Within the Context of the Period 1895-1995 to What Extent Were the Anti-Semitic Policies Implemented by the Right Wing Elites During the Vichy Regime from 1940-1944 a Reflection of Their Popularity Within France?

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  • Topic: Vichy France, Charles de Gaulle, France
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Within the context of the period 1895-1995 to what extent were the anti-Semitic policies implemented by the right wing elites during the Vichy Regime from 1940-1944 a reflection of their popularity within France?

To this day the period of French Occupation and the Vichy Regime remains one of the most contentious and sensitive in modern French history. After suffering a crushing military defeat to Germany in the summer of 1940 an armistice was signed and the country was divided: the northern half of France including the capital was occupied by the German forces and became the zone occupée and in the southern unoccupied zone, the zone libre, the ‘autonomous’ yet collaborationist government was set up in the town of Vichy headed by Marshal Philippe Petain. Petain’s government collaborated with the German forces in deportation of some 75,000 Jews who perished in Auschwitz . (JJ) These 4 years in French history which have become known as the ‘Dark Years’ still to this day weigh heavily on the French national conscience. Consequently in post-war France there was a widely shared desire to erase these years from French history. The French post-war leaders that had, for the most part, emerged from the Resistance attempted to erase Vichy from French history through not acknowledging the government as legitimate. De Gaulle refused announce ‘the restoration of the French Republic... on the grounds that it had never ceased to exist.’ De Gaulle had no need to encourage examination of this shameful period of French History and instead went about reinterpreting the Vichy years as the years of the Resistance. However this myth of the Resistance ignored many of the harsh and unfavourable realities of French life during the occupation. Robert Paxton’s Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order marked the first phase of study of Vichy and was written at a time when the Gaullist myth was being questioned and challenged. His historical study somewhat dispelled the generally accepted and favourable view that Vichy’s collaboration was on the whole involuntary. In addition to this he set about instating Vichy into France’s wider historical context rather than allowing it to be viewed as an anomaly in France’s history. Another work contemporary to Paxton’s study was Marcel Ophuls’ The Sorrow and the Pity an unprecedentedly scathing depiction of the French people under Occupation. Both of these works challenged de Gaulle’s revised version of the French occupation and sought about to shed light on the true nature of the Vichy Regime and France under occupation. Paxton dispelled the view that Vichy collaboration was entirely involuntary and that the line between voluntary and involuntary collaboration ran between Laval and Petain. What this revealed is that the anti-Semitic views that the Vichy government pursued could not said to be fully enforced by the German occupiers. This gives rise to the debate to what extent were the policies followed by the Vichy regime actually their own or were they rather pursued out of necessity to maintain France’s sovereignty as Vichy sympathisers argued. Perhaps what was most abhorrent about the Paxton’s study to the French public was that he made the bold assertion that the nature of the Vichy regime and its policies could be assimilated into the wider French political culture which essentially is the suggestion that the anti-Semitism that proliferated under Vichy was not exclusively present in Vichy. Similarly Ophuls’ documentary suggests that the attitudes adopted by the French public presents a social culture where anti-Semitism was acceptable. However it must be acknowledged that whilst the abovementioned present a scathing unfavourable depiction of French social and political culture this by no means can be said to , as Julian Jackson writes: ‘The history of the Occupation should be written not in black and white, but in shades of grey.’ (JJ) Jackson here comments the complexity of the period of Occupation...
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