Monday, July 23, 2012

Hollande at the Vel' d'Hiv'

François Hollande gave a superb speech, one of his best, at the site of the Vel' d'Hiv', where Jews rounded up by the French police in 1942 were taken to await deportation. Giving full credit to Jacques Chirac, who was the first French president to acknowledge the responsibility of the French state--the French Republic--in this crime, he went even further than Chirac had.

Some people on the right are not happy, however. Henri Guaino is one of them. From Guaino we hear the familiar refrain that Vichy was not France, that the true France was in London with de Gaulle, etc. etc. One can understand the argument at a symbolic level, however feeble the actual adherence to the idea, let alone the reality, of resistance in 1942. What is not acceptable, however, is Guaino's further suggestion that Hollande's acceptance of responsibility in the name of France is motivated by an alleged affinity between Hollande and the collaborators of the 1940s:

Peut-être que M. Hollande se sent plus proche de la France des notables apeurés qui se sont précipités à Vichy après l'armistice? Ce n'est pas ma France.
This is a slur on anyone whose reading of history is different from Guaino's. It is tantamount to an allegation that anyone who does not believe that l'Appel du 18 juin exonerates France--the state and the nation--of all responsibility for what happened during World War II is "objectively" a collaborationist. Such a charge is unworthy of M. Guaino, who is a student of history. He should know better, however commendable his commitment to the Man of June 18.


bernard said...

what le guaino does not grasp, but how could he ever understand this, is the enormous relief that Chirac and now Hollande have provided to the descendants of the victims.

A child in the 60s, I knew the crimes of the French state then from family history and I never ever talked about it except with those of my friends whose names ended with stein or feld. And amongst us, we talked and anguished about what we felt was a disguise of what had actually happened: it was not the ennemy, it was French authorities, perfectly well identified, a commissaire de police here, another civil servant there, who had plunged our families into tragedy. Little did we understand the grander reasons at that time of De Gaulle in erasing Petain from French history. That fiction led us to look for antisemites on every corner street and to feel somewhat separated from France: if the reality of what France had done to our ancestors was to remain hidden, surely we were never going to be fully French and must be forever prepared for the worst.

Then "le chagrin et la pitié" in the early 70s started to mend our hearts and minds: we were not crazy, it was true (few today would know that this movie was banished from French TV which at the time was only State TV, and that it was only shown in a few tiny cinemas). Paxton and others also helped.

And so today I would like to let le guano know that I am indebted to both Chirac and Hollande for finally telling the truth in the name of France. Le guano can go back to his ridiculous historical arguments. I doubt that he'll win any prize, ever, except perhaps for ignominious behaviour insulting a president.

Boris said...

Guaino has made a fool of himself.
However, some serious reservations can be
made about Hollande's speech.
I found this piece by franco-israeli historian
Alain Michel very interesting :

Mitch Guthman said...

@ Boris,

Thanks for the link to the interesting commentary by Alain Michel. I’m working my way through it now but he’s certainly right that De Gaulle said nothing about the Jews in his speech of 18 June 1940 or at any time during the war. Just as he is right that none of the different resistance organizations said or did anything to help the Jews.

Still, what Hollande did took real integrity and moral fiber. Nobody forced him to do it and he will reap few rewards. I think he spoke out because he thought it was necessary. That is even truer for Chirac’s speech, which was indeed “courageous” and highly admirable. It is something for which Chirac will be remembered by future generations.

(Also, the link goes from Le Monde an organization called “”. I am not familiar with this group. Is it an organization of historians or a commercial enterprise? In any event, their website looks worth spending some time exploring. Thanks again).


Anonymous said...

"From Guaino we hear the familiar refrain that Vichy was not France, that the true France was in London with de Gaulle, etc. etc."

Familiar refrain if you like, but that's what I was taught in my lycée, and it based the legitimacy of De Gaulle's government - Churchill recognised De Gaulle's government, while Roosevelt preferred Pétain, which might be an explanation of the way WWII in France is taught in the US.


bert said...

... Roosevelt preferred Pétain ...

Either this is new information about the way WWII in France is taught in the US, or you meant to type "Giraud".

Anonymous said...

This is not the place, dear Bert, to enter into those endless discussions, but, yes, Pétain sent an ambassador to Vichy and, when writing to Pétain, called him "mon cher vieil ami"...

I am not clear on why Roosevelt loathed our Général and called him a dictator, but these things happen.

Art Goldhammer said...

Yes, Roosevelt loathed de Gaulle, because in his eyes de Gaulle was a fantasist who took himself to be "France." A bit like Joan of Arc hearing voices, or an asylum inmate imagining that he is Napoleon. And you can see the thing from Roosevelt's point of view. In one discussion, Roosevelt and Churchill were laying plans for a major operation, talking about deployments of troops, fleets, airplanes. De Gaulle piped up: "France will contribute 1,000," he said. Roosevelt wondered, "One thousand what? Tanks? Divisions? Ships?" So he put the question to de Gaulle. The answer: "One thousand men." To a leader thinking in terms of hundreds of thousands of men, this may have seemed ... risible. But Roosevelt underestimated the importance of symbolism, which was de Gaulle's forte, and when circumstances are right, symbolism can turn into real force. It has been estimated that the French Resistance was worth several divisions to the Allies. But all this is quite irrelevant to Hollande's apology. Unlike Boris, I find the Franco-Israeli historian's contribution quite small-minded. True, de Gaulle and the Resistance did not have the fate of French Jewry in mind (nor did Roosevelt, for that matter). But it's quite right of Hollande, who is the leader of all the French, not just French Jewry, to recall, while apologizing for France's failings, that de Gaulle and the Resistance did save France's honor by refusing to capitulate. What made Hollande's speech so splendid was that he didn't feel the need to choose: either I am a Gaullist or I am a defender of the Jews. No: he said forthrightly that one can speak of the Jews and still pay homage to de Gaulle. I wish that Henri Guaino, now joined by Bruno Le Maire, who really should know better, understood this.

Art Goldhammer said...

I might add, in regard to FDR, that at the time he was courting Pétain with friendly letters, France was still in possession of a fleet that the Allies wanted very much to keep out of German hands. It would hardly have been wise to insult the man who could have delivered those ships to Hitler.

bert said...

Mélanie -
Churchill wasn't exactly keen on de Gaulle. "The hardest cross I have to bear is the Cross of Lorraine". Actually, that may not be an accurate quote. But even so, it's an accurate reflection of his sentiment at the time.

There's a difference however between exasperation at the pompous, prickly and frequently impossible de Gaulle and acceptance - as a matter of preference - of the claims to legitimacy of the Vichy government.

Bernard at comment #1 talks about the "grander reasons" for the fiction of universal Resistance. Art makes a similar point about the importance of symbolism, and acknowledges the important contribution it can make. But let's be clear that de Gaulle's operation in London was an exercise in the sustained suspension of disbelief. For an American to point this out does not imply a Roosevelt-inspired sympathy for Pétain. I'm sure you wouldn't want to suggest such a thing. From Roosevelt's perspective, obviously the years 1940-44 were eventful, and policy evolved many times during that period. Much effort went into exploring whether a profitable space could be opened up between Vichy and the Germans. But the policy that won through wasn't accommodation but rather invasion and overthrow.

What I'm stating is received opinion of course, and doubtless there'll be a contrarian view, backed by evidence such as the diplomatic niceties you quote.

Anonymous said...

Oh well, if you guys insist on being reasonable and well informed, I have nothing more to say :)

I was just speaking as someone somewhat traumatised because, as soon as I entered internet discussions (including talks on subjects which were absolutely nothing to do with WWII) with US people, I was harrassed, by virtue of my nationality, by accusations of being an antisemitic pro-vichy surrender monkey. It rankled, considering that I wasn't born at the time and that both my parents behaved in a more than honorable manner during WWII.


bert said...

There's a cult of de Gaulle.
There's also a frequently ludicrous cult of Napoleon ("a defeat which gleams with the aura of victory" - Villepin).
In my country there's a cult of Churchill, frequently misused at great cost to our relations with fellow europeans.
And it sounds like you had some American cultists turn their general unpleasantness in your direction.
A bas les cultes!