Halls's book opens with a Wagnerian vision of the 1940 defeat. 'Ignominious,' says the English historian, who is usually more cautious in his moral judgments. I should like to point out to my eminent colleague that had it not been for the Channel, the ignominy might well have extended as far as Scotland. But let that pass. This big book is admirably informed and, with that one exception, strictly objective, even in its harshest assessments. Set up in 1940, le mauvais Vichy was quite incapable of solving the problems it was faced with, be they those of French youth or any other kind. The statut des Juifs excluded so-called non-Aryans from holding any teaching post, and this, as we know, was the worst aspect of the Pétain system, its 'original sin'. The anti-semitic wishes of the Germans were not merely granted but even, at first, anticipated by the French authorities. Halls, who is always fair and objective, considers that Carcopino's reforms nevertheless contained certain interesting elements, in that they were a continuation of some of the Popular Front's ideas, and looked forward to post-war changes. Carcopino, a Roman historian, was Minister of National Education until April 1942. He often tried to prevent the worst, but was reproached for a certain laissez-faire with regard to the persecution of the Jews.
LRB 3 December 1981 | PDF Download