Paris, Occupied France • June 14, 1940
On this date in 1940 German troops marched into a half-empty Paris, forcing the French government to move to Tours, then to Bordeaux, where it set up an impromptu headquarters. In a futile plea to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the French government under Prime Minister (French, Premier ministre) Paul Reynaud implored the United States for a declaration of support or a declaration of war against Nazi Germany. It didn’t happen. When the majority of French ministers finally concluded that it was impossible to continue fighting against both Germany and now Italy (Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had declared war on France on June 10), the prime minister resigned. It was a stunning emotional and political collapse.
The anti-Nazi Reynaud was succeeded by 84-year-old World War I hero Marshal Philippe Pétain (1856–1951), vice president of the Council of Ministers who cobbled together a new governing council on June 16. Then, using the offices of neutral Spain where he had served as France’s ambassador in 1939–1940, Pétain, who also served as adviser to the French war ministry, rushed to learn what Adolf Hitler required to halt military operations against his country and sign an armistice. Hitler punished Germany’s century-old enemy by first waiting until June 21 to reply and then summoning the French peace delegation to the woods of Compiègne, the very location where Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany had surrendered to the victorious Allies not 22 years earlier.
After the Franco-German armistice was signed on June 22, 1940, which ended the Third Republic, Pétain established a new French state (L’État français) centered in Vichy, Central France. Paris remained the official French capital, to which Pétain always intended to return the government when this became possible. Civil jurisdiction of the Vichy government extended over the whole of metropolitan France except for Alsace-Lorraine, a disputed territory in Eastern France now under German administration.
While officially neutral during the war, Vichy actively collaborated with the Nazis. In his capacity as head of state (Chef de l’État français, 1940–1944) and prime minister (1940–1942), Pétain suppressed Vichy’s parliament and turned his regime into a nondemocratic, repressive government aligned with, among other things, German anti-Semitic laws. French police organized raids to arrest Jews and other “undesirables” in both the northern zone, occupied by the Wehrmacht (German armed forces), and the southern, or “free,” zone (Vichy France). One of the most notorious raids occurred in Marseille in late January 1943. After the war Pétain was convicted of treason and sentenced to death after a three-week trial, a sentence immediately commuted to life imprisonment by his prewar subordinate and wartime enemy, Gen. Charles de Gaulle.
French Jews and the Marseille Roundup, January 22–24, 1943
Left: Pithiviers internment camp was a transit camp in Pithiviers, a town in the Loire Valley, south of Paris. One-fourth of the Jews living in France were rounded up by French and sometimes German Gestapo police and deported to the death camps of Eastern Europe during the Vichy years. Few Jews in France, especially foreigners, escaped deportation and survived the war without help from courageous French men and women who willingly risked their liberty and often their lives by breaking French law.
Right: The Marseille Roundup of Jews took place in the Old Port (“Raeumung des Hafenviertels”), which the Nazis considered a “terrorist nest” because of its small, winding, and curvy streets. French police checked the identity documents of 40,000 people, nabbing 2,000 Marseillese who were passed through a series of French transit camps, eventually ending up at the Drancy internment camp outside Paris, the last stop before the death camps in the East. The Marseille Roundup also encompassed the expulsion of an entire neighborhood of 30,000 persons after a house-by-house search by German police, assisted by their French counterparts. Then the buildings were dynamited.
Left: Because of the importance the Nazis attached to the roundup of Marseille’s Jews, SS (Schutzstaffel) leader Carl Oberg, in charge of German police in France, including the Gestapo and the intelligence agency of the SS known as the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), made the trip from Paris and transmitted to René Bousquet, Vichy Secretary General of the French Police (in fur-trimmed coat with German officers, January 23, 1943), orders directly received from Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler in Berlin.
Right: Gen. Hans-Gustav Felber (left); SS-Sturmbannfuehrer Bernhard Griese, Commander Police Regiment Griese; and Carl Oberg at Marseille’s Gare d’Arenc freight train depot during the deportation of Jews, January 24, 1943. Oberg was the supreme authority in France for managing anti-Jewish policy and the battle against the French Resistance. He deported well over 40,000 Jews from France.
Left: Deportation in Marseille at the freight train depot Gare d’Arenc under guard of the SS Police Regiment Griese and French police, January 24, 1943. French police loaded women, children, the elderly, and the infirm into freight cars and split up families before the trains departed for transit camps.
Right: The Marseille Roundup was assisted by thugs, thieves, and murderers from the city’s underworld, who received 1,000 francs for every Jew caught, plus whatever they could steal or extort from their victims. The Nazis could also depend on French informers to maintain a steady stream of Jews to fill the deportation convoys.
Remembering the French Holocaust Through Memorials in the French Capital