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PETAIN'S CRIME by Paul Webster

PETAIN'S CRIME

: The Complete Story of French Collaboration in the Holocaust

By Paul Webster

Pub Date: April 14th, 1991
ISBN: 0-929587-55-3
Publisher: Ivan Dee/Rowman & Littlefield

 An informative but superficial expose of the responsibility of Marshal Henri-Philippe Petain and his French subjects for sending thousands of Jews to their death during WW II. British journalist Webster explains that some 76,000 Jews, a quarter of all those in France at the outbreak of WW II, were sent to the concentration camps, many from that part of France not occupied by the Germans, and many at a time when the Germans were more concerned to consolidate their position than root out Jews. Vichy legislation overturned 150 years of tolerance towards French Jews, and was being prepared early in Petain's rule. The Statut des Juifs of 1940 excluded Jews from a wide range of professions, including all elected offices, teaching, and most civil-service appointments. According to Webster, evidence suggests that this was done under German pressure. Moreover, it would have been impossible to carry out the program without the active support of the French police. Webster sees the genesis of that French attitude toward Jews in a hysterical anti-Semitism that reached its height in the late 19th century, but that continued to play a part in political life through WW II. He exposes the callousness of Petain, who was neither the benign leader he was often portrayed to be, nor the impotent puppet of his premier, Pierre Laval. Webster also notes the courage of thousands of Frenchmen (and of some Italians, in that part of France occupied by them) in protecting Jews, often at the risk of their lives; but--just one instance of the book's lack of in-depth insight--he fails to explain properly why these brave souls bucked their governments and countryfolk to save Jews. Well-researched, but pedestrian writing and analysis make for an uninspired chronicle.