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 on the French Atlantic coast, where for the third time since the Franco-Prussian war of 1870–71 it set up an im­promptu national head­quarters. In a futile plea on June 10 to U.S. Presi­dent Franklin D. Roose­velt, the French govern­ment under Prime Minister (French, Premier ministre) Paul Rey­naud im­plored the United States for imme­diate and large-scale Amer­i­can aid. It didn’t happen. When Rey­naud and 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 military, political, emotional, and soon-to-be moral 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, just over 5 weeks after Adolf Hitler’s Wehr­macht (German armed forces) attacked France and the Bene­lux coun­tries simul­ta­neously. The next day, using the offices of neu­tral Spain where he had served as France’s ambas­sador in 1939–1940, Pétain rushed to learn what Hitler required to halt mili­tary opera­tions against his coun­try and sign an armis­tice. Ninety-five per­cent of the public supported Pétain’s efforts. He was hailed as a male Joan of Arc, saving his country­men from the “abyss.” French­men cheered his radio address of June 17 when he declared immod­estly that he was “giving to France the gift of my person in order to alle­vi­ate her suffering.” On June 18 in Paris’s Place de la Con­corde, one of the city’s major public squares, loud­speakers announced France’s surren­der. On the left bank of the Seine, across from the Place de la Con­corde, a giant swastika flag already flew above the French Chamber of Deputies, and in front of the Ministry of Marine a Mark IV Panzer tank was parked.

Hitler punished Germany’s century-old enemy by first waiting until June 21 to reply to Pétain 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 of Com­piègne was signed on June 22, 1940, which ended the Third Republic, Pétain estab­lished a new French state (L’État français) centered in Vichy, a spa town in 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 an anti-demo­cra­tic, anti-liberal, repres­sive govern­ment aligned with, among other things, German anti-Semi­tic laws. The 60,000‑strong Gen­dar­me­rie (French police) organ­ized raids to arrest Jews and other “unde­sir­ables” in both the northern zone, occupied by the Wehr­macht, and the south­ern, or “free,” zone (Vichy France). One of the most noto­rious raids occurred in Vichy’s Medi­ter­ra­nean port of Mar­seille in late January 1943 (see photo essay below). After the war Pétain was con­victed of trea­son and sen­tenced to death following 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

Pithiviers internment camp, FranceMarseille Roundup, January 1943

Left: Pithiviers internment camp was a Vichy-managed transit camp in Pithiviers, a town in the Loire Valley, 50 miles south of Paris. One-fourth of the 330,000 Jews living in France at the start of the war 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 foreign-born, 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 was conducted by some 12,000 French police from various forces and about 5,000 Germans. The round­up took place in the Old Port (Vieux Port), which the Nazis con­sidered a “terrorist nest” because of its small, winding, and curvy streets and ancient hidden under­ground passage­ways. 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, a dis­used housing estate on the out­skirts of 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. In all, 2,000 struc­tures spread over 35 acres were reduced in 17 days to a wasteland of rubble and dust.

Vichy police chief René Bousquet (right) with Germans, January 23, 1943German officials at Marseille’s Gare d’Arenc, January 24, 1943

Left: German-Vichy French meeting in Marseille’s Hôtel de ville (city hall), Janu­ary 23, 1943. Along with Lyon, Mar­seille had the highest popu­la­tion of Jews (35,000) in Vichy France. Because of the impor­tance the Germans attached to the round­up of Mar­seille’s Jews, SS (Schutz­staffel) General 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 National Police (smiling in fur-trimmed coat and tie with German officers), orders directly received from Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler in Berlin. After Pierre Laval, Vichy prime minister in the Pétain govern­ment, Bous­quet was the person most cul­pable for the depor­ta­tion of 50 per­cent of the pre-war French and foreign Jewish popu­la­tion who were murdered in Nazi extermination camps in the East.

Right: Gen. Hans-Gustav Felber (left); SS-Sturm­bann­fuehrer Bern­hard Griese, Com­mander Police Regi­ment Griese (facing camera); 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. Before moving to France, Oberg was the former personal adju­tant to SS Ober­gruppen­fuehrer Rein­hard Hey­drich, the leading planner of the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” (German, End­loe­sung der Juden­frage), the anni­hi­la­tion of Euro­pean Jewry. Oberg deported well over 40,000 Jews from France—men, women, and, as a “humanitarian” measure to keep families together, children.

Gare d’Arenc station 1, January 24, 1943Gare d’Arenc station 2, January 24, 1943

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