University of Vermont: History Review vol. 6, December 1994

Book Review

Michael R. Marrus and Robert O. Paxton, Vichy France and The Jews
(New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1981. Pp. xi, 432).

Susan Zuccotti, The Holocaust, The French, and The Jews
(New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1993. Pp. ix, 383).

By Anne Higgins

Few of the myriad of controversies that existed following World War II have persisted for as long as the one about the role of Vichy France in the deportation of the Jews. Michael Marrus and Robert Paxton in Vichy France and the Jews and Susan Zuccotti in The Holocaust, The French and The Jews explore different aspects of Vichy France at the time of the Holocaust. Michael Marrus, Professor of History at the University of Toronto, has written extensively on the history of French-Jewish relations in such books as The Holocaust in History (1987), The Politics of Assimilation: A Study of the French Jewish Community at the time of the Dreyfus Affair (1971), and The Unwanted: European Refugees in the Twentieth Century (1985). As a Columbia University history professor, Robert Paxton also has numerous scholarly publications to his name on the same subject including Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944 (1982). Zuccotti, Adjunct Professor at Columbia University, has published one other book on the H olocaust entitled The Italians and the Holocaust: Persecution, Rescue, and Survival (1987). In the books reviewed here, each author's approach to France's predicament at the time of the Holocaust is different, as are the questions each chooses to answer, yet each reaches the same conclusions regarding the importance of French antisemitic sentiments in aiding the Germans in the killing of approximately 75,000 Jews living in France at the time of the Holocaust.

The purpose of Marrus' and Paxton's research is to show that what the Vichy government did in the Holocaust went beyond and even rivaled what Germany did (p. xii). The authors clearly state their major position:

The quiet but thorough mobilization of the French public administration in the work of repression of 'undesirable foreigners' during the final years of the Third Republic is an essential element of our story. There was no sharp break in 1940; there was, rather, a long habitation through the decade of the 1930's to the idea of the foreigner -- and especially the Jew -- as the enemy of the State (p. 54).

After exploring the indigenous roots of antisemitism in France prior to the outbreak of World War II, Marrus and Paxton concisely demonstrate how antisemitic policies were applied, who in France supported those policies and how these policies "meshed w ith the separate and sometimes conflicting German policy" (p. xiii).

Marrus and Paxton's study covers the period before World War II through liberation in the summer of 1944. As political historians, they rely on primary sources predominantly, including Vichy government documents, of which prefect notes are a particular ly rich source (local French government authorities), German occupation authority documents (a combination of five different authorities), German government documents, Resistance documents, reports from foreign observers in France (particularly the report s of United States diplomatic observers), and survivors accounts (the least utilized source). These sources as a whole enable Marrus and Paxton to achieve a highly credible evaluation of what actually happened and why.

The scholarly study which Marrus and Paxton generate proceeds in essentially chronological order with the exception of the first chapter entitled "First Steps" (p. 1). In this chapter, Marrus and Paxton immediately, effectively and successfully challen ge the notion of German coercion of the Vichy government to enact antisemitic laws. Marrus and Paxton show that directly after the German occupation of France, a struggle ensued between German occupation authorities and Vichy government authorities down t o the prefectural level regarding the shipment of non-French Jews across the demarcation line. Under the guise of their "re-immigration" policy, as early as July of 1940 French authorities "turned over to the Germans twenty-one Jews, nineteen of whom, it was claimed had been arrested 'because of actions in favor of Germany'" (p. 13). These facts Marrus and Paxton show using prefectural reports regarding Vichy attempts to ship Jews north across the demarcation line, German occupation authority memorandums, and memoranda of conversations between Vichy officials and a "German historian and propagandist Dr. Friedrich Grimm" (p. 13) and "conversations reported by U.S. Ambassador William C. Bullitt to the Department of State" (p. 378). This illustrates the exha ustive and comprehensive nature of the evidence Marrus and Paxton use throughout their work to arrive at their conclusions. They do not rely on one account, or one type of account. They utilize written primary source information from nearly every side of an issue.

Marrus and Paxton's study shows a remarkable lack of bias. They are not afraid to state their opinions in very definite terms and I believe that is because they have reached their conclusions from a thorough study of the documentation rather than preco nceived notions of guilt or complicity. In fact, Marrus and Paxton are very careful throughout their book to ensure that they base their findings on nothing less than credible primary sources. In the process of discussing the rampant greed and corruption on the part of the French administrators of the German-imposed program of "aryanization" of Jewish property in Vichy France, the authors write,

It would perhaps be best to base our assessment of the administrateurs provisoires upon the views of French senior civil servants in a position to know, and resist the temptation of mere rumors, however diverting" (p. 156).

In addition, Marrus and Paxton readily admit when a subject is difficult to document. For instance, at the start of their chapter on public opinion, they state

To make some accurate measurement of these feelings is, however, a delicate historical undertaking. How widespread was popular antisemitism after 1940? In what social and geographical settings was it most pronounced? What range of nuance may w e be subsuming under one pat label? The complexities of public opinion are too fine grained for most historical techniques, even in the best of circumstances. For the Vichy regime, we face the additional obstacles of a diminished and controlled press, per sonal reserve during a time of uncertainty and suspicion, and profound change from one period to another (pp. 179-80).

Marrus and Paxton go on to reject public opinion polls done by the Commissariat-gˇnˇral aux questions juives (CGQJ), the Vichy commission on Jewish affairs, because "it violated nearly every canon of scientific poll taking" (p. 181). The authors instea d rely on the monthly prefectural reports required by the Vichy government and millions of unsolicited letters, telegrams and telephone calls made to the Vichy government in the early Vichy years as an accurate reflection of public opinion, mainly because much of the information was not favorable (p. 181).

In effect, Marrus and Paxton have prepared a well-organized and well-written work of importance for those interested in the Vichy France years. Through their systematic and comprehensive investigation of documents available from a wide range of sources involved in the years of Vichy France, the authors have produced a book which sheds light on a most difficult subject that has been shrouded in mystery, confusion, assumption and self-serving explanations.

Susan Zuccotti approaches the subject of the Holocaust in France from a different point of view. As a social historian, she is more interested in understanding the popular responses of Jews and non-Jews in Vichy France to the persecution of the Jews. Z uccotti's introduction clearly sets forth the dozens of questions she attempts to answer throughout her work, ranging from the position of Jews in France before the war to how survival occurred or did not occur in Vichy France. Zuccotti does not offer a s uccinct summary of her thesis in the introduction, as do Marrus and Paxton. She offers her work in "an effort to understand popular responses" (p. 5). Zuccotti finds, though, that if Vichy officials had "refused to cooperate in roundups of foreign Jews as well [as they objected to roundups of French Jews], death rates would have been considerably lower" (p. 208). Such a statement presumes that cooperation did occur and death rates were high.

Zuccotti does not, however, specifically state on what sources she will rely. It is apparent, though, through a reading of her book, that she relies heavily on eye witness accounts. Many of Zuccotti's eye witness accounts are furnished by prominent cit izens, anthropologists, journalists, authors and artists. The endnotes, which encompass the last 78 pages of her work, are interesting, comprehensive and instructive. Zuccotti has as well relied on other historians' works, including those of Robert Paxton and Michael Marrus. Zuccotti has also conducted personal interviews with many survivors in the course of her study and includes excerpts of those interviews to justify and illustrate her conclusions.

Zuccotti has organized her work in a purely chronological fashion until the last four chapters, where she discusses the organization and implementation of groups which enhanced Jewish survival in France. Zuccotti's study is comprehensive insofar as the portion of Vichy French history which she chooses to study, namely the French popular response to Jewish persecution, and insofar as one can study such a subject given the limitations noted in Marrus and Paxton's work. She avoids almost entirely any effo rt to explain Vichy police involvement or Vichy government complicity in the persecution; she simply states the fact. For instance, in her initial chapter entitled "Jews in France Before the War," which illustrates the tendency of some French Jews to rema in in France despite the development of an atmosphere increasingly hostile to Jews, Zuccotti quotes from the diary of Raymond-Raoul Lambert (a diary Zuccotti utilizes frequently in her study) (p. 45). It is in the introduction of this excerpt that Zuccott i mentions the racial laws without defining them in any other way, although her endnote leads the reader to Chapter 3 where the laws are discussed in more detail, primarily in relation to public reaction to the laws. This approach is entirely different fr om that of Marrus and Paxton whose approach to public opinion is limited to one chapter and whose entire work is dedicated to explaining how the various laws of the Vichy government were enacted and why.

In the course of her discussion of the racial laws and their impact on French society, Zuccotti attempts to explain why so few (no more than 10%) French or foreign Jews tried to elude the census required by the German authorities in the Occupied Zone o f France in September of 1940 (p. 54). Zuccotti completely ignores any mention of who actually performed the census, allowing the reader to assume that since it was a census required by the Germans in the occupation zone, it must have been carried out by the Germans.

As Marrus and Paxton point out, the census was carried out with efficiency and alacrity by the French police, which in itself lent credibility to the process on the part of French citizens and which led directly to the ease with which the authorities ( French when it concerned foreign Jews and German when it involved French Jews) collected the Jews for deportation to the extermination centers. Zuccotti's omission of this basic fact diminishes the credibility of her approach. The complicity of the French police in nearly all antisemitic actions both in the Occupied and Unoccupied Zones added greatly to the ability of non-Jewish French citizens to accept such measures. Zuccotti should have emphasized this, especially since it concerns public responses to the Holocaust in France.

The internment camps were one of the most shameful creations in France, which existed even before the German invasion in 1940. Marrus and Paxton speak of the "cruelty, neglect and incompetence of the administration of the camps," in no uncertain term ( p. 175). Moreover, Marrus and Paxton state, "[t]he responsibility for the camps lay entirely with Vichy" (p. 171). They follow these statements by a fairly terse description of the larger camps as gleaned from reports prepared for Marshal Pˇtain by Vichy officials, a description which in its compact form allows the reader to conclude for himself the extent of this particular horror, while understanding the mechanisms which allowed the camps to exist.

Zuccotti's approach is much more blunt. She blames the "predictable response of harassed bureaucrats" (p. 66). But once again, initially, the reader is left on his own just to conclude whether these bureaucrats were German or French. It is only at the end of the paragraph that we learn that the internments were able to occur because of "Vichy's new law" (p. 67). And it is in the next chapter, Chapter 5, entitled "Roundups and Deportations, May 1941-June 1942" that Zuccotti presents more directly Vichy participation in these persecutions (p. 81). Perhaps Zuccotti's approach is a literary ploy to attempt to lull the reader into thinking initially that these activities were "only" German atrocities, after which she shocks the reader in the next chapter wi th the true extent of Vichy complicity in the enactment and fulfillment of antisemitic laws. In any case, once this subject has been opened, Zuccotti leaves no room for doubt about the complicity of Vichy France in the deportations.

Zuccotti's literary style is compelling and it reaches its pinnacle of effectiveness in Chapter 5. Zuccotti's use of eyewitness accounts is particularly moving as she describes the March 27, 1942 first convoy of Jews to leave France for Auschwitz. Zucc otti lets the account unfold from the witness' point of view and the reader is dragged into the nightmare of deportation with the same lack of knowledge of destination or purpose as were the deportees (p. 89). This method is a testament to Zuccotti's supe rb use of survivor accounts to illustrate her points, a technique she repeats throughout her work.

Again, in describing the horrible events of the Vˇlodrome d'Hiver of July 1942, Zuccotti's eye witness accounts and descriptions of the children left behind are heart rending and do accomplish well one of her stated tasks in the introduction --- to sho w how the persecution unfolded, from the point of view of a French Jew or a foreign Jew or a non-Jewish French person living in France at the time (pp. 103-117). (The Vˇlodrome d'Hiver is a large, glass-covered, stadium in Paris near the Eiffel Tower wher e thousands of Jews, including many thousands of children, were detained for deportation in inadequately sheltered, unbearably hot, poorly-ventilated, unsanitary and starving conditions for over a week.) Her answer though differs from Marrus and Paxton's answer because of that perspective. Instead of relying primarily on observations of onlookers or survivors, Marrus and Paxton explain how through a description of the legalities used by Vichy to accomplish their task. This is the difference between a soci al historian and a political historian.

Each author illustrates, from these differing perspectives, how Vichy France set precedents and laid the foundations in the early years of its administration for future use by the Germans in exterminating 75,000 Jews from France. Zuccotti's study makes clear that indifference reigned in the non-Jewish and Jewish French public regarding their government's treatment of its "foreign Jews." It was not until Germany demanded French Jews for transport that both the French public and Vichy officials objected.

These books, then, offer the reader views of the French treatment of Jews which complement each other. Marrus and Paxton investigate how persecutions of Jews took place from the point of view of government officials, their input, their motivations and their aims. Zuccotti's account investigates the popular responses of the French to the measures offered and implemented by those officials. As such, each book is an essential tool for gaining a more complete understanding of Vichy France and the Holocaust .


UVM History Review vol. 6, December 1994