In 1961, Hannah Arendt went to Jerusalem to cover the trial of Adolf Eichmann. The event held great personal meaning for Arendt: not only did it speak to the philosophic, political and moral issues which she had taken up a decade earlier in The Origins of Totalitarianism, but it was also bound to her own recent past. A German Jew, Arendt had escaped a regime which ultimately killed over four million of her co-religionists and which had been so well and unquestioningly served by Eichmann and countless others like him. Her presence at the trial, Arendt wrote in a letter, was “an obligation I owe to my past.” It was, as she later told Mary McCarthy, a kind of cura posterior, a period of extended personal reflection which forced her to sharpen her philosophical and ethical thinking. The result of her observations on the “man in the glass booth” was a five-article series in The New Yorker in 1963, which was then published in book form under the title Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Arendt’s central thesis was that Eichmann was less the embodiment of pure and radical evil than the personification of the bureaucratic spirit. The book’s notoriety was heightened by its author’s disabused reflections on the legal implications of the trial and the role played in the Final Solution by Jewish leaders, all framed in a prose which, in its deep allergy to cant, was blunt, sometimes tactless but never thoughtless. The study resulted in a firestorm of controversy whose embers remain bright today.
It is unlikely that the same fate awaits Ted Morgan’s book on the Klaus Barbie trial. Although Morgan never invites the comparison, there are some striking parallels between the two authors. Like Arendt, Morgan’s youth was one of flight and exile: born in France, at the age of eight he fled the country with his mother and younger brother after its defeat in 1940. Like Arendt, Morgan adopted the United States as his new home—an act symbolized in rearranging the letters of his French family name De Gramont to create Ted Morgan. And like Arendt, Morgan was very keen, for personal as well as intellectual reasons, on covering the trial of a Nazi functionary. In regard to the latter issues, Morgan notes the historical and moral significance of the event: “The trial raised many vexing issues—those of obedience, of reasons of state, of ends and means, of the occupation of one people by another and the abuse of their human rights, including the right to resist.” But the trial would also help him recover part of his own past: he confesses, somewhat absurdly for someone who was only a child at the time, that “I had missed the occupation years, and in retrospect I had always felt like a deserter.”
Unlike Arendt, however, Morgan does not rise to the task he sets for himself, either as a thinker or historian. As its awkward subtitle suggests, An Uncertain Hour is a book in search of a unifying theme. Bereft of an idée maîtresse, or controlling idea, the book is a motley bundle of historical vignettes, some sharply written and telling, others jumbled and cliche-ridden. Originally an article for the New York Times Magazine, the piece has been expanded in an occasionally slapdash manner and tied together with all sorts of thematic threads. The longest of these “cords” is Vichy France: nearly all the events reported in the book are joined by the fact that they occurred during the four years that France was governed by the regime which took its name from the spa town in which it settled in the late summer of 1940. Morgan takes the historical importance of Vichy as self-evident, and he is right to do so. Historians have come a long way from the observation made more than three decades ago in these very pages by the dean of French historians in the United States, Gordon Wright. Wright observed that “of all the regimes under which modern France has lived . . .the most ephemeral and possibly the least significant” is that of Vichy (VQR, v. 34, 1958, 501). The subsequent research of historians has long since undermined Wright’s assertion. Though it lasted a mere four years, the Vichy regime cannot be considered ephemeral; its impact upon the institutions and politics of France was considerable. Equally important, as the French historian Henry Rousso has recently argued, the French remain under the influence of what he labels “the syndrome of Vichy” and are still wrestling with the ambiguous heritage of this era. As Rousso rightly emphasizes, it is the Vichy regime itself—its birth, career, and the civil war that it sparked—which “has played an essential, if not determining role in France’s difficult reconciliation with her past.”
Moreover, even if Vichy had somehow disappeared below the surface of history without leaving a trace of its existence, it still played for four years a determining role in the life of a nation and its people. Herein lies the moral significance of this period. During this short span of time, France endured a seemingly eternal trial; men, women, and children suddenly found themselves confronted by events and issues which were largely unforeseen and for which they were intellectually and emotionally unprepared. Under the swells of the German tidal wave in the summer of 1940, the institutions of the Third Republic disappeared along with the northern two-thirds of France; in the ensuing riptides, the political, social, and intellectual habits of a lifetime were thrown into question. Overwhelmed by the speed of the events, the French sought meaning, direction, and, perhaps above all else, emotional and material security. The significance of such a situation, in moral as well as historical terms, is obvious. The study of this period tells us not only a good deal about the French both before and after the Second World War, but also much about the human condition. Although it has become old-fashioned and naive to speak about the lessons of history, the historian must be alive to the fact (and Morgan mostly is) that this yet recent experience of the French is capable of reminding all men—and especially Americans, both blessed and burdened by our relatively unscathed past—of the consequences which issue from the denial of fundamental human values. As the historian Richard Cobb has warned, “let us not be deceived into believing, in terms of our fortunate past, that the history of Vichy . . .has nothing to teach us.”
The moral implications of les années noires lay at the core of not only the history of Vichy, but also of its mythology. Though Morgan does not discuss the historiography of Vichy France, it has by now become commonplace to preface any study of the period by recounting the evolution of two opposing myths in postwar France. The first is the Gaullist myth, which depicted France as a nation of resisters, opposed to collaboration from the outset and providing for her own liberation and salvation. This version of events was first sketched out in the Free French broadcasts from London. Following the Allied victory and confronting the imperatives of postwar economic development and social peace, De Gaulle deliberately elaborated upon this myth. Although the reasons why the great majority of the French rallied to this interpretation were nearly as varied as was the political spectrum, the fact is that the myth held sway until the late 1960’s. At that moment, with the events of May 1968, one witnessed the appearance of a second, or counter-myth. It rejected the Gaullist version as a whitewash and, at its most extreme, instead portrayed wartime France as a nation of collaborators and cowards. Best embodied, perhaps, in Marcel Ophul’s documentary film The Sorrow and the Pity, this counter-myth sinned by many of the same excesses as did its nemesis, but had, among its virtues, that of encouraging debate and historical study.
Since the healthy jolt administered by the questioning of the soixante-huitards, great advances have been made in our historical knowledge of Vichy. (That much of the spadework has been done by Anglo-American historians suggests, however, that the French, at least until fairly recently, have remained reluctant to dig very deeply into their own past.) Yet our greater historical familiarity has not always been accompanied by a deepened moral certainty. This is especially the case with the concepts of resistance and collaboration. It is telling, for example, that the standard work on the period, Robert Paxton’s Vichy France, makes use of the concept of “functional collaboration”—by which Paxton means those Frenchmen who “grumbled at the regime without doubting its basic legality or doing anything positive against it,” thus providing “the broad public climate of acceptance that lent legitimacy to a more active participation” by collaborationist groups. A number of American as well as French historians, while acknowledging Paxton’s great scholarship, have questioned the utility of this term, affirming that it carries a heavy charge of subjectivity and moral bias. The British historian Roger Austin has recently commented upon the tendency to analyze political and social behavior uniquely in terms of collaboration and resistance which continues to dog historians of Vichy. These are categories, Austin contends, which are simply too limited and narrow to serve as useful historical constructs and lead to occasionally dubious assertions. For example, just as the historian must not confound acquiescence with collaboration, he must also keep in mind that discontent is not synonymous with resistance. The latter habit can lead to odd claims, such as Jean Vidalenc’s, that the great southern “exodus” of Frenchmen in the summer of 1940 was, in fact, France’s first act of resistance—not to mention the egregious examples of those Parisians whose sole claim to resistance was based on giving wrong street directions to bewildered German soldiers.
An example from my own research on Vichy may, in this regard, help underscore the resistance of life to such categorizations. In mid-1941 police officials in the southern city of Nîmes reported that a young secretary at the local office for Nestle milk, Yvonne Gaussen, was having an affair with an officer from the German Armistice commission stationed in town. Her father, who was a grand mutilé (wounded veteran) of WWI and considered to be a “good patriot,” would never have tolerated such a relationship and was thus kept in the dark by his otherwise dutiful daughter. A guard at the city’s museum of national history, he remained unaware of his daughter’s liaison. It was only due to the young Gaussen’s frequent trips to Lyon, where the commission was permanently located, that the curiosity of the police was sparked. The official in charge of the investigation concluded that it seemed to be nothing more than a “sentimental liaison.”
Three years later, the departmental prefect reported that a certain Francois Paul Gaussen had been executed in the neighboring city of Montpellier. Called up by the forced labor draft (the service du travail obligatoire), which sent tens of thousands of young French men and women to German factories and farms, Gaussen had fled Nîmes for the adjoining department of the Lozère, where he found work on an isolated farm. Found and arrested by the German police, he was brought to Montpellier and eventually shot by a firing squad. The prefect asked the police commissioner to contact the boy’s family, and added that the German pastor at the execution assured him that the young Gaussen had received last communion. The family’s address given by the prefect was the same as that of Yvonne’s.
The story of the Gaussens underlines the poverty of concepts like collaboration and resistance—if not the insufficiency of words in general—to depict the maddening ambiguities and great tragedies of this period. Was Yvonne—a young, serious, and responsible woman—a collaborator, horizontal or otherwise? Was her brother, having left Nimes to escape the labor draft, a resister? How did their father, this wounded veteran and good Frenchman, react to the news about his daughter and his son? How, in fact, is a “good patriot” supposed to react? Did he “lose” a daughter in addition to his son? It would be interesting to know the young girl’s fate—as it would be to learn if and how the young boy’s death has been remembered and commemorated.
Clearly, the historical reality of the Vichy years is too complex to permit the casual pasting of the labels “collaboration” and “resistance” on the behavior of the French. Yet the historian is condemned to use these terms, both because they were used by the actors themselves and because, for better or worse, they remain valid, if potentially misleading, descriptions to certain aspects of this same historical reality. In employing them, however, the historian must not forget that, like a poorly-made ready-to-wear garment, they awkwardly clothe their subjects. There are clear limitations, in the realm of history, to the explanatory power of concepts and definitions. In the end, the historian can only confess his human limitations and declare his good will. As Stephen Jay Gould has remarked, objectivity “is not the erasure of emotions, but a firm recognition of their inevitable role and presence.”
It is to Morgan’s credit that he does not pretend to the kind of specious objectivity rejected by Gould. He does not hesitate to weave his own personal recollections into the historical quilt of Vichy France; as he writes, war is never over, “not for the victims and their families, and not for a nation’s collective memory, which is sometimes known as history. I can myself remember certain things. . . .” It is not surprising that these memories are among the most affecting passages in the book. The manner, for example, in which Morgan laces his recollections of his father, a brave and patriotic man who was a pilot with the Free French, in the wider tale of a France quickly imploding under the pressure of the German blitzkrieg, is quite effective and moving. This is especially true of the curt and unsentimental fashion in which he recounts his father’s death during an attempted landing in the fog-bound English countryside: “The forced landing in the countryside killed him. He was buried in the Catholic section of the Fakenham cemetery outside London. Over and out.”
But once Morgan leaves France for the United States with his mother and younger brother (who, at the ripe age of four and dressed in a sailor suit, was roundly slapped by their mother for shouting at the top of his voice “Sales boches! Sales boches” at a passing contingent of German soldiers in a small Basque town), he is obliged to become the teller of other people’s stories. It is at this point that his narrative becomes more problematic. By now, the story of the French and of those who had depended upon their humanity during the years of defeat and occupation has been told often and in diverse ways. Yet it is a story which cannot be told too often: as I write, the Front National, a racist and crypto-fascist political party, enjoys substantial electoral support in France and is held responsible, if only morally, for the recent and unspeakable desecration of the Jewish cemetery in the southern town of Carpentras, The propensity of history to, if not exactly repeat itself, at least perform variations on the same theme, places a great burden upon those who earn their living from the study of the past. Thus the immediacy of the famous couplet from Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner with which Morgan prefaces his book (and which provides his title): “Since then, at an uncertain hour/That agony returns/And till my ghastly tale is told/This heart within me burns.” The reviewer must thus ask whether Morgan’s work succeeds in carrying out the ancient mariner’s imperative. The answer is yes, but with some important reservations.
It is interesting that the same couplet from Coleridge prefaces Primo Levi’s last book, The Drowned and the Saved. Published a short time before his suicide, the book is a subtle and pellucid examination of the nature of, in Levi’s phrase, the “anus mundi, the ultimate drainage site of the Nazi universe,” Auschwitz. Levi’s work is both autobiographical and historical, intensely personal and broadly philosophical. Like Arendt, Levi had a horror of cant and verbiage; he aims to tell his ghastly tale in as austere a language as possible. How else, after all, could the enormity of the Nazi enterprise be conveyed? In what other way, in the effort to describe the indescribable, could one defeat the inadequacy of language except by adopting a style which accepts these limits and turns them to its advantage? The very ghastliness of the event demands a simple, nearly clinical prose. The reader has the impression that Morgan strives to tell the tales of the deported Jews in a similar manner; that, like Levi, he wishes to deal in what one literary critic has called the rhetoric of antirhetoric. Unfortunately, Morgan rarely succeeds. Seeking an austerity of expression, he instead often finds a pedestrian prose; he has the journalistic tendency to pass off platitudes for truths and cliches for insights. Thus, for example, in his description of the arrival of three thousand Jewish children at Drancy, the French clearing house for the death camps, he writes: “They were hostages to the gods of darkness, but where was the God of children? He was not in strict attendance.” The pathos of the event buckles under the weight of such egregious rhetorical flourishes. Moreover, the focus upon the children—whose lot Morgan elsewhere ably describes—is understandable, but both morally and historically misleading. As the French thinker Alain Finkielkraut has argued, the phrase “genocide of children” obscures the nature of the Final Solution: the Nazis sought the destruction of a people and not just children, a negation of a “race” and not merely adolescents. To lose sight of this, even be it for commendable and heartfelt reasons, is to risk losing sight of the logic of the Holocaust.
It ought to be noted, however, that Morgan’s rhythm becomes more effective when he resists comment and rhetorical glosses. The book contains a number of sections of great force and poignancy in which Morgan has the good sense to paraphrase or simply quote these witnesses. For example, in relating the observations of a French prisoner at Buchenwald, Morgan reflects upon work in the camp’s munitions plant: “It didn’t take much to end up at the end of a rope. Look at the Russian who pissed in the tails of the torpedoes to short-circuit them, Troussier thought. When you worked in this great cavern with thousands of others, you realized how the pyramids had been built—like anthills.”
This passage, like so many others in the book, is based upon the experiences of those deported Frenchmen, Jews and Gentiles alike, whose paths crossed that of Klaus Barbie’s and who testified at his trial. In fact, the shadow cast by Barbie over numerous lives is one of the narrative tricks used by Morgan in his attempt to master the jumble of historical events. At times, however, Morgan strains to stretch the shadow longer than history will permit it to be thrown. For example, he peppers his narrative with an episode from the lives of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Having fled their apartment in Paris for the Unoccupied Zone, the two women eventually settled in Aix-les-Bains. Morgan tells us that they kept a goat named Bizerte and that “Miss Stein walked the goat and the goat ate flowers.” We also learn that what “Miss Stein missed most was dental floss.” The point of these and similar revelations, written in a style which borders on a caricature of Hemingway, is hard to fathom. Perhaps it is to underscore the prosaic side to war and occupation; but if that were the case, Morgan would have done better to choose a more representative couple. As for the Barbie connection, it is very tenuous: it was rumored that the Lyon Gestapo had been planning a raid in the area. As it turned out, the rumor was unfounded—and so, too, is the justification for including such a vignette in the narrative.
More generally, Morgan makes use of tired or clunky transitional phrases which seem to betray impatience with converting a piece of journalism into a book-length study. “When we last saw Jean Moulin. . . .” “As I said, it was a busy year for Klaus Barbie. . . .” “A cornered animal is at its most dangerous, and in 1944 Germany was cornered.” At yet other times, there is no apparent rhyme or reason to the movement from one vignette to the next. For example, on page 309 Morgan depicts the discovery of a mass grave of SS victims at Lyon’s airport following the city’s liberation in September 1944. Without a pause, he then pivots and tells the reader about the day four years before when Edouard Herriot discovered he had been removed from his post as mayor of Lyon. We learn that Herriot first heard the news from his “faithful maid,” but not why Morgan decided to juxtapose these two events. No less confusing, at least for this reader, were some of Morgan’s attempts to enter the minds of his characters. Thus, on page 228 we are suddenly made privy to the thoughts of the resistance leader and martyr Jean Moulin as he makes his way to a fateful rendezvous in Lyon. The reflections are made largely of opaque references and dropped names which Moulin, in the privacy of his thoughts, need not gloss, but which Morgan, as an historian, should. The innocent reader, for example, may well wonder who this fellow “Cordier” is that pops up in Moulin’s thoughts. Eavesdropping on Moulin’s recollections, we learn that he, Cordier, boasted that he always carries a toothbrush: “If they arrest me I can at least brush my teeth.” This is the sole reference to Daniel Cordier, which is no small matter. Cordier was one of Moulin’s most trusted subordinates and, at about the same time as the appearance of Morgan’s book, published the first volume of a massive biography of Moulin which has sparked a tremendous controversy in France among historians and veterans of the resistance.
Beyond the question of style, of course, are the more important issues of historical comprehension and analysis. In an important sense, however, the distinction made between style and understanding is a specious one. This is made manifest in Morgan’s treatment of Barbie. The proximate, if not unique, cause for Morgan’s book was Barbie’s arrest and trial. Yet he never seriously weighs the historic and moral responsibility of the Gestapo officer. He recounts his activities as Gestapo chief in Lyon and conscientiously, at times movingly, depicts the experiences of many of Barbie’s victims. Yet he does not discuss at any length the nature of the Nuremberg laws (upon which the French law under which Barbie was tried was based) or the concept of crimes against humanity. Morgan is content to narrate Barbie’s activities in Lyon and leave the more recondite legal and historical questions to others. This is an approach which can be effective. In the case of the present book, however, Barbie ultimately sinks beneath the welter of vignettes and stories introduced, but barely controlled, by the author. The narrative, in short, overwhelms the Nazi functionary, and the reader is left to conclude that Barbie is unworthy of extended historical treatment.
This makes for an odd effect since Morgan announces the importance of the SS officer at the very outset of his book: “Barbie was an underling, but the trial raised many vexing issues. . . .” “But” is a thoughtless choice of prepositions: it is precisely because Barbie was a subordinate that these vexing questions were raised and that the trial ought to have served an exemplary purpose. This, after all, was the raison d’être of the Nuremberg trials: to codify the uncodifiable, a crime which, as Arendt pointed out, could be neither forgiven nor punished: the essence of crimes against humanity. In the course of his narrative Morgan depicts the several acts committed by Barbie which qualified for this ultimate juridical sanction. Yet he never seriously takes up the questions he himself proposes and instead is content to label Barbie a “hired hand;” a “henchman, interchangeable with so many others who blindly followed criminal orders.” An “evil man,” in short. This is fine as far as it goes; the problem is that it does not go very far. The reader, when confronted by the brute fact of the Holocaust—and perhaps already familiar with the work of Arendt, Levi, Robert Jay Lifton, Bruno Bettleheim, and the many others who have tried to think about the unthinkable—already knows that Barbie was a nasty piece of work, an “evil man.” Yet the reader expects to be told more. What is meant by the term “evil”? Is it, as Morgan seems to assume, a simple and unchanging attribute? Or is it more complex than that—at once more radical and more banal? The French thinker Renouvier wrote that “life can concern the thinker only as he seeks to resolve the problem of evil.” Morgan does not do more than offer some pieces to the puzzle.
But we may be expecting too much from An Uncertain Hour. It is possible that we are reviewing a book different from the one that was written—a book which pretends to offer nothing more than a popular history of Vichy France. Even at this level, however, it occasionally falls short of the mark. Morgan is sensitive to the ambiguities of the period, and his portraits of the various characters are often balanced and subtle. Yet his profiles sometimes collapse into caricatures or are based upon dubious historical claims. For example, in his discussion of Marcel Déat, the leader of the Fascist and collaborationist Rassemblement National Populaire, Morgan depicts a “rodent-like creature with bad teeth and pouchy eyes” who was driven by a “hunger for political power.” He fails to mention, however, that Déat had been one of the “young Turks” in the French Socialist Party in the early 3O’s and was considered to be a thinker and politician of great promise. His trajectory toward fascism was due not just to his facial features or will to power, but to the intellectual effort to “go beyond” or revise the Marxist critique of capitalism. Morgan skews his portrait of Déat by ignoring this important source to French fascism (a controversial theme which has been examined exhaustively by the historian Zeev Sternhell in his Ni Droite, ni gauche: L’idéologie fasciste en France). Similarly, his treatment of another native French Fascist, Jacques Doriot, is misleading in at least one crucial respect. Like Déat, Doriot swung from the extreme left—in his case, the Communist Party—to the extreme right, establishing the fascist Parti Populaire Français in the mid-30’s. Morgan asserts that the movement was “not so popular”—a facile play on words which belies the fact that the PPF’s appeal was great enough to serve as one of the catalysts for the creation of the Popular Front in 1934. Moreover, Doriot’s popularity was such that, even after he had been excommunicated and anathematized by the Communist leadership, he won the mayor’s office of the working class and “red” city of Saint Denis in a landslide vote in 1936.
The portraits of the some of the more significant French actors are no less open to question. For example, Morgan asserts that Marshal Philippe Petain, the octogenarian hero of Verdun who was named head of state in 1940, was not criticized by public opinion for either his notorious meeting with Hitler at the small French railway station of Montoire in October 1940, or for his subsequent speech which affirmed that he had decided to “enter in the path of collaboration.” Morgan is apparently unaware that the speech of October 30 which carried this infamous message was, in fact, motivated by the public’s skepticism and concern over the meeting and its possible implications. The recent work of a number of historians reveals that there was a striking lack of public confidence in the marshal’s meeting and words. This is confirmed not just by police reports, but also by a muzzled press which, in the wake of the meeting and speech, sought to disguise this widespread unease by “doth protesting too much” the popularity and confidence inspired by Petain.
As for Morgan’s portrayal of Pierre Laval, there is a good deal of welcome nuance. Twice chief minister to Petain and the true center of power in the regime, especially after 1942 and the German occupation of the so-called “free zone” in southern France, Laval is by far the most ambiguous and controversial of all the figures vomited up by France’s defeat. Morgan rejects a simplistic presentation of a man who, in the popular imagination even today, remains the villain of the drama of Vichy. The author argues for the complexity of Laval’s character and actions, and there certainly is room for honest historians to disagree as to whether, in Morgan’s opinion, there was “nothing low about Laval’s motives” or, as others contend, he was a man driven by a thirst for revenge over those politicians and institutions which had denied him political power after 1935. Moreover, Morgan has a sharp eye for the consequences of Laval’s conceit that he could hoodwink the Germans. He is aware of the shattering moral consequences of such a politic (his narrative in this regard would have benefited from Stanley Hoffmann’s distinction between collaboration and collaborationism) and accurately sums up Laval’s method by writing that he “was no less a courtier for trying to dupe [the Germans].”
Undoubtedly the grimmest aspect to Laval’s Mephis-tophelian bargaining was the treatment of the Jewish question. It is a little-known but notorious fact that the France of Vichy was the sole country among all of those defeated and occupied by Nazi Germany which adopted indigenous anti-Semitic policies. Mere months after her defeat, France had succeeded in erecting a broad set of anti-Semitic legislation which imposed crippling civil and economic disabilities upon her Jewish citizens. Moreover, Vichy undertook a census of all native Jews and stamped the words “Juif” or “Juive” on their food ration cards, which facilitated the subsequent roundups and deportations in which French police officials actively cooperated with their German analogues. The foreign Jews who had fled the Nazi tide from 1933 to 1940 and had found asylum in France were dumped into a battery of unspeakably squalid and disease-ridden concentration camps from which the great majority were eventually deported to the death camps in the east. These Jewish refugees, it needs to be noted, were arrested in not just the German-occupied zone, but in the Unoccupied Zone as well. France thus shares the unique distinction, along with Bulgaria, to have been the only country which willingly surrendered Jews to the Nazis in those areas not under the direct military control of the latter. All in all, approximately 75,000 Jews, roughly a third of whom were French citizens, were sent to the death camps. About 2 percent, or some 2,500, survived.
Morgan makes good use of the testimony of those survivors who were given the chance to confront Barbie and tell their tales in the courtroom in Lyon. Their testimony was transcribed in the “instruction” file of the trial—a massive document containing 10,000 pages of depositions and documents. Although the file was secret, Morgan managed to get his hands on a copy and base the greater part of his book on it. It is a pity, however, that the author, either writing under deadline or overwhelmed by the size of the “instruction” file, did not read widely in the secondary sources. There are some astonishing gaps in his bibliography: neither Michael Marrus and Robert Paxton’s Vichy France and the Jews nor the path-breaking works on Vichy by Stanley Hoffmann, collected in his Decline or Renewal? France since the 1930s, is listed. As for French works, Morgan apparently did not make use of Jacques Duquesne’s classic Les Catholiques français sous l’occupation or Xavier de Montclos’ Eglises et chrétiens dans la deuxième guerre mondiale—two works which are standard references for the behavior of the churches under Vichy. Familiarity with these and similar studies would have, for example, prompted Morgan to give greater weight to the role played by the Protestant churches in protesting the regime’s policies and in saving thousands of Jewish lives. It would also have obliged him to render more accurately the ambivalence felt by the Catholic Church vis-a-vis Vichy and underscore, apart from a handful of men, the shameful silence and inaction of many of its most powerful officials in the wake of the Jewish persecutions.
Some of the Church’s martyrs also get short shrift in Morgan’s account. For example, in his description of the massacre of French resistance fighters at Vercors, Morgan refers a couple of times to one of the victims, the Père de Montcheuil. What the reader ought to be told is that Yves de Montcheuil was not just the chaplain to the Vercors maquis, but also one of the great figures of France’s spiritual resistance to the Nazis and Vichy, a man who as a theologian and résistant sought to marry his religious convictions to worldly action. In one of his texts, de Montcheuil wrote that “one does not have the right to tolerate injustice done to others when one can change it. The refusal to struggle against injustice makes us its accomplices.” If there is a lesson to be drawn from the experience of Vichy France, this is probably it. To the degree that Ted Morgan’s book reminds of this lesson, then it will have, despite its flaws, served an important purpose.