From Verdun to Vichy: Maréchal Petain and his Social Revolution
Today’s blog post comes to you courtesy of Library Assistant, Michel Potop. Raised in France, Mr. Potop earned a Master’s Degree in History at Florida International University and has been working at the Wolfsonian library helping us to process, catalog, and digitize our expanding collection of rare French materials. Here is his report:
Recently I had the privilege to process a number of items recently purchased in Europe by Wolfsonian museum founder, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. and deposited with us as a promised gift. Many of these items (and others previously collected and donated to the museum) deal with France during the period of the German occupation. This week I thought that I would share with our readers some interesting examples of primary sources from a particularly dark time in the history of France—the National Revoluti0n imposed by the Vichy Regime.
After the crushing defeat that Anglo-French forces suffered at the hands of Nazi Germany in the early stages of the Second World War, France’s Third Republic came to an end. On 1940, France became divided in two diametrically opposed ideological entities: Free-France, under General De Gaulle, and collaborationist Vichy-France, controlled by the Maréchal Philippe Pétain. The nation was essentially divided into two major zones: the occupied and the free zones.
Courtesy of Média Larousse, La France sous Vichy
General De Gaulle and Maréchal Pétain’s forces collided on numerous fronts. In the Metropole, the Resistance fought against the Vichy militia and the occupation armies, while in the colonies, Franco-Allied and Franco-Axis aligned forces engaged in open warfare. The Vichy loyalist army routed the Free France Forces in Dakar in September, 1940, while in Syria (a former French mandate retaining French troops) the Allies routed the Axis armies between June and July, 1941.
In order to legitimize its rule and strengthen its position at home, the Vichy Government instituted a National Revolution under the credo: “Travail, Famille, Patrie” (or, “Work, Family, Country”).
The Vichy political agenda called for the rejection of constitutional separation of powers, the encouragement of traditional values, and the establishment of a personality cult around the figure of Maréchal Pétain.
Lauded as the “Savior of Verdun,” the Vichy government turned Pétain’s popularity as a WWI hero into a cult of the leader to ensure the loyalty of the civilian population and the French troops.
Events were staged so that the “Savior of Verdun” could be photographed honoring veterans for their service.
Pétain was used by Vichy as a figurehead and touted as the only legitimate international spokesman for France.
Interestingly, in some of the Vichy propaganda appealing to the masses the French tricolor flag was not modified or marked by the Vichy symbolism; more typically, however, the new Frankish axe with seven marshal stars is omnipresent in their publications.
The National Revolution emphasized the need for a return to a traditional, patriarchal society framed on strict hierarchy and dominated by a moral order and patriotism.
The Vichy regime stigmatized the Republican government as being responsible for their military collapse at the start of the war. According to Vichy, the defeat inflicted by the Nazis was the result of the moral degradation of the “French society” that had distanced the nation from traditional values. Pétain sought to impose a program designed to ensure the survival of the French nation by reviving and promoting traditional values. Abortion was prohibited, stay-at-home wives rewarded, mothers raising large families decorated, and agricultural work glorified.
MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR. LONG-TERM LOANS
A large portion of the Vichy government’s propaganda efforts were directed at France’s young people.
MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR. LONG-TERM LOANS
A promised gift of Mr. Wolfson includes a number of flashcards that depicted Vichy’s vision of the National Revolution. The cards were meant to explain to the French youth the moral values of the regime and vices to be avoided.
From the “Providential man of Verdun” to the “Traitor of Vichy,” Pétain left an indelible mark on the political and military history of 20th century Europe. Whether he is seen as a patriot (who despite his advanced age did his best to preserve his vision of France) or a Nazi collaborator who betrayed la Patrie, for better or worse Philippe Pétain remains anchored to Verdun and Vichy, two tragedies that continue to haunt France.