A guilt-free collaboration
Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family, Fatherland and Vichy France
Excerpt: ‘The French must do the same’
On the eve of the 1940 German invasion of France, Jews numbered 350,000, or 1 percent of the French population. Subsequently under the German occupation of northern France and the collaborative unoccupied Vichy government in the South 75,700 Jews were deported to Auschwitz, including 9,300 children under the age of 16. The subject of this invaluable biography, Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, was Vichy’s commissioner for Jewish affairs from 1942 to 1944, an administrator who enthusiastically joined with the Nazis to implement the Final Solution in France.
Creating more than a biography of Darquier and a chronicle of his role in the deportations, Carmen Callil, the founder of Virago Press, has also provided a history of the virulent anti-Semitism that permeated French society both prior to and during the war. Indeed, every page of this exceedingly well-written volume offers both psychological insights into the French perpetrators of the Holocaust and detailed descriptions of their eager roundup and deportation of the Jews. The volume, however, centers on Darquier, a “professional” anti-Semite whose hatred of Jews was exceeded only by his greed to reap as much profit as possible from his unfortunate Jewish victims. According to Callil, the always monocled Darquier was a cheat, gambler, and charlatan (he invented the name de Pellepoix so as to present himself as of aristocratic lineage) who sought every opportunity to cash in on his anti-Semitism. Darquier’s hatred of the Jews was motivated also by his belief that the Jews were a race rather than a religion or peoplehood; like many rightist French intellectuals of the time, he believed that the Jews threatened the purity of the French nation.
Despite these views, Darquier loathed the Nazis and yet was a paid agent of the Third Reich from 1936 until the fall of France in 1940, when the Germans insisted that the Vichy government place him in a position of political importance. This led to his appointment as Vichy’s commissioner for Jewish affairs. Callil details his tenure in this role, which included presiding over the Aryanization of Jewish property, a task that afforded him kick-backs from those who profited from the expropriation of Jewish businesses, residences, and other assets. He also got a cut from the confiscation of the Schloss Collection, one of the most important art collections in France. As Callil notes, “Louis Darquier’s aim was to acquire as much money as possible money to spend, not to hoard, with, preferably, fame and applause as an accompaniment.” But Darquier’s villainy was far more grotesque than his profiteering from the persecution of the helpless Jews. The infamous legacy of this “French Eichmann” centered on his supervision of the deportations.
Once the Nazis made the decision to implement the Final Solution in July 1941, they insisted that each country in German-occupied Europe provide its quota of Jews for deportation to the death camps. Because the Germans overestimated the number of Jews residing in France, they set quotas that were difficult to fill. This was certainly the case in Vichy, where the Nazis demanded that the government meet the daily deportation quota. Under Marshal Petain, the government was at first eager to oblige because of the distinction they made between foreign Jews and those born in France. The anti-Semitic Vichy leadership was determined to rid the country of all refugees, especially the Jews who had immigrated to France prior to 1940 to escape the Nazis. But they soon exhausted the number of foreign Jews whom they were able to deport, so they turned to Jewish children to fill the quotas. It was Darquier’s responsibility to administer the roundup of the children. As Callil notes:
Darquier was never apologetic for his role in the Final Solution. Indeed, as the war neared its end, he escaped to Spain, along with many other French collaborators, where he resumed his life, unburdened by any guilt, insisting to his dying day that “in Auschwitz they only gassed lice.”
This indispensable biography and riveting history of Vichy France is marred, however, by Callil’s seemingly gratuitous postscript, when she writes, “What caused me anguish as I tracked down Louis Darquier was to live so closely to the helpless terror of the Jews of France and see what the Jews of Israel were passing on to the Palestinian people. Like the rest of humanity, the Jews of Israel ‘forget’ the Palestinians. Everyone forgets; every nation forgets.”
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