Why were the Vichy French considered traitors after WW?

Hi Team, love the show! Why were Vichy French considered traitors after the war? I understand they cooperated with Germany during the war, but what choice did they really have considering Germany was occupying the French government at the time of the war?

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French person here, this is an interesting question and I think I can give some insight.

There are plenty of factors, ranging from the Gaullist line of “we are the real France” to some acts that were indeed arguably treasonous (some government official tried to have the French fleet stand down as the German were invading Toulon in 1942 to capture it). But more to the point of your question, ‘cooperation’ ranges from forced compliance to active collaboration, and the Vichy of 1940-1941 was not the Vichy of 1943-1944.

As stipulated in Armistice termes, the southern half of France was not occupied and remain under the French government control. Most of the population understood that the goverment would be forced to give in on a great many things, if only for the sake of those leaving in the northern zone. But they expected it would get something in return - say, a quick and easy way to see friends and family in the other zone, or the return of some prisonners of war. But though Vichy did say no to the German on some occasions, no clear improvement in the daily life ever happened, and that made every subsequent concession harder to rationalize. Vichy men answered to every objection with “France will be be treated like Poland if we don’t comply”. While this sounds like a defensible argument at first glance, the effect is to discourage any and all attempt to use what little leverage you have to influence the occupier. French people didn’t want national suicide, but they didn’t want a German puppet state either.

Things went further in 1942. Pierre Laval, the already unpopular Vichy prime minister, declared “I wish for a German victory, because if that doesn’t happen, Bolchevism would appear everywhere”, to the dismay of the French who still hoped that Pétain, the hero of Verdun, was secretely planning some form of revenge against Germany. Then the German entered the southern zone, in violation of the Armistice agreements. Had Pétain escaped to North Africa, he would still have statues in France today. But he stayed. A few months later, Vichy caved to a long-standing German demand and forced young men to go work in Germany to build war materials for the Wehrmacht. This lead to an explosive growth of the French Resistance, and by 1944, members of the Vichy government approved the creation of the Milice, a group of right-wing paramilitaries who were fighting the Resistance in the countryside.

No one in France or anywhere else was taking Vichy seriously by that point, and though the Occupation of France was nothing like the Eastern Front, collaborateurs had a lot to answer for.

TL;DR: French people knew the government wasn’t free to act, but expected the goverment to get something in return for further concessions. Instead, Vichy slid ever further into collaboration, even after the German violated the Armistice agreement, all the way down to state-sanctioned repression of Resistance groups.


Thanks so much for the explanation!

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