France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944

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View: no detail some detail full detail. Introduction: Historians and the Occupation. Part I Anticipations. Part IV The Resistance. Epilogue: Remembering the Occupation.

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Since Henry Rousso published his Vichy Syndrome in historians have had to pick their way gingerly between the battle-lines of rival camps. Jackson does this with his usual good judgement, framing the book with the debates of historians at the beginning and the construction of collective memories at the end. Notwithstanding this magnificent achievement, attention should be drawn to one or two shortcomings in this work.

France : the dark years, 1940-1944

First, despite the insistence on complexity, Jackson is reasonably happy with the conventional categories of resistance and collaboration. A little later Jackson concedes that the function of French officials was to serve as mediators between the German authorities and the French people, protecting French sovereignty and French resources as far as possible. This suggests that someone like Moulin cannot be seen as either collaborator or resister and that the old categories may be in want of revision.


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Elsewhere however he suggests that there were no clear rules of conduct under the Occupation, that how French should relate to Germans was governed by codes that were constructed, fluid and negotiable. In the end, however, he decides to hold on to the concept of collaboration as far too useful, wrestling only with problems of definition. It is a pity that this kind of micro-history is not used more readily for the Vichy period. The final question is this: what is there left to say about Vichy and the Occupation?

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In a sense it is all in this book, which will become the standard manual for students and teachers alike. And yet there are other angles and approaches which may yield different results. The picture of the Occupation painted here is very much that of German exploitation and French collaboration. And yet German contracts for ships, planes, locomotives, electrical goods, leather goods and textiles ended the unemployment that had bedevilled France after the defeat and stimulated a boom in the French economy.

FRANCE: The Dark Years, 1940–1944

The importance of French manufacture and manpower for the German war machine inclined the Germans to take account of French opinion. Maybe the German Occupation needs to be seen less as merely exploitation and repression, at least in the early years, and more as a system of negotiation between authorities, reaching compromise where appropriate.

18. The Dark Years: Vichy France

After all, the Germans did need the French to remain on side for both economic and strategic reasons. The role of French authorities and French notables must also be looked at carefully.


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Local notables had a great knack of survival, so long as they trimmed to the regime in power, because no regime - whether Third Republic, Vichy or Fourth Republic - could do without their influence in the localities. This was one of the major factors limiting the extent of purges at the Liberation.