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Petain’s Crime

By: Paul Webster (433/35838)
Publisher: Macmillan London ISBN: 0333469135

The crime of Marechal Philippe Petain Great War hero ‘national saviour’ after the Fall of France in 1940, was complicity in the persecution and mass murder of Jews. As Head of State of the ‘free’ Vichy government after the Occupation, he presided over French collaboration in the Holocaust.

The hideous truth of the Nazi death camps is well established, but how much is known about concentration camps in France, set up even before the war began, about the systematic persecution of Jews under a purely French government, or about the leading role of French police in mass round-ups ordered by Petain? Facts like these have long been covered by secrecy and censorship. Petain has been seen as benign and humane leader or as the impotent puppet of his premier, Pierre Laval, and Hitler, and France as without any freedom of action during the Occupation. This book sets the record straight.

In fact, Philippe Petain had more power than any other French leader since napoleon. He had total control over all legislation, treaties, ministerial appointments and the armed forces. After his October 1940 meeting with Hitler, Petain declared: ‘It is me alone whom history will judge.’ As the horrific story unfolds, we learn of his personal guilt from the first anti-Semitic legislation of July 1940 up to the deportation of the last train-load of French Jews to the death camps in August 1944.

The persecution of French Jews was not a historical accident. Ideological anti-Semitism had been part of French political and philosophical tradition for more than seventy years before the Fall of France. Petain was a product of this organised racial hatred; he signed the laws that turned theory into practice. While paying tribute to the thousands of ordinary French people who defied Vichy to save much of the Jewish population, this disturbing work reveals that Petain’s government represented appalling culmination of a century of persecution.

June 2008


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