Was France responsible?

Speaking specifically of the 1942 round-up of more than 13,000 Jews in Paris, Marine Le Pen said: “I don’t think France was responsible… generally speaking, it’s those who were in power at the time.”

I tend to agree with her: ‘generally speaking’, I’m uneasy with the notion of collective responsibility, especially when a collective numbers in millions.

Yet speaking generally isn’t always the best way of approaching a specific issue. In this case, blanket exoneration doesn’t work much better than blanket castigation.

Evil mass ideologies inspire mass murder – regardless of the ideology’s hue. It may be red, as in communism. Brown, as in Nazism. Black, as in fascism. Green, as in Islam. This doesn’t matter: the blood of victims running into the ground remains the same universal red.

Blaming carnage on the inspiring ideology isn’t only natural but logical. Yet equally logical is blaming those who accept the ideology, even if they personally didn’t kill anybody.

They’re all guilty, by association if not by commission. And the higher the proportion of such associates, the more headway will the ideology make.

The Nazi ideology called for the extermination of the Jews – officially, from 1942, when the Wannsee Protocol came into effect; unofficially, since 1925, when Hitler conveyed his innermost feelings in Mein Kampf.

Thus Jews were rounded up, interned and murdered in every country under Nazi control. But the proportion of those murdered varied from one place to the next. And most variations depended on the overall attitude of the local population.

Only 1.5 per cent of the Jews were killed in Denmark, while in Norway, its similar neighbour, this proportion was 55 per cent. In Estonia, the proportion was 35 per cent; next door in Lithuania, 94 per cent. And Holland, at 76 per cent, outdid Germany itself, at 55.

(Part of the reason the Nazis sited most of the death camps in Eastern Europe, rather than in Germany or elsewhere in Western Europe, was their fear that the locals would be aghast.)

Continuing on the road to specificity, 90,000 Jews were murdered in France, 26 per cent of the Jewish population, a lower proportion than in occupied Greece (80 per cent) but higher than in fascist Italy (20 per cent, most of them killed after the German occupation).

Marine Le Pen only exculpated France from the 13,000 rounded up in Paris, leaving the contextual possibility that she holds France responsible for the balance of 77,000 – probably not the implication she wanted to convey.

Here it’s important to recall that for the first two years after France’s defeat the Germans occupied only the northern part of the country. The rest was administered out of Vichy by a fascist government run by Pierre Laval and fronted by the senescent Marshal Pétain.

The government was hugely popular: when Pétain spoke, thousands roared Maréchal, nous voilà!!! with the same gusto with which the Germans screamed Heil Hitler!!!

The parallel went further than public hysteria. By Pétain’s decree, Vichy France spontaneously enacted anti-Jewish laws in 1940 and 1941 – before the Germans demanded it. These laws were stricter than the Italian equivalent introduced in occupied Nice. As a result, 40,000 Jews were interned in Vichy; few of them survived the war.

(It’s telling that before the Le Pens, père et fille, the only major politician exonerating France of any blame was the socialist President François Mitterrand, himself a decorated official in the Vichy government. Like Laval and the Le Pens, he was living proof of the kinship between fascism and socialism.)

Why did the technically free part of France collaborate with the Holocaust more avidly than Denmark, first a German protectorate and then fully occupied? This format doesn’t allow analysing this in any detail: there were too many contributing factors.

No doubt French society was greatly demoralised by years of Popular Front subversion largely directed out of Moscow through the Comintern. The crushing defeat by the Germans also played a dispiriting role, especially since a key constituent of the Popular Front, the Communist Party, welcomed it – after all, Nazi Germany was at the time allied with Stalin’s Russia.

The list of possible explanations could be long, but surely finding a place on it would be the simple fact that the French are, certainly were at the time, more anti-Semitic than the Danes. At least since the Dreyfus Affair – that lasted 12 years – France had been bitterly divided by the issue of anti-Semitism.

Even now a recent survey shows that 59 per cent of the French believe that Jews have only themselves to blame for anti-Semitism. Over half say the Jews have too much power and money, while 13 per cent think that the current one per cent of Jews in the population is too high. Should an evil regime take over, this could be a fertile soil in which to plant the saplings of mass murder.

I’m neither agreeing nor disagreeing with Marine Le Pen – only suggesting that this issue doesn’t lend itself to simplistic reductions. It’s also useful to remember that evil regimes neither appear nor operate in a vacuum. The ambient air has to be conducive.

Happy Passover to all my Jewish readers!

4 thoughts on “Was France responsible?”

  1. (Part of the reason the Nazis sited most of the death camps in Eastern Europe, rather than in Germany or elsewhere in Western Europe, was their fear that the locals would be aghast.)

    Eastern Europe too was more centrally located for efficient movement of populations by rail.

  2. Vichy French collaborators doing the biding of the German to blame and not the French people GENERALLY as a whole. GENERALLY.

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