This week in Jewish history | French collaborationist government passes antisemitic legislation - World Jewish Congress

This week in Jewish history | French collaborationist government passes antisemitic legislation

This week in Jewish history | French collaborationist government passes antisemitic legislation

Deportation of German Jews to France, where Vichy officials would intern them in the Gurs camp (in southwestern France). Gailingen, Germany, October 1940. (c) Yad Vashem

On 3 October 1940, the French collaborationist government passed the first of two antisemitic legislations, closely resembling that of German anti-Jewish decrees and ordinances in the German-occupied zone. 

The first of the two laws, “Statute on Jews,” defined who is a Jew and placed severe restrictions on the jobs that Jews could hold in France, including in the military and government. The second , enacted in June 1941, deprived Jews of the right to work in certain fields, namely, commerce, medicine, law, and education.

The legislation was enacted months after France surrendered to Nazi German forces in June 1940 and the installment of the Vichy regime, a French collaborationist government of Nazi Germany, which was headquartered in the city of Vichy. 

In July 1940, the French National Assembly voted to suspend the constitution of the Third Republic and placed the new Vichy regime under the leadership of Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain, who was a French World War I hero. Pierre Laval was the acting chief of government for most of the period of German occupation.

While in theory, measures of the Vichy government applied to all of France, it was only in unoccupied France that it governed autonomously. Under the leadership of Petain and Laval, the Vichy government followed a nationalistic agenda, replacing the ideals of “liberty, equality, and fraternity” with “work, family, and country.”

In March 1941, the Vichy government created the General Commissariat for Jewish Affairs, a central agency tasked with coordinating anti-Jewish legislation and policy. 

On 16-17 July 1942, French police detained more than 13,000 Jewish men, women, and children in what would become the largest mass arrests in France during World War II.  

Overall, it is estimated that 77,000 Jews living in France perished in concentration camps during the Holocaust, the overwhelming majority of whom were killed in Auschwitz.