On this day: The Nazis Forcibly Restore Pierre Laval to Office in Vichy, France le 3 Février 1941
The most shameful period of French history was that of the Vichy Government in World War II, and the most shameful figure in that sordid government was Pierre Laval.
Laval was a French politician who was three times Prime Minister of France, the final time being under the Vichy government. Pierre Laval is remembered in France as a despicable traitor.
He was born on le 28 juin 1883 in Châteldon in the Puy-de-Dôme département of the Auvergne region. After earning a law degree, he worked as a lawyer, in Paris from 1907. He was elected as a Socialist to the Chamber of Deputies in 1903. He did not serve in World War I but the period saw a change to his politics as he moved away from Socialism. After losing the first post-war election to the Chamber of Deputies, he was elected mayor of Aubervilliers in 1924. He left the Socialist party and was elected to the French Senate in 1927.
Laval was a prominent figure in the 1930s governments. He was frequently in cabinet and was Prime Minister from le 27 janvier 1931 à le 6 février 1932. He became Prime Minister again on le 7 juin 1935.
In octobre 1935 with the British foreign minister, Samuel Hoare, Laval proposed a solution to the Abyssinia (Ethiopia)crisis precipitated by Mussolini's plans to annex it. Leaked to the media in décembre, the realpolitik Hoare-Laval Pact was widely denounced as an appeasement to Benito Mussolini and Laval was forced to resign on le 22 janvier 1936.
Out of politics, Laval returned to his business career, but soon had major political influence after he assembled an extensive media empire through acquisitions of newspapers and radio. The victory of the Front Populaire in 1936 meant that Laval had a left-wing government as a target for his media. Following the German occupation, his publications and broadcasts outlets played a prominent part in forcing out the existing government and then supporting the new government of Philippe Pétain. On le 12 juillet 1940 Laval became vice-premier and named Fernand de Brinon to lead negotiations with the Germans.
Laval was enthusiastically pro-Nazi; his demands for a Franco-German military alliance led to him being sacked from the government and arrested on le 13 décembre 1940. The German ambassador in France, Otto Abetz, had Laval freed and moved to Paris and then returned to office on le 3 février 1941. He was injured in an attempted assassination on le 27 août 1941 at a Légion des Volontaires Français review but recovered and was recalled into the Vichy government on le 18 avril 1942. This time he became Prime Minister and succeeded Admiral François Darlan as the leading figure in the regime after Pétain himself. Laval was largely blamed for the increase in anti-Jewish activities and the decision to send French workers to Germany through la Relève and later the Service du Travail Obligatoire which forced the French to work for the Nazis. La Relève was a deal Laval negotiated with the Nazis where one French POW would be returned to France for every three French workers who "volunteered" to work in Allemagne. The program was a failure because word of the conditions in Germany seeped back to France. The Service du Travail Obligatoire replaced la Relève. The Vichy Milice, the wartime secret police was Laval's creation in janvier 1943. The Milice enforced the Service du Travail Obligatoire and were widely hated by patriotic French.
Following the Allied invasion of France, the government moved from Vichy to Belfort and then to Germany and Sigmaringen in août 1944. In mai 1945, with the collapse of the Nazi government in Germany, Laval fled. He first went to Spain but was deported by Franco and ended up in Austria where he was given over to American forces. On le 30 juillet 1945 he was handed over to the new French government. Charged with treason and violating state security, Laval was tried and after being found guilty despite vigorously defending himself in the first part of his trial, was sentenced to death. After a failed attempt at suicide (the cyanide had lost its full potency), he was executed by firing squad at Fresnes prison, near Paris, half-unconscious and vomiting on le 15 octobre 1945, a fitting end for this traître.
Dr. Seuss Goes to War: World War Il Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel