What Did WWII France Do to Save French Jews?

French Jews

There are people who believe that the government of France did little to save French Jews during the Second World War, that France simply let the Nazis stroll in and do as they wished. This belief has even become the butt of crude jokes among some people. Comedian Dennis Miller once stated that France “exerted more of its national will fighting against DisneyWorld and Big Macs than the Nazis.” Author and journalist Eric Zemmour takes issue with such beliefs about France, and claims that the government’s efforts to save French Jews from concentration camps have been greatly misunderstood.

Zemmour’s book is entitled The Suicide of France: The 40 Years That Defeated France. The book is currently one of France’s top sellers, and claims that France’s former government is actually much stronger than today’s. His book claims that a number of French Jews were saved during the Second World War, but that this fact is rarely acknowledged. The reason for this lack of acknowledgement, according to Zemmour, is that this salvation was due to the sacrifice of Jewish immigrants who were living in France at the time.

Philippe Pétain, the Chief of State of Vichy France, is said to have been one of the key figures in developing this strategy. The other was WWII-era Prime Minister Pierre Laval. According to Zemmour’s book, the two of them saved three quarters of all French Jews at the time. The primary reason Zemmour claims their work is often unrecognized is “political correctness.” In other words, Zemmour believes the fact that many prefer not to discuss the topic given that immigrants of Jewish descent may have been compromised in the process of saving Jewish citizens born in France, The Telegraph reports.

Zemmour believes that one book in particular, Robert Paxton’s Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, is responsible for damaging public opinion of the former Vichy regime. Whether or not there is any truth to Zemmour’s own book, it is known that 75,000 French Jews, some of them natural citizens and some of them immigrant refugees, were sent to Nazi concentration camps. Of these thousands of interred citizens and refugees, there were very few survivors.

It is possible that Zemmour is right, that many more French Jews would have been interred if not for the government’s interference. His claims have certainly sparked interest, as his book has replaced ValérieTrierweiler’s book on her relation with President François Hollande on the bestseller list. Whether or not Vichy leaders saved three quarters of French Jews, Zemmour strongly believes that the wartime government of France was much more effective than many believe today.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE