by Kathryn Hadley
The French council of state, the Conseil d’Etat, recognised, on Monday, the responsibility of the French Vichy government in the deportation of Jews during the German occupation. The ruling is due to be published in the Journal Officiel de la Republique Francaise, the official gazette of the French Republic, thus establishing, for the first time, a legal recognition of France’s role in the deportations.
The council of state recognised the responsibility of the French state in the arrests, internments and transit of Jews and admitted that it had acted independently, and not simply under pressure and force by the German authorities. Between 1942 and 1944, over 75,000 Jews were deported, including 11,000 children; only 3,000 ever returned.
‘Le Conseil d’Etat reconnaît la faute et la responsabilité de l’Etat en raison
des dommages causés par les agissements qui, ne résultant pas d’une contrainte
directe de l’occupant, ont permis ou facilité la déportation à partir de la
France de personnes victimes de persécutions antisémites […] Ces persécutions,
en rupture absolue avec les valeurs et principes, notamment de dignité de la
personne humaine, consacrés par la Déclaration des droits de l’homme et par la
tradition républicaine, ont provoqué des dommages exceptionnels et d’une gravité
The ruling was prompted by a request for compensation to a local Paris tribunal, by the daughter of a deportee for the conditions in which her father died in Auschwitz and for her personal suffering during and after the occupation. The Paris court then referred to the council of state for advice over the liability of the state.
The Conseil d’Etat concluded that decisions regarding individual requests for compensation, which currently represent almost 400 cases, lay with the junior courts. Following a review of the various measures and laws issued since the liberation, it ruled, however, that on a national level the French government’s measures designed for the compensation of the victims of the deportations, both morally and materially, were sufficient. It argued that the state respected European norms for compensation and that no further measures would be issued.
The ruling was allegedly well-accepted by Jewish groups in France. Serge Klarsfeld, a top French lawyer, the president of the association Les fils et les filles des déportes juifs de France and the vice president of the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah, claimed that the ruling was satisfactory and that existing mesures to compensate for the victims of the deportations were also sufficient.
Chirac was the first French president to recognise, in 1995, forty years after the events, the responsibility of the French state in the deportation of Jews in France during the occupation. His statement marked an important stage in the history of French official recognition of some of the darker aspects of its past and sparked other groups, which had also been the victims of various episodes of French history, to issue similar demands for recognition and compensation. For example, the demand for official recognition by the harkis, Algerian nationals who fought on the French side during the Algerian War of Independence, was notably prompted by Chirac’s move, in 1995.
Recognition of some of the past errors of the French state raises, however, a number of issues. Firstly, it has, to a degree sparked a trend towards a ‘victimisation’ of history, which is written by the 'victims' of history, rather than by the victors and 'great' historical figures. Moreover, once such a trend has started it is difficult to then know how to, and be able to, draw the line. Once one 'victim' group has been granted recognition, how does one then justify turning down another group's call for recognition? By arguing that they were not victim enough? Lastly, from a material point of view, demands for recognition often go hand in hand with demands for pecuniary compensation and malheureusement the resources of the French state, or any state, are not endless.
For the full text of the ruling by the Conseil d’Etat, visit their website http://www.conseil-etat.fr/
For more information on Vichy France, read our article Sins of the Fathers
For more information on the harkis and their fight for recognition, read our article Orphans of History