Wednesday, February 24, 2010

June 17, 2009 - Vichy, France, a town with a past

On September 3rd, 1939, France declared war on Germany the day after the German invasion of Poland. That done, France then appears to have dusted off its hands in a smug sort of "That'll fix their wagon" way and continued with life as usual, feeling confidently unassailable behind their vaunted Maginot Line. Eight months later however, the Germans attacked, crushed the northern end of the the Maginot Line in Belgium and, within a month, overran France. The Germans chased the quickly diminishing remnants of the French government further and further south until the WWI hero, Marshall Philippe Pétain, who was vice-premier at the time, convinced his colleagues to capitulate. After a quick armistice with the Germans, Pétain went on to negotiate a collaborative puppet government with himself as leader. Another triumph of French ingenuity!
The upsho
t of this was the de-facto dissolution of the Third Republic of France with the country being renamed simply the French State (of Germany, that is). At the same time, the cherished national mantra, Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood), adopted after the Revolution, was replaced with the drab, German approved phrase, Travail, Famille, Patrie (Work, Family, Fatherland).
The Vichy government thus created, was to preside over the 40% of France that was now German territory but was not occupied, and also provide administrative services for the occupied area, only to the extent that there was no conflict with German law. The runaway government had already fled as far as Bordeaux, in the unoccupied (and strategically unimportant) southern 40% of the country, and Vichy was selected as the new seat of authority. Being the second largest city in the Auvergne region and having a large telephone exchange were doubtless factors in this choice.For more than four years, Pétain and the Vichy regime, willfully and quite thoroughly collaborated with the German occupation, including support for eclectic "ethnic cleansing" and the vigorous persecution of the French Resistance. The latter was an overt, if low level, civil war that had festered in one form or another since the Revolution 160 years earlier.As events unfolded, a couple of years into the regime, when the allies began to threaten southern Europe through their invasion of north Africa, Germany brought the rest of France under occupation. Meanwhile, General Charles de Gaulle, universally despised and mistrusted by all the senior Allied leaders, worked first from London and later from North Africa, claiming to represent the legitimate continuance of the real French government in exile. Following the Allies' invasion of France in June, 1944, de Gaulle proclaimed the Provisional Government of the French Republic and installed it in Paris after its liberation, in August of the same year.
The Third Republic was thereby briefly resurrected. Simultaneously, Vichy's officials moved to Sigmaringen in Germany to establis
h their own government in exile which existed until April 1945. Many of the Vichy regime's prominent figures were subsequently tried in France and a number were executed. In all, the Vichy government endured from July 1940 until October 1944.
to a casual observer, the nature, purpose and future of Vichy appear quite clouded. Without a doubt, the city continues to be sadly and unfairly stigmatized by the nature of its role in WWII and, with little industry in the area, appears to be struggling to revive its Hydrotherapy, curative waters mystique that had served it well since the time of the Romans. Changing public mores, burgeoning regulations, improved access to critical information and a grab bag of quack remedies in every corner pharmacy seem likely to push this dream out of reach. More views of this tainted town here.

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