlin asked, Who stabbed us in the back?  Who stole sure victory from us?

The allies insisted that Germany admit her war guilt, and when Germany was forced to pay exorbitant reparations she inflated her currency.  Hyperinflation wiped out the savings of ordinary Germans and shattered the German economy, one German mark in 1918 had inflated to a trillion marks by 1923.  People used banknotes as wallpaper.[4]  In 1923 coffee would double in price in the time it took to drink it.[5]  Then the Depression hit.  Far right wing parties sprung up, the fascists and the communists battled in the streets.  Out of this chaos rose Hitler.

When World War II broke out the German armies marched through Belgium through the supposedly impassible Ardennes Forest.  This time Paris fell in less than a month.  This time the newly improved tanks and German Stuka dive bombers ensured that this Blitzkrieg war would not be fought in the trenches.

THE FRENCH RESENTED THE BRITISH

The incredible speed of the German Blitzkrieg invasion and the memories and the traumas of the last world war were still so overwhelming to the French that the French leaders lost all will to fight.  Winston Churchill flew repeatedly to France to try to rally their leaders and their troops, begging them to fight to the bitter end, but the French were truly defeated, possibly before the battle began, the French longed for peace at any price.  Yet the French were resentful that the British would not commit their RAF fighters to France, those precious fighters that they needed to horde to fight the Luftwaffe dive bombers in the upcoming Battle for Britain.

Germany allowed the Vichy French government to govern with relative independence in the Southeast corner of France.  Winston Churchill informed the French that they should either surrender their fleet in French Algeria or transfer them to their colonies out of German reach or that it would be destroyed, he did not want the fleet to fall into German hands.  The French were resentful when RAF fighters sunk their fleet, killing 1,400 French sailors.  The French were also suspicious of the British, suspecting that they planned to seize the French colonies for themselves.  In some African colonies British and French forces fought each other.

ESTABLISHMENT OF THE VICHY REGIME

Nobody in Europe expected that the Nazi Blitzkrieg army would sweep across France and reach the Pyrenees in six weeks.  Winston Churchill stood alone in his opposition to Hitler in Europe, and he also stood somewhat alone in his own government, many other leading British politicians wanted to negotiate a peace with Hitler.  The Nazi hold on the European continent was seen as impregnable, General Charles de Gaulle wanted to fight on as a guerilla force, but the hero of France and World War I, General Petain, and most of the other French leaders, thought that they were forced to sign an armistice with the Germans.  The French longed for peace, their fighting spirit was crushed by the Blitzkrieg and the memories of the trench warfare in the last war, the French longed for order.  At the end of the war collaboration was seen as treasonous, and many collaborators were executed, but at the beginning of the war collaboration was seen as a necessity.

[1] Robert Paxton, “Vichy France, Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972, 2011), Introduction to the 2001 Edition.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sorrow_and_the_Pity

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Paxton

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperinflation_in_the_Weimar_Republic

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero_stroke

About Bruce Strom 140 Articles
I was born and baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran. I made the mistake of reading works written by Luther, he has a bad habit of writing seemingly brilliant theology, but then every few pages he stops and calls the Pope often very vulgar names, what sort of Christian does that? Currently I am a seeker, studying church history and the writings of the Church Fathers. I am involved in the Catholic divorce ministries in our diocese, and have finished the diocese two-year Catholic Lay Ministry program. Also I took a year of Orthodox off-campus seminary courses. This blog explores the beauty of the Early Church and the writings and history of the Church through the centuries. I am a member of a faith community, for as St Augustine notes in his Confessions, you cannot truly be a Christian unless you worship God in the walls of the Church, unless persecution prevents this. This blog is non-polemical, so I really would rather not reveal my denomination here.

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