Silence on the Vel d’Hiv Roundup:
Examining the Historiography of Vichy France
The Vel d’Hiv Roundup occurred during the German Occupation of France from July 16th, 1942 and July 17th, 1942.[i] Nine thousand Parisian police officers working under the Vichy regime gathered Jewish men, women, and children and locked them into the Vélodrome d’Hiver, otherwise known as the Winter Stadium, before sending them to transit camps and, ultimately, Auschwitz for extermination.[ii] Of the Jewish community of Paris that were arrested a third were children.[iii] On July 16th, 1995, the President of France, Jacques Chirac acknowledged the involvement of the French police in the Vel d’Hiv Roundup and extermination of both French and foreign-born Jewish people in France.[iv] This resulted in new studies of the German occupation of France; however, the expansion of the historiography remains focused on the work of Robert O. Paxton and France as a whole, not this pivotal moment in French history. I will argue that the existing historiography presents a strong understanding of life in France under the German occupation, but lacks a thorough analysis of the Vel d’Hiv Roundup.
Michael R. Marrus and Robert O. Paxton collaborated on the 1981 book Vichy France and the Jews, which has been met with praises by reviewers as being an essential work on the topic of the German occupation of France and the Vichy regime which was being overburdened by pseudohistorians.[v] Paxton remains the leader on Vichy France historiography, not only as an author and historian but as a reviewer of books on the topic and those of similar topics and periods, such as Fascism and events during the German occupation of France.[vi] Vichy France and the Jews contains several arguments. First, they argue that the French believed that the Vichy regime would remain neutral between the Allies and Germany throughout World War II.[vii] Second, they reasoned that the entire first year of occupation and the anti-Semitic legislation that was invoked during that time period were entirely of the Vichy France’s creation because the Germans were preoccupied with non-French threats to their forces.[viii] Third, Marrus and Paxton contend that the Vichy regime had planned to lower the number of Jewish persons in France through legislative measures due to a significant increase of refugees from Spain, Germany, and Italy; however, when Germany implemented the Final Solution Vichy officials aided and supported the extermination.[ix] Marrus and Paxton approached this topic from a legal perspective of which they aimed to examine the Vichy regime through the lens of their society’s ethnic prejudices.[x] In doing so, they removed the perspective of both Jewish and non-Jewish civilians under Vichy.[xi] Nevertheless, the thorough analysis clears up many questions on Vichy’s role in legislation during the German occupation which had become buried in an oversaturation of non-scholarly work on the time period.
The voice of the Frenchmen can be found in Susan Zuccotti’s 1993 text The Holocaust, the French, and the Jews. This source examines that which is missing in Paxton and Marrus’ work but is not without an analysis and critique of Vichy legislation.[xii] Rather, Zuccotti aimed to examine life before, during, and after the German occupation and Vichy regime.[xiii] Moreover, she examines not only the Jewish experience but also that of non-Jewish citizens and refugees.[xiv] In this source, Zuccotti argues that significant anti-Semitism in France can be traced to the Dreyfus Affair, which created the “Jewish traitor” identity in 1894.[xv] Additionally, she argues that anti-Jewish sentiments were never hidden in France, but rather that they were mostly enacted negatively and outwardly toward foreigners, a sentiment shared in Paxton’s work.[xvi] Ultimately, her goal was to present a precise time in which the Jewish community became aware and reacted to the legislation, arrests, and deportation implemented by the Vichy regime and the Germans.[xvii] This would lead to a unification of both legislative documents and human perspectives just five years later.
In 1998, Éric Conan and Henry Rousso published Vichy: An Ever-Present Past, as a sort of sequel to a similar work of Rousso’s called The Vichy Syndrome.[xviii] This work argued that there was an excess of writing on Vichy that distracted from the complicated relationship of the regime with Germany, the French government, its people, and refugees.[xix] Conan and Rousso also contend that an undecided position between French guilt or innocence on their involvement cripples French identity in an increasingly globalized world.[xx] Lastly, they argue that there is a distinct point, the release of The Sorrow and the Pity, which shifted the dialogue on French culpability in the late 1960s and early 1970s.[xxi] Their examination is one of a social, cultural, and psychological history of France and the damage caused by the small schisms nitpicking has created amongst the French community because there is very little disagreement on most aspects of subjects like the Vichy government, the French Resistance, and the Germans actions.[xxii] The results of their analysis questioned the value of the “duty to remember” arguments of many scholars who have written on Vichy, particularly during high-profile trials.[xxiii] Unlike many sources on this topic, this source is unique in its addressing of the repression of Vichy Syndrome from 1954 to 1971 due to amnesty laws.[xxiv] Additionally, they address the heightened awareness of World War II France from emotional films that have inaccuracies and discuss the effects of these on French identity and memory of France in the 1940s as well.[xxv] With Vichy Syndrome treated as an obsession, it is no surprise that countless articles and books continue to be written on the topic, but as Conan and Rousso pointed out, it has become increasingly more difficult to keep these sources scholarly.
Verdict on Vichy: Power and Prejudice in the Vichy France Regime by Michael Curtis was published in 2002 and took a political science and memory perspective on the history it provided excellent insight on the regime. There are some similarities to Conan and Russo, such as an agreement with their arguments regarding a period of repression, how film raised awareness, and that politicians and trials shaped the memory of the Vichy regime.[xxvi] Curtis also contends that Robert O. Paxton and Eberhard Jäckel shaped the field by creating a political and scholarly dialogue on Vichy.[xxvii] However, Curtis also argues that the post-War French government presented Vichy as an illegitimate takeover of the Third Republic in order to alter the memory of France, particularly regarding the Vel d’Hiv Roundup.[xxviii] Throughout the book, Curtis discussed shifts in scholarly opinions on various aspects of life under Vichy and the post-war dialogue. However, his focus remained Pétain, Vichy politicians, and German policy through the lens of memory that, he argues, has been altered with time by the French government.[xxix] These types of analyses of the Vichy regime fall into the popular catchall of the previously mentioned Vichy Syndrome, which has been studied on its own.A particular 1995 article by Bertram M. Gordon entitled “The ‘Vichy Syndrome’ Problem in History” not only addresses what Vichy Syndrome is but how it has changed historiography on the Vichy regime. Gordon not only questions the existence of Vichy Syndrome but whether the obsession with Vichy occurred and changed France as Rousso presented in
A particular 1995 article by Bertram M. Gordon entitled “The ‘Vichy Syndrome’ Problem in History” not only addresses what Vichy Syndrome is but how it has changed historiography on the Vichy regime. Gordon not only questions the existence of Vichy Syndrome but whether the obsession with Vichy occurred and changed France as Rousso presented in The Vichy Syndrome.[xxx] Gordon argued that Vichy history will remain incomplete until the death of everyone involved, politically and as citizens, and that without a complete history the scope cannot be fully realized.[xxxi] However, he did concede that there is sufficient information that can be studied and argued, particularly in terms of French collaboration with the Nazis.[xxxii] This work provides insight into popular scholars in the field, what they have written, when it was written, how his own work agrees or refutes their claims, and how these historiographies fit with the available primary source material.Upon reviewing the material on the German occupation of France there remains a definite consensus on French involvement.
Upon reviewing the material on the German occupation of France there remains a definite consensus on French involvement.[xxxiii] However, some scholars argue that there have been political figures that have tried downplay this involvement and those that do use the Vel d’Hiv Roundup as a primary example. Yet, this event in the heart of France garners very little attention across a topic that has been deemed obsessively written over by most historians. The lack of study on the Vel d’Hiv Roundup could be due to the lack of survivors; however, there is a significant amount of content on the Vichy regime to thoroughly examine life in Paris under German occupation. Though few scholars have done this, a clear image exists in these works entirely focused on the Vel d’Hiv Roundup as to what occurred before, after, and during the time of Vichy.[xxxiv] Yet, debates on the validity of commemorative events for the Vel d’Hiv Roundup, debates on the specifics of Vichy Syndrome, and arguments on how French memory should be defined continue. It is within these debates that I plan to place these historiographies on my Vel d’Hiv project in which I ask: Can there be a clear image of this significant event when the historiography is almost entirely focused on the country as a whole from the perspective of the Vichy regime or, oftentimes, simply how Vichy is remembered.
Aron, Robert, Georgette Elgey, and Humphrey Hare. The Vichy Regime, 1940-44. Beacon Press: Boston, 1969.
Barber, Noel. The Week France Fell, June 10-16, 1940. New York, NY: Cooper Square Press, 2000.
Birnbaum, Pierre. Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.
Blatman, Daniel. “Holocaust Scholarship: Towards a Post-Uniqueness Era.” Journal of Genocide Research 17, no. 1 (March 2015): 21-43.
Bruce, Robert B. Pétain: Verdun to Vichy. Dulles, VA: Potomac Books, 2008.
Brunetaux, Audrey. “Revisiting the Vel d’Hiv Roundup through the Camera Lens.” History & Memory 26, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2014): 136-162.
Burrin, Philippe. France under the Germans: Collaboration and Compromise. New York: New Press, 1996.
Conan, Éric, and Henry Rousso. Vichy: An Ever-Present Past. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1998.
Curtis, Michael. Verdict on Vichy: Power and Prejudice in the Vichy France Regime. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2002.
Gildea, Robert. Fighters in the Shadows a New History of the French Resistance. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2015.
Golsan, Richard Joseph. Memory, the Holocaust, and French Justice: The Bousquet and Touvier Affairs. Hanover: Dartmouth, 1996.
Golsan, Richard Joseph. Vichy’s Afterlife: History and Counterhistory in Postwar France. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2000.
Gordon, Bertram M. “The `Vichy Syndrome’ Problem in History.” French Historical Studies 19, no. 2 (Fall 1995): 495-518.
Horowitz, Irving Louis. “Stages in the Evolution of Holocaust Studies: From the Nuremberg Trials to the Present.” Human Rights Review10, no. 4 (November 2009): 493-504.
Houwink ten Cate, Johannes. “The Future of Holocaust Studies.” Jewish Political Studies Review 22, no. 1/2 (Spring 2010): 33-41.
Hytier, Adrienne Doris. Two Years of French Foreign Policy: Vichy, 1940-1942. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1974.
Kitson, Simon. The Hunt for Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in Vichy France. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.
Lee, Daniel. Pétain’s Jewish Children: French Jewish Youth and the Vichy Regime, 1940-1942. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.
Marrus, Michael R., and Robert O. Paxton. “The Nazis and the Jews in Occupied Western Europe, 1940-1944”. The Journal of Modern History 54 (4). University of Chicago Press (1982): 687–714.
Marrus, Michael R., and Robert O. Paxton. Vichy France and the Jews. New York: Basic Books, 1981.
Ott, Sandra. War, Judgment, and Memory in the Basque Borderlands, 1914-1945. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press, 2008.
Paxton, Robert O. Parades and Politics at Vichy; the French Officer Corps under Marshal Pétain. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1966.
Paxton, Robert O. Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944. New York: Knopf; Distributed by Random House, 1972.
Peschanski, Denis. Collaboration and Resistance: Images of Life in Vichy France, 1940-44. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2000.
Poznanski, Renée. “Reflections on Jewish Resistance and Jewish Resistants in France”. Jewish Social Studies 2, no.1. Indiana University Press (1995): 124–58.
Rousso, Henry. The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France Since 1944. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991.Sayare, Scott. “France Reflects on Its Role in Wartime Fate of Jews.” The New York Times. July 28, 2012.
Sayare, Scott. “France Reflects on Its Role in Wartime Fate of Jews.” The New York Times. July 28, 2012.
Sprout, Leslie A. The Musical Legacy of Wartime France. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013.
Sweets, John F. 1986. Choices in Vichy France: The French Under Nazi Occupation. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 1986.
Wright, Gordon. Review of Vichy France and the Jews. The Journal of Modern History 55, no. 2. University of Chicago Press (1983): 354-356.
Zuccotti, Susan. The Holocaust, the French, and the Jews. New York: Basic Books, 1993.
[i] Michael R. Marrus and Robert O. Paxton, Vichy France and the Jews (New York: Basic Books, 1981), pg. 250-251.
[xxvii] Curtis, Verdict on Vichy: Power and Prejudice in the Vichy France Regime, pg. 9.
[xxxii] Gordon, “The `Vichy Syndrome’ Problem in History,” 498-501.
[xxxiii] For more studies on French collaboration and Vichy policy see: Adrienne Doris. Hytier, Two Years of French Foreign Policy: Vichy, 1940-1942 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1974), Daniel Lee, Pétain’s Jewish Children: French Jewish Youth and the Vichy Regime, 1940-1942 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), Denis Peschanski, Collaboration and Resistance: Images of Life in Vichy France, 1940-44 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2000), Philippe Burrin, France under the Germans: Collaboration and Compromise (New York: New Press, 1996), Robert Aron, Georgette Elgey, and Humphrey Hare, The Vichy Regime, 1940-44 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), Robert B. Bruce, Pétain: Verdun to Vichy (Dulles, VA: Potomac Books, 2008).
[xxxiv] For more studies on French memory of the German occupation and Vichy see: Henry Rousso, The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France since 1944 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), Noel Barber, The Week France Fell, June 10-16, 1940 (New York, NY: Cooper Square Press, 2000), Sandra Ott, War, Judgment, and Memory in the Basque Borderlands, 1914-1945 (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2008), Richard Joseph Golsan, Memory, the Holocaust, and French Justice: The Bousquet and Touvier Affairs (Hanover: Dartmouth College, 1996), and Richard Joseph Golsan, Vichy’s Afterlife: History and Counterhistory in Postwar France (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2000).