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What Was Vichy France?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The term “Vichy France” reflects a period in French history which many historians view as both dark and unfortunate. It refers to a wartime government based in the city of Vichy, south of Paris. The government lasted from July 1940 to 1944, when the Allied liberation took place. Many leaders in the Vichy government continued to be powerful after the German takeover in 1942, and the period of Vichy governance in France was later extensively criticized.

The roots of Vichy France can be found in the initial German invasion of France, in 1940. Within a very short period of time, the French realized that they could not combat the invading German forces, and ultimately an armistice agreement between the two nations was reached. Under the terms of the armistice, the Germans fully occupied the Northern Region of France, leaving the French government to administer the Southern region of France.

In 1940, the National Assembly voted to offer unprecedented powers to Marshal Pétain. The circumstances of this vote may not have been entirely legal, but the end result was the establishment of Vichy France, which was in theory a government which was independent from the Germans. History suggests otherwise, however, as it is clear that the Vichy government reached multiple agreements with Hitler, and that it participated in Nazi activities in both Northern and Southern France. The government was essentially forced to do so, as it was clear that Germany would quickly dominate France otherwise.

Vichy France called itself L'État Français “the French state,” to separate itself from the Third Republic. The government also abandoned the traditional French motto of “Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood” in favor of “Work, Family, Country.” Within France, the Vichy government was opposed both by extremist partisans seeking a fascist state and people like Charles de Gaulle, who wanted to restore the French Republic.

Cooperation between Nazi Germany and the Vichy regime may have been quite extensive. In 1942, Vichy France was technically dissolved, as Germany took over the entire nation of France, but it is clear that remnants of the Vichy government and its officials continued to hold power in France. After liberation in 1944, France responded with a groundswell of anger against “collaborators,” resulting in executions, public humiliation, and general social chaos. A provisional government was quickly established, ultimately trying members of the Vichy regime and establishing a new, permanent government for France.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon305161 — On Nov 24, 2012

I think it is curious that the article refers to the "The Third Reich" as the "Third Republic".

By Proxy414 — On Jan 25, 2011

The Germans were cunning in their setting up of the puppet Vichy state. They were allowing the French to feel autonomous, when in fact it was a puppet government. They also allowed for France to take the blame for its own faults, by creating an illusory government that was separate from Germany itself. The French fell prey to German flattery.

By Qohe1et — On Jan 23, 2011

The Nazis treated Western Europe better than Eastern Europe because they believed it to be more racially pure. Hitler even thought that England would eventually see the light and join his cause, not to mention the very Germanic America. It should have come as no surprise to him that the world turned on him, his rousing German rhetoric could not reach beyond linguistic barriers.

By TrogJoe19 — On Jan 21, 2011

After failure and vacillation on the part of England to come to the aid of France, and Englands ignorance of the real threat posed by Hitler (or intentional blindness to it), we should understand that the fault was not really with France for capitulating to the Nazis. France's allies had basically abandoned her, along with Slovakia, which had fallen previously. While it is horrible what Vichy France chose to do, we in the English speaking world should realize that the fault was also with us.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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