The crime of Marshal Philippe Pétain, hero of World War I and "national savior" after the fall of France in 1940, was to preside over France's enthusiastic and autonomous contribution to the extermination of European Jews. As head of state of the "free" Vichy government after the Nazi occupation, Pétain directed the French collaboration in the Holocaust. These facts of France's complicity have long been covered by secrecy and censorship, and Pétain has been seen as a benign and humane leader. Mr. Webster sets the record straight, detailing concentration camps in France set up even before the war began; systematic persecution of Jews under a purely French government; the leading role of French police in mass roundups ordered by Pétain. The Marshal was personally involved from the first anti-Semitic legislation of July 1940 up to the deportation of the last trainload of French Jews to the death camps in August 1944. As Mr. Webster shows, ideological anti-Semitism had been part of the French political and philosophical tradition for many years before the fall of France. This disturbing book, a controversial best-seller in Paris, reveals that Pétain's government represented the appalling culmination of a century of persecution.
Paul Webster is the Paris correspondent of the Guardian, a London newspaper. He has also written Saint-Germain-des-Pres, an analysis of French postwar culture, and a novel, Kruger's Gold.