Pétain, Philippe

18 November, 2007
Fontaine Thomas

Pétain was a hero from the World War I battle of Verdun, and a maréchal de France (the highest possible French military distinction, granted to generals). In 1940 he “dedicated himself to France” and founded the new French State in Vichy. He was a committed anti-Communist and anti-parliamentarian; he had supported the Munich agreement before the war, and after France’s defeat he backed an armistice clearing the French military Supreme Command of any responsibility. This 84-year-old new head of State attempted to impose his “National Revolution” on the country, partly through his considerable popularity. Thus, the French republican regime was put on standby. Pétain distanced himself from Pierre Laval, but backed the policy of collaboration with Germany, and met Hitler at Montoire, on October 24, 1940. But he found he had far less room to maneuver after Laval returned to power in April 1942, and the southern zone was invaded in November of that year. Nonetheless, he condoned the radicalization of the regime. The fall of Mussolini in Italy and the imminence of the Allied landing pushed Pétain to a last appeal for independence, and he asked for the National Assembly (parliament) to be assembled in order to write a new Constitution. The Germans refused to allow him to announce this on the public radio, so he began a governmental “strike,” before giving in once more. As the liberation of France drew near, Pétain hoped to remain in power thanks to the Americans, but the Germans left him no choice when they took him to Sigmaringen in August 1944. He considered himself a “prisoner” there and prepared his defense arguments. On August 15, 1945, the French High Court of Justice condemned him to death; the sentence was commuted to life in prison due to his old age. Pétain died in prison, in the Ile d’Yeu fortress in Vendée (M. Ferro, 1987).

Cite this item

Fontaine Thomas, Pétain, Philippe, Mass Violence & Résistance, [online], published on: 18 November, 2007, accessed 17/05/2021, http://bo-k2s.sciences-po.fr/mass-violence-war-massacre-resistance/en/document/petainphilippe, ISSN 1961-9898
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