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The De-Judaization of France

The draft Statute on Jews of October 3, 1940, apparently toughened by the hand of Marshal Pétain.

The draft Statute on Jews of October 3, 1940, apparently toughened by the hand of Marshal Pétain.

1,988 words

Translated by Guillaume Durocher

Translator’s Note:

The following extracts are translated from Dominique Venner’s Histoire de la Collaboration (Paris: Gérard Watelet/Pygmalion, 2000), 118-22. The title is editorial.

Before creating something new, to ensure that the old regime is genuinely laid low, one begins by driving out those who represent a potential counter-revolution, the risk of a lapse backwards. A law of August 13, 1940 thus ordered the dissolution of secret societies. It applied to interest groups (Comité des forges[1]) but especially targeted Freemasonry. [. . .]

The case of the Jews is infinitely more serious and painful because of what would be the Nazi policy after 1942. It has been the subject of a large historiography, motivated by the suffering and rancor of the victims, of their families, and of the community as a whole united in misfortune. All has been written on the sources of modern anti-Semitism, born in the Left in the nineteenth century, to which contributed Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Karl Marx, Auguste Blanqui, Gustave Tridon, Auguste Chirac, Alphonse Toussenel, then moving to the Right under the influence of the Christian anti-capitalism of Édouard Drumont and of the Dreyfus affair. Political anti-Semitism would significantly rise in the 1930s following the immigration of many Jews from Central Europe and Germany, and was stoked “by the feeling that France was governed by Jews.”[2] The Left did not escape this phobia. The control of the SFIO socialist party by Léon Blum and his friends, André Blumel, Georges Boris, Jules Moche, awakened a strong undercurrent of anti-Semitism among the socialists themselves. A sentiment which also affected the [centrist] radicals and the communists.[3] It increased further after the defeat, a part of public opinion accusing the Jews, through a Georges Mandel,[4] of having dragged France into the war, and therefore to disaster.

Public Opinion’s Support for the First Emergency Laws

In measuring public opinion after the armistice [with Germany], we have fairly good instruments from autumn 1940 onwards. These are the bimonthly and then weekly summaries drafted in the southern zone by the postal and telephony monitoring services. They were complemented with the reports from the general intelligence services at departmental level.[5] At the end of 1940, even though the concerns of the population were above all down-to-earth, “the reports seem to note a fairly widespread anti-parliamentarism and a pronounced anti-Semitism as much in the southern zone as the northern zone; the first Statute on Jews seems to be strongly supported.” As for the rest, the strongest feeling is that of a “limitless admiration for the Marshal.”[6]

In fact, until the first arrests of Jews in 1942, the French in the two zones did not lend much attention to the anti-Jewish laws enacted by Vichy. The Jewish problem was also not the first concern of the government and would never be so except in times of crisis, when answers to German demands were required. This question was also not a priority for the Resistance. We only rarely find objections against the anti-Jewish legislation in the underground press of the major movements, Combat, Franc-Tireur, Libération, OCM, etc. The subject was also not broached in the memoirs published immediately after the war by the fighters of the Resistance or of Free France.[7]

I have already mentioned the terms of [future resister] Henri Frenay’s Manifesto [excluding Jews from his organization unless they had served France in a war] at the end of 1940. But signs of mistrust towards certain Jewish influences are still discernible in the writings of the Resistance in 1942 and beyond. Thus in June 1942, in the first clandestine Journal of the Civil and Military Organization (OCM), the most important Resistance movement in the occupied zone, one can read at length on the theme: “Why have Jews not been assimilated in France?” This text, which aspired to be a program for the future of liberated France, concludes: “How to Frenchify the Jews? Two principle measures are to be taken: To stop Jewish immigration and, as with other minorities, to disperse the Jews to prevent the persistence of the minority group . . .”[8]

In early 1943, even though they had made the choice of the Resistance, the organizers of the elite school of Uriage, Dunoyer de Ségonzac and Beuve-Méry, in order to ensure the permanence of their action, founded what they called the Order: “It must be made up of members of absolutely certain and real value, giving unequivocal guarantees . . . principally in the spiritual and moral field.” There are then details on the precautions to be taken to preserve the Order’s purity: “To rigorously protect oneself against Freemasons while avoiding at present a hostile attitude towards them. [. . .] In the same way Israelites are not to be admitted as members of the Order, nor as neophytes. If we are resolutely hostile to anti-Semitism, especially as practiced since the armistice, we cannot underestimate the danger of a Jewish revanche or be unaware of the existence of a Jewish international whose interests are opposed to those of France.”[9] [. . .]

Joseph Barthélémy, Minister of Justice between January 1941 and March 1943, [wrote in his Memoirs]: “When the war broke out, the Jews held in France an exaggerated place. One found them so numerous in leading positions that they looked like a ruling race established among a native and inferior population.”[10] This excuses nothing but explains the state of mind of the time.

The Statute on Jews of October 1940

vichy_tfp_patrieb_0_0The law of October 3, 1940 instituting the Statute on Jews was prepared by the cabinet of Raphaël Alibet, Minister of Justice.[11] At his own trial, Xavier Vallat, the first Commissioner-General for Jewish Questions, would explain at length and without restraints on the reasoning of a law meant, in his words, to “defend the French organism against a microbe which would condemn it to a fatal anemia.” He would place the law in the state tradition going back to Saint Louis.[12] He assured that this legislation made a clear distinction between old assimilated Jewish families, as well as veterans of the two wars, and the immigrants who had arrived from Central Europe after 1914. A few days before the promulgation of the Statute on Jews, the French government, through a memo by Paul Baudouin, protested against the German order of September 27 decreeing a whole series of measures against the Jews of the occupied zone. “This memo is very revealing of the initial attitude of the French government on the Jewish question: It deems a statute on Jews to be necessary, but does not want to leave to the Germans the initiative in this area.”[13]

As François-Georges Dreyfus has noted, the law of October 3, 1940 was however inspired by the German order of September 27 in the occupied zone, giving a both racial and religious definition of the Jew: “Are Jewish those persons belonging to the Jewish religion or having more than two Jewish grandparents.” Due to the principle of laïcité, the text of the French law removed the religious reference, keeping only the racial definition: “Is Jewish he who has three Jewish grandparents.”[14] The law banned Jews thus defined from the high civil service, teaching, the press, radio, and cinema, in order to “de-Judaize,” they think, the French spirit.[15] The law of June 2, 1941 would go further. [. . .]

The first law, which was not widely publicized, provoked only one official protest, that of pastor Boegner, president of the Protestant Federation of France. The Catholic episcopate remained silent and did not seem to disapprove. The prefectoral corps also did not seem to show reservations. Jean Moulin, still the prefect of Eure-et-Loir at the time, did not raise an objection. As for the Parisan press, by the pen of Lucien Rebatet and a few others, it was indignant before measures deemed much too modest, accusing Vichy of being a den of hidden Jews . . .

The jurists of the time were no more troubled than the bishops. [. . .] Maurice Duverger [later a Socialist politician], then very young, expressed few reservations on this legislation in 1941 in the Revue de Droit public: “The laws of October 3, 1940 and of June 2, 1941 do not have the character of reprisals, but of measures of public interest.”[16]

But the policy of segregation went up against its own limits. The government would work for example to protect Jewish veterans of 1940. Citing the Geneva Conventions, Ambassador Scapini [responsible for French prisoners of war in Germany] would successfully require that French prisoners of war of Jewish origin would not be separated from their comrades and placed in special camps, as the German authorities had decided.


1. The influential ironworks industry lobby. – GD

2. François-Georges Dreyfus, Histoire de Vichy (Paris: De Fallois, 1998), 76. In addition to this sentiment, there is the idea that a predisposition made Jews “born” opponents of a national revolution, like the Jacobins of 1793 believed that being born an aristocrat predisposed one to fight the Revolution.

3. Revealing of the Communist Party’s anti-Semitism is the fate that its clandestine authorities would reserve during the Resistance to members of the MOI (Foreign Labor), a small but very active Jewish fighting organization, which would be sacrificed by the party. See Stéphane Courtois, Denis Peschanski, and Adam Rayski, Le sang de l’étranger (Paris: Fayard, 1989).

4. Georges Mandel, born Louis Georges Rothschild (apparently unrelated to the banking family), was Minister of the Interior during the early wartime government, arrested Right-wing intellectuals favoring peace and cooperation with Germany, and was opposed to the armistice after the defeat. – GD

5. From département, that is, county level. – GD

6. Denis Peschanski, “Le régime de Vichy a bien existé,” Archives de guerre d’Angelo Tasca (Paris: Éditions du CNRS, 1986), 44.

7. While of course condemning the anti-Jewish persecutions, the fighters generally had little consideration for civilian victims. An attitude which causes a scandal today in a society dominated by the sacralization of the victim. This became apparent during the Papon trial by the reactions to the statements of former Prime Minister Pierre Messmer, hero of Bir Hakeim, testifying before the court of Bordeaux on October 16, 1997: “I would like to also say, whatever the respect that we owe to the victims of the war; and particularly to the innocent victims, these women, these children, these elderly, that I respect even more those who died standing and with arms in hand, because it is to them that we owe our liberation.”

8. Quoted by Henri Noguères. Later deemed anti-Semitic, this text had been drafted by a resister who was himself Jewish, Maxime Blocq-Mascart.

9. Quoted by Antoine Delestre, Uriage: Une école et une communauté dans la tourmente (Nancy University Press, 1989), 201. The Council of the Order, under the leadership of Captain Dunoyer de Ségonzac, was made up of Hubert Beuve-Méry (future founder of the newspaper Le Monde), Gilles Ferry, and Joffre Dumazedier.

10. Joseph Barthélémy, Ministre de la Justice 1941-1943: Mémoires (Gérard Watelet/Pygmalion, 1989), 395. Joseph Barthélémy began writing his memoirs from his leaving the government. He died in detention on May 14, 1945.

11. [. . .] Marshal Pétain himself was alien to the anti-Semitic tradition. At the time of the Dreyfus affair, he had criticized the captain’s sentencing, not believing in his guilt. André Maurois, for whom Pétain had voted during his candidacy to the Académie française in 1938, has testified to his lack of prejudice. André Maurois, Mémoires (Paris: Flammarion, 1970), 309.

12. King Louis IX of France, who had sought to convert the Jews and forced them to wear the rouelle, a yellow circle. – GD

13. Dreyfus, Histoire, 290-91, cites this French memo in full.

14. Persons who both had two Jewish grandparents and were married to a Jew were also defined as Jewish. – GD

15. The October 1940 Statute also stipulated that Jews would be banned from all government offices unless they were veterans, that access to liberal professions (e.g. lawyers) would be limited by quotas to be determined, and that exceptions could generally be made for “Jews who, in the literary, scientific, or artistic fields, have rendered exceptional services to the French State.” – GD

16. Revue du Droit public et de la Science politique (October 1941), 317. In 1988, Maurice Duverger successfully sued the monthly Actuel for defamation for “having suggested that [Duverger] had accepted a political system prescribing emergency measures against Jews and had, ultimately, approved these measures.”


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One Comment

  1. Proofreader
    Posted October 3, 2015 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    Didn’t Ezra Pound remark in the Cantos that when Pétain was defending France, Blum was defending a bidet?

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