From Citizen to Leper 1940–43

  • Norman C. Tobias


On 10 May 1940, the Germans invaded Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. By 15 May, the German army had pierced the Maginot Line and entered France. The German invasion of France caught Isaac flatfooted at La Guitoune, one of two Isaac vacation homes at Saint-Palais-Sur-Mer (Charente-Inférieure). By 8 June 1940, the German panzers were within 40 miles of Paris. On 10 June, the day the Germans crossed the Seine, the French government departed, first to Tours, thence to Bordeaux. By 14 June, Paris was an occupied city. Two days later, a majority in the Reynaud cabinet voted to request armistice terms, Reynaud resigned as president of the Council and recommended to president of the Republic Lebrun that Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain be invited to form a government. On 22 June 1940, with Pétain at the helm of a new French cabinet, an armistice was signed in Compiègne forest in the very same railway car in which the 1918 armistice had taken place. When the armistice agreement was signed, the consensus view appeared to be that Britain would fall within a matter of weeks and the armistice would give way to a definitive peace settlement under which France would be equal partners with Germany in a new European order. Pending what the French hoped and contemplated would be an early peace settlement, the departments in Alsace and Lorraine that had been German between 1871 and 1918 (Moselle, Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin) were annexed to the Third Reich, the departments of the Nord and Pas-de-Calais placed under Belgian-based German military administration and what remained of France was divided into an occupied and an unoccupied zone divided by a demarcation line. Approximately three-fifths of remaining France north of the Loire valley plus a narrow strip along the Atlantic coast (including St. Palais) were occupied by German troops and administered by a German military governor. France was to defray the costs of this occupation and its forces were to be demobilized. Under the armistice, the French government retained sovereignty over all of France except where its legislation conflicted with German military ordinances in the occupied zone. On 9 July 1940, Parliament, whose sessions had been suspended during the invasion, reconvened at Vichy in the unoccupied southern zone. The following day, a joint session of parliament empowered, as Isaac framed it, “a new government, Pétain at its head, with a Maurras as directeur de conscience,” to draft a new constitution. Travail, famille, patrie replaced the republican trilogy Liberté, égalité, fraternité. “The Third Republic was not killed by the Germans;” writes historian Susan Zuccotti. “it committed suicide. It died because its elected officials did not believe it [the Third Republic Constitution of 1875] worth saving.”

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© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Norman C. Tobias
    • 1
  1. 1.University of TorontoTorontoCanada

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