How a Jewish Movement Managed to Thrive Under the Antisemitic Vichy Regime

To understand the Pétain government's inexplicable support for the continued activities of the Jewish Scouts during World War II, we must abandon our stereotypical views of the Holocaust in France

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Jewish Scouts, under the leadership of Robert Gamzon, helping to liberate the city of Castres in 1944.
Jewish Scouts, under the leadership of Robert Gamzon, helping to liberate the city of Castres in 1944. Credit:
Alain Michel
Alain Michel

For 40 years and more, many historians have taken a somewhat simplistic approach to the history of the Holocaust in France. On one side are the Nazis and the so-called “Vichy government” under Marshall Philippe Pétain, who were joined by the French citizens who were collaborators and informers. All of them, by this school of thought, ostensibly operated under an overarching antisemitism whose chief goal, following the advent of the Pétain government and of the German occupation, in June 1940, was the physical annihilation of the Jews. On the other side of the divide, according to this approach, were the “good French” – a reference to the churches, French Righteous Among the Nations and the Resistance fighters, including the “Gaullists” in London, who tried to mobilize and take action in order to save the Jews from the Final Solution.

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