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The Collaborator | The Nation

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The Collaborator

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Into this madhouse, in March 1942, came Louis Darquier, to replace the conservative Catholic Xavier Vallat, whom the Nazis and their French soulmates considered too soft. Darquier immediately began to abuse the office, siphoning off funds, sexually exploiting secretaries and trying to use the commission's investigative unit as his own private police force. But he was right at home. Typical of the commission's personnel were Jean Bouvyer, a thug from the prewar right-wing terrorist group the Cagoule who tracked down Jews in hiding, and Georges Montandon, a reputable anthropologist who inspected men and women for physical signs of Jewishness and took large bribes to issue "Certificates of Non-Belonging to the Jewish Race." Darquier himself developed a profitable sideline issuing the same certificates, and amassed a small fortune from this and other corrupt practices. His laziness was legendary; the only significant policy he actually formulated and implemented himself was to oblige all Jews in the occupied zone to wear the yellow Star of David.

About the Author

David A. Bell
David A. Bell, author of The First Total War (Houghton Mifflin), is Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at...

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But by the time Darquier took office, the Final Solution had begun in earnest, and the Germans had serious plans for his commission. Adolf Eichmann demanded that Vichy deport 100,000 Jews to the death camps and, through his French subordinates, put pressure on Vichy to make the arrangements. Darquier found himself in the unfamiliar and unwelcome position of having to take responsibility, along with the police official René Bousquet, who actually organized the deportations. The Germans, believing exaggerated propaganda, thought that the Jewish population in France numbered 865,000. In reality there were only 330,000, and fewer than 100,000 of the non-French refugees whom Vichy hoped to expel first, so the French found it hard to comply with Eichmann's directives.

There followed the sort of bureaucratic chaos and confusion described by Vinen, as the French and the Germans bickered and bargained over numbers, but it had gruesome results. In July 1942, the French police--acting on the authority of the French state, not the Germans--arrested nearly 13,000 Jews in Paris, including more than 4,000 children, and shut them up for days in stifling heat in an indoor bicycle racetrack (the Vélodrome d'Hiver, or Vel' d'Hiv') without water or proper sanitation. The final destination was Auschwitz. Thousands were gassed on arrival, and hardly any survived. Many more arrests and deportations followed. As a result of macabre bureaucratic logic, young children initially exempted were sent to their death later on, when the rules changed. Children born in France, and therefore possessing French citizenship, were separated from their parents. Darquier's chief of staff, Pierre Galien (a Nazi agent), asked to intervene on behalf of a 10-month-old child left parentless by the deportations, replied: "It's a Jew child, let it die." Vinen tells the moving story of a brother and sister, 14 and 10 years old, left to fend for themselves after their parents' disappearance (their landlord coldly insisted that they continue to pay the full rent on their apartment).

Nonetheless, by March 1943 the French had met less than half of Eichmann's target; the Germans were furious with them, and with Darquier in particular. "The result of Darquier de Pellepoix's activity over his past year in office," a German memo concluded, "is nil in all areas." Darquier was continuing to make speeches, to preside over his various clubs and associations and to embezzle money meant for anti-Semitic propaganda efforts, all the while complaining about his workload. He and Myrtle (who remained in Paris with him throughout the war, although technically an enemy alien) remained as disorderly as ever in their private lives, although now in the more luxurious confines of the Hôtel Bristol (as Callil acidly remarks, Darquier was one of very few Frenchmen to gain weight during the war). The Germans tried to dismiss him, but he saved himself for a time by helping to broker the theft and sale of a large private Jewish art collection (in the northern zone alone, Vichy stole more than a billion francs in Jewish property, along with 100,000 artworks, 40,000 of which were never recovered).

Darquier finally lost his job in early 1944, but he remained in France until after D-Day. And then, as the Allied armies approached Paris, he and a French mistress escaped south, walking across the Pyrenees into Spain. The Franco regime welcomed him (along with many other French exiles), gave him an apartment, found him jobs teaching French and translating, and protected him even as a postwar French court condemned him to death in absentia. Later French governments made no serious efforts to uncover his whereabouts, let alone extradite him, and so, like many other prominent French (and German) officials, he paid no price for his wartime activities. He had another daughter by his mistress, but was eventually reunited with Myrtle. In 1978 a journalist from L'Express tracked him down and surreptitiously recorded an interview in which Darquier angrily defended his wartime record, spouted familiar anti-Semitic diatribes and declared that the only thing gassed in Auschwitz was lice. The interview caused a scandal in France and eventually led to the indictment of Bousquet, who had gone on to a brilliant career in business (thanks partly to the protection of François Mitterrand, himself a former extremist and supporter of Pétain who switched sides at a convenient moment). Darquier finally died in August 1980, near Málaga.

While Darquier was hardly an unknown figure, Callil has done a Herculean job of research to give a far closer, richer portrait of his life than we have for almost any figure of his era. Her bibliography lists nearly 100 separate archives in seven countries, more than 100 interviews and countless letters given to her by individuals, including members of the Darquier family in France. Bad Faith is long, and detailed, but in this case the details reveal the devil.

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