H-NET BOOK REVIEW
Published by H-German@h-net.msu.edu (June, 2007)
Richard Vinen. _The Unfree French: Life under the Occupation_. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. 496 pp. Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-300-12132-2.
Reviewed for H-German by Diane N. Labrosse, National Security Archive, George Washington University
France: The Gray Years
In the years since Robert Paxton decisively shattered the official French myths of the Vichy period with the publication of _Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order_ (1972), scholars have nuanced and expanded our understanding of the Vichy regime. A general scholarly consensus prevails on the French origins of the policy of collaboration, the mirage of a "double game" played by the Pétainist state, and the democratic legitimacy of Vichy, which, rather than representing a right-wing coup against the state, was legally created by the vast majority of the members of the French parliament and initially appealed to a large number of French politicians across the political spectrum. Perhaps the most important aspect of this consensus concerns the principal role of the French state and its forces, under the rubric of the "National Revolution" and under the cover of the German occupation, of initiating and implementing the persecution of a host of designated domestic enemies including Gaullists, Communists, Freemasons, and Jews.
Richard Vinen's book is the latest in a long line of post-Paxton monographs on the French response to the occupation and the official state policy of collaboration. Scholars who focus upon the social history of the Vichy period and the daily lives of those who lived under the German occupation tend to soften the hard political dichotomy between resisters and collaborators. Like "resistance," "collaboration" is an elastic term. Official state collaboration differed from the collaboration of fascists and right-wingers who clustered in occupied Paris, the collaboration (or accommodation/adjustment/cohabitation) of those who were forced to billet German troops and endeavored to feed their families during a time of severe scarcity and rationing, the so-called horizontal collaboration of French women who engaged in sexual relations with German soldiers, and so on. Collaboration differed with respect to social class, status, and region. Those in the occupied zone, of course, had an entirely different appreciation of life under the Germans than those who lived in the unoccupied zone, the forbidden zones, or portions of France annexed by Germany. Moreover, just as many who initially supported the French policy of collaboration grew disenchanted with Vichy by the fall of 1940, not every collaborator of late 1940 remained loyal to Vichy for the duration of the regime. The nature of the German presence in France changed after the occupation of the southern zone in November 1942 and the eventual arrival in France of brutalized Nazi forces from the eastern front ...