|Chief of the Government|
18 April 1942 – 20 August 1944
|Chief of the State||Philippe Pétain|
|Preceded by||Philippe Pétain|
(President of the Council of Ministers)
|Succeeded by||Charles de Gaulle|
(Chairman of the Provisional Government of the Republic)
|Vice President of the Council of Ministers|
Acting Head of the Government
11 July 1940 – 13 December 1940
|Prime Minister||Philippe Pétain|
|Preceded by||Philippe Pétain|
|Succeeded by||Pierre Étienne Flandin|
|President of the Council of Ministers|
7 June 1935 – 24 January 1936
|Preceded by||Fernand Bouisson|
|Succeeded by||Albert Sarraut|
27 January 1931 – 20 February 1932
|Preceded by||Théodore Steeg|
|Succeeded by||André Tardieu|
|Born||28 June 1883|
|Died||15 October 1945 (aged 62)|
|Cause of death||Execution by firing squad|
|Resting place||Montparnasse Cemetery|
|Political party||Socialist (1914–23)|
Pierre Jean Marie Laval (French pronunciation: [pjɛʁ laval]; 28 June 1883 – 15 October 1945) was a French politician. During the time of the Third Republic, he served as Prime Minister of France from 27 January 1931 to 20 February 1932, and a second time from 7 June 1935 to 24 January 1936.
A socialist early in his life, Laval became a lawyer in 1909 and was famous for his defense of strikers, trade unionists and leftists against government prosecution. In 1914, he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies as a member of the Socialist Party, and remained committed to his pacifist convictions during the First World War. Following his defeat in the 1919 election, Laval left the Socialist Party and became mayor of Aubervilliers. In 1924 he returned to the Chamber as an independent, and was elected to the Senate three years later. He also held a series of governmental positions, including Minister of Public Works, Minister of Justice and Minister of Labour. In 1931, Laval became Prime Minister of France, but his government fell only a year later.
Laval joined the right-wing government of Gaston Doumergue in 1934, serving as Minister of the Colonies and then Foreign Minister. In 1935, he again became Prime Minister. Seeking to contain Germany, Laval pursued foreign policies favourable to Italy and the Soviet Union, but his handling of the Abyssinia Crisis—widely denounced as appeasement of Benito Mussolini—prompted his resignation in 1936. Following France's defeat and armistice with Germany in 1940, Laval served in prominent roles in Philippe Pétain's Vichy Regime, first as the vice-president of the Council of Ministers from July 1940 to December 1940, and later as the head of government from April 1942 to August 1944. The collaborationist government provided French labourers for Germany, and organized the deportation of Jews who did not have French citizenship.
After the liberation of France in 1944, Laval was imprisoned by the Germans. In April 1945 he fled to Spain but soon returned to France, where he was arrested by the French government under General Charles de Gaulle. After what has been described as a flawed trial, Laval was found guilty of plotting against the security of the State and collaboration with the enemy, and after a thwarted suicide attempt, he was executed by firing squad in October 1945. Laval's manifold political activities left a complicated and controversial legacy, resulting in more than a dozen conflicting biographies of him.
Pierre Jean Marie Laval was born on 28 June 1883 in Châteldon, near Vichy in the northern part of Auvergne, the son of Gilbert Laval and Claudine Tournaire. His father worked as a café proprietor and postman. The family was comfortably off compared to the rest of the village: the café also served as a hostel and a butcher's shop, and Gilbert Laval owned a vineyard and horses. The last name "Laval" was widespread in the region at that time. The family branch was commonly named Laval-Tournaire, and his father had himself called "Baptiste Moulin".
Laval was educated at the village school in Châteldon. At age 15, he was sent to the lycée Saint-Louis in Paris where he obtained his baccalauréat in July 1901. He then continued his studies in Southwestern France, in Bordeaux and Bayonne, where he learnt Spanish and met Pierre Cathala. Returning to Lyon, he spent the next year reading for a degree in zoology and served as a supervisor in various collèges and lycées of Lyon, Saint-Étienne and Autun to pay for his studies.
Laval joined the socialist Central Revolutionary Committee in 1903, while he was living in Saint-Étienne, 55 km (34 mi) southwest of Lyon. During this period, Laval became familiar with the left-wing doctrines of Georges Sorel and Hubert Lagardelle. "I was never a very orthodox socialist", he declared more than forty years later in 1945, "by which I mean that I was never much of a Marxist. My socialism was much more a socialism of the heart than a doctrinal socialism ... I was much more interested in men, their jobs, their misfortunes and their conflicts than in the digressions of the great German pontiff."
In 1903, he was called up for military service and, after serving in the ranks, was discharged for varicose veins. Laval returned to Paris in 1907 at the age of 24. In April 1913 he said that "barrack-based armies [were] incapable of the slightest effort, because they are badly-trained and, above all, badly commanded." Laval favoured abolition of the army and replacement by a citizens' militia.
Abandoning natural science studies, Laval eventually turned to law and became in 1909 a "lawyer of the poor people", closed to syndicalists of the CGT. The years before the First World War were characterised by labour unrest, and Laval defended strikers, trade unionists, and left-wing agitators against government attempts to prosecute them. At a trade union conference, Laval said:
I am a comrade among comrades, a worker among workers. I am not one of those lawyers who are mindful of their bourgeois origin even when attempting to deny it. I am not one of those high-brow attorneys who engage in academic controversies and pose as intellectuals. I am proud to be what I am. A lawyer in the service of manual laborers who are my comrades, a worker like them, I am their brother. Comrades, I am a manual lawyer.
The first case that led him to fame was the acquittal of Gustave Manhès, a revolutionary trade unionist charged with possession of explosives and anarchist manuals.
Laval married Jeanne Claussat in 1909, the daughter of Socialist politician Dr Joseph Claussat. Their only child, a daughter named Josée, was born in 1911. Josée married René de Chambrun, whose uncle, Nicholas Longworth III, married Alice Roosevelt, daughter of United States President Theodore Roosevelt. Although Laval's wife came from a political family, she never participated in politics. Laval was generally considered to be devoted to his family.
In 1911, he ran for parliament in the Neuilly-Boulogne electoral district, and caused the victory of Conservative candidate Édouard Nortier by continuing to stand in the second round face to Radical candidate Alexandre Percin.
In April 1914, as fear of war swept the nation, the Socialists and Radicals geared up their electoral campaign in defence of peace. Their leaders were Jean Jaurès and Joseph Caillaux. The Bloc des Gauches ("Lefts Bloc") denounced the law passed in July 1913 extending compulsory military service from two to three years.
In the 1914 legislative election, held three months before the outbreak of World War I, the trade unions sought Laval as Socialist candidate for the Seine, the district comprising Paris and its suburbs. Laval was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in the second electoral district of Saint-Denis. At nearly 31, he was the youngest member of the Chamber.
The Radicals, with the support of Socialists, held the majority in the French Chamber of Deputies. Together they hoped to avert war. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on 28 June 1914 and of Jaurès on 31 July 1914 shattered those hopes. Laval's brother, Jean, died in the first months of the war.
Laval was listed in the Carnet B, a compilation of potentially subversive elements who might hinder mobilisation. In the name of national unity, Minister of the Interior Jean-Louis Malvy, despite pressure from chiefs of staff, refused to have anyone apprehended. Laval remained true to his pacifist convictions during the war. In December 1915, Jean Longuet, grandson of Karl Marx, proposed to Socialist parliamentarians that they communicate with socialists of other states, hoping to press governments into a negotiated peace. Laval signed on, but the motion was defeated.
With France's resources geared for war, goods were scarce or overpriced. On 30 January 1917, in the National Assembly Laval called upon the Supply Minister Édouard Herriot to deal with the inadequate coal supply in Paris. When Herriot said, "If I could, I would unload the barges myself", Laval retorted "Do not add ridicule to ineptitude". The words delighted the assembly and attracted the attention of Georges Clemenceau, but left the relationship between Laval and Herriot permanently strained.
Laval scorned the conduct of the war and the poor supply of troops in the field. When mutinies broke out after General Robert Nivelle's offensive of April 1917 at Chemin des Dames, he spoke in defence of the mutineers. When Marcel Cachin and Marius Moutet returned from St. Petersburg in June 1917 with the invitation to a socialist convention in Stockholm, Laval saw a chance for peace. In an address to the Assembly, he urged the chamber to allow a delegation to go: "Yes, Stockholm, in response to the call of the Russian Revolution... Yes, Stockholm, for peace... Yes, Stockholm the polar star." The request was denied.
The hope of peace in spring 1917 was overwhelmed by discovery of traitors, some real, some imagined, as with Malvy who became a suspect because he had refused to arrest Frenchmen on the Carnet B. Laval's "Stockholm, étoile polaire" speech had not been forgotten. Many of Laval's acquaintances, the publishers of the anarchist Bonnet rouge, and other pacifists were arrested or interrogated. Though Laval frequented pacifist circles – it was said that he was acquainted with Leon Trotsky – the authorities did not pursue him. His status as a deputy, his caution, and his friendships protected him. In November 1917, Clemenceau became Prime Minister and offered Laval a post in his government. Laval refused, as the Socialist Party refused to enter any government, but he questioned the wisdom of such a policy in a meeting of the Socialist members of parliament.
In the 1919 elections the Socialists' record of pacifism, their opposition to Clemenceau, and anxiety arising from the excesses of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia contributed to their defeat by the conservative Bloc National. Laval lost his seat in the Chamber of Deputies.
The General Confederation of Labour (Confédération Générale du Travail - CGT), with 2,400,000 members, launched a general strike in 1920, which petered out as thousands of workers were laid off. In response, the government sought to dissolve the CGT. Laval, with Joseph Paul-Boncour as chief counsel, defended the union's leaders, saving the union by appealing to the ministers Théodore Steeg (interior) and Auguste Isaac (commerce and industry).
Laval's relations with the Socialist Party drew to an end. The last years with the Socialist caucus in the chamber combined with the party's disciplinary policies eroded Laval's attachment to the cause. With the Bolshevik victory in Russia the party was changing; at the Congress of Tours in December 1920, the Socialists split into two ideological components: the French Communist Party (SFIC later PC-SFIC), inspired by Moscow, and the more moderate French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO). Laval let his membership lapse, not taking sides as the two factions battled over the legacy of Jean Jaurès.
In 1923 Aubervilliers in northern Paris needed a mayor. As a former deputy of the constituency, Laval was an obvious candidate. To be eligible for election, Laval bought farmland, Les Bergeries. Few were aware of his defection from the Socialists. Laval was also asked by the local SFIO and Communist Party to head their lists. Laval chose to run under his own list, of former socialists he convinced to leave the party and work for him. This was an independent Socialist Party of sorts that existed only in Aubervilliers. In a four-way race, Laval won in the second round. He served as mayor of Aubervilliers until just before his death.
Laval was seen as malin; a joke stated that he was so clever that he was born with a name that is spelled the same from left or from right. Laval won over those he defeated by cultivating personal contacts. He developed a network among the humble and the well-to-do in Aubervilliers, and with mayors of neighbouring towns. He was the only independent politician in the suburb. He avoided entering the ideological war between socialists and communists.
In the 1924 legislative elections, the SFIO and the Radicals formed a national coalition known as the Cartel des Gauches. Laval headed a list of independent socialists in the Seine. The cartel won and Laval regained a seat in the National Assembly. His first act was to bring back Joseph Caillaux, former Prime Minister, Cabinet member and member of the National Assembly and once the star of the Radical Party. Clemenceau had had Caillaux arrested toward the end of the war for collusion with the enemy. He spent two years in prison and lost his civic rights. Laval stood for Caillaux's pardon and won. Caillaux became an influential patron.
Laval's reward for support of the cartel was appointment as Minister of Public Works in the government of Paul Painlevé in April 1925. Six months later, the government collapsed. Laval from then on belonged to the club of former ministers from which new ministers were drawn. Between 1925 and 1926 Laval participated three more times in governments of Aristide Briand, once as under-secretary to the premier and twice as Minister of Justice (garde des sceaux). When he first became Minister of Justice, Laval abandoned his law practice to avoid conflict of interest.
Laval's momentum was frozen after 1926 through a reshuffling of the cartel majority orchestrated by the Radical-Socialist mayor and deputy of Lyon, Édouard Herriot. Founded in 1901, the Radical Party became the hinge faction of the Third Republic, whose support or defection often meant survival or collapse of governments. Through this latest swing, Laval was excluded from the government of France for four years. Author Gaston Jacquemin suggested that Laval chose not to partake in a Herriot government, which he judged incapable of handling the financial crisis. 1926 marked the definitive break between Laval and the left, but he maintained friends on the left.
In 1927 Laval was elected Senator for the Seine, withdrawing from and placing himself above the political battles for majorities in the Chamber of Deputies. He longed for a constitutional reform to strengthen the executive branch and eliminate political instability, the flaw of the Third Republic.
On 2 March 1930 Laval returned as Minister of Labour in the second André Tardieu government. Tardieu and Laval knew each other from the days of Clemenceau, and had come to appreciate one another's qualities. Tardieu needed men he could trust: his previous government had collapsed a little over a week earlier because of the defection of the minister of Labour, Louis Loucheur. But, when the Radical Socialist Camille Chautemps failed to form a viable government, Tardieu was called back.
From 1927 to 1930, Laval began to accumulate a sizeable personal fortune; after the war his wealth resulted in charges that he had used his political position to line his own pockets. "I have always thought", he wrote to the examining magistrate on 11 September 1945, "that a soundly based material independence, if not indispensable, gives those statesmen who possess it a much greater political independence." Until 1927 his principal source of income had been his fees as a lawyer and in that year they totalled 113,350 francs, according to his income tax returns. Between August 1927 and June 1930, he undertook large-scale investments in various enterprises, totalling 51 million francs. Not all this money was his own; it came from a group of financiers who had the backing of an investment trust, the Union Syndicale et Financière and two banks, the Comptoir Lyon Allemand and the Banque Nationale de Crédit.
Two of the investments which Laval and his backers acquired were provincial newspapers, Le Moniteur du Puy-de-Dôme and its associated printing works at Clermont-Ferrand, and the Lyon Républicain. The circulation of the Moniteur stood at 27,000 in 1926 before Laval took it over. By 1933, it had more than doubled, peaking at 58,250, but declining thereafter. Profits varied, but during the seventeen years of his control, Laval earned some 39 million francs in income from the paper and the printing works combined. The renewed plant was valued at 50 million francs, which led the high court expert in 1945 to say with some justification that it had been "an excellent deal for him."
More than 150,000 textile workers were on strike, and violence was feared. As Minister of Public Works in 1925, Laval had ended the strike of mine workers. Tardieu hoped he could do the same as Minister of Labour. The conflict was settled without bloodshed. Socialist politician Léon Blum, never one of Laval's allies, conceded that Laval's "intervention was skillful, opportune and decisive."
Social insurance had been on the agenda for ten years. It had passed the Chamber of Deputies, but not the Senate, in 1928. Tardieu gave Laval until May Day to get the project through. The date was chosen to stifle the agitation of Labour Day. Laval's first effort went into clarifying the muddled collection of texts. He then consulted employer and labour organisations. Laval had to reconcile the divergent views of Chamber and Senate. "Had it not been for Laval's unwearying patience", Laval's associate Tissier wrote, "an agreement would never have been achieved". In two months Laval presented the Assembly a text which overcame its original failure. It met the financial constraints, reduced the control of the government, and preserved the choice of doctors and their billing freedom. The Chamber and the Senate passed the law with an overwhelming majority.
When the bill had passed its final stages, Tardieu described his Minister of Labour as "displaying at every moment of the discussion as much tenacity as restraint and ingenuity."
Tardieu's government ultimately proved unable to weather the Oustric Affair. After the failure of the Oustric Bank, it appeared that members of the government had improper ties to it. The scandal involved Minister of Justice Raoul Péret, and Under-Secretaries Henri Falcoz and Eugène Lautier. Though Tardieu was not involved, on 4 December 1930, he lost his majority in the Senate. President Gaston Doumergue called on Louis Barthou to form a government, but Barthou failed. Doumergue turned to Laval, who fared no better. The following month the government formed by Théodore Steeg floundered. Doumergue renewed his offer to Laval. On 27 January 1931 Laval successfully formed his first government.
In the words of Léon Blum, the Socialist opposition was amazed and disappointed that the ghost of Tardieu's government reappeared within a few weeks of being defeated with Laval at its head, "like a night bird surprised by the light." Laval's nomination as premier led to speculation that Tardieu, the new agriculture minister, held the real power in the Laval Government. Although Laval thought highly of Tardieu and Briand, and applied policies in line with theirs, Laval was not Tardieu's mouthpiece. Ministers who formed the Laval government were in great part those who had formed Tardieu governments but that was a function of the composite majority Laval could find at the National Assembly. Raymond Poincaré, Aristide Briand and Tardieu before him had offered ministerial posts to Herriot's Radicals, but to no avail.
Besides Briand, André Maginot, Pierre-Étienne Flandin, and Paul Reynaud, Laval brought in as his advisors, friends such as Maurice Foulon from Aubervilliers and Pierre Cathala, whom he knew from his days in Bayonne and who had worked in Laval's Labour ministry. Cathala began as Under-Secretary of the Interior and was appointed as Minister of the Interior in January 1932. Blaise Diagne of Senegal, the first African deputy, had been elected to the National Assembly at the same time as Laval in 1914. Laval invited Diagne to join his cabinet as under-secretary to the colonies; he was the first Black African appointed to a cabinet position in a French government. Laval also called on financial experts such as Jacques Rueff, Charles Rist and Adéodat Boissard. André François-Poncet was appointed as under-secretary to the premier and then as ambassador to Germany. Laval's government included an economist, Claude-Joseph Gignoux, when economists in government service were rare.
France in 1931 was unaffected by the world economic crisis. Laval declared on embarking for the United States on 16 October 1931, "France remained healthy thanks to work and savings." Agriculture, small industry, and protectionism were the bases of France's economy. With a conservative policy of contained wages and limited social services, France had accumulated the largest gold reserves in the world after the United States. France reaped the benefit of devaluation of the franc orchestrated by Poincaré, which made French products competitive on the world market. In the whole of France, 12,000 people were recorded as unemployed.
Laval and his cabinet considered the economy and gold reserves as means to diplomatic ends. Laval left to visit London, Berlin and Washington. He attended conferences on the world crisis, war reparations and debt, disarmament, and the gold standard.
In 1931, Austria underwent a banking crisis when its largest bank, the Creditanstalt, was revealed to be nearly bankrupt, threatening a worldwide financial crisis. World leaders began negotiating the terms for an international loan to Austria's central government to sustain its financial system; however, Laval blocked the proposed package for nationalistic reasons. He demanded that France receive a series of diplomatic concessions in exchange for its support, including renunciation of a prospective German-Austrian customs union. This proved to be fatal for the negotiations, which ultimately fell through. As a result, the Creditanstalt declared bankruptcy on 11 May 1931, precipitating a crisis that quickly spread to other nations. Within four days, bank runs in Budapest were underway, and the bank failures began spreading to Germany and Britain, among others.
The Hoover Moratorium of 1931, a proposal made by American President Herbert Hoover to freeze all intergovernmental debt repayments for a one-year period, was, according to author and political advisor McGeorge Bundy, "the most significant action taken by an American president for Europe since Woodrow Wilson's administration." The United States had enormous stakes in Germany: long-term German borrowers owed the United States private sector more than $1.25 billion; the short-term debt neared $1 billion. By comparison, the entire United States national income in 1931 was just $54 billion. To put it into perspective, authors Walter Lippmann and William O. Scroggs stated in The United States in World Affairs, an Account of American Foreign Relations, that "the American stake in Germany's government and private obligations was equal to half that of all the rest of the world combined."[page needed]
The proposed moratorium would also benefit Great Britain's investment in Germany's private sector, making more likely the repayment of those loans while the public indebtedness was frozen. It was in Hoover's interest to offer aid to an ailing British economy in the light of the indebtedness of Great Britain to the United States. France, on the other hand, had a relatively small stake in Germany's private debt but a huge interest in German reparations, and payment to France would be compromised under Hoover's moratorium.
The scheme was further complicated by ill timing; perceived collusion among the US, Great Britain and Germany, and the fact that it constituted a breach of the Young Plan. Such breach could only be approved in France by the National Assembly; the survival of the Laval Government rested on the legislative body's approval of the moratorium. Seventeen days elapsed between the proposal and the vote of confidence of the French legislators. That delay was blamed for the lack of success of the Hoover Moratorium. The US Congress did not approve it until December 1931.
In support of the Hoover Moratorium Laval undertook a year of personal and direct diplomacy by which he traveled to London, Berlin and the United States. While there were considerable domestic achievements to his name, his international efforts were short on results. British Premier Ramsay MacDonald and Foreign Secretary Arthur Henderson— preoccupied by internal political divisions and the collapse of the pound sterling— were unable to help. German Chancellor Heinrich Brüning and Foreign Minister Julius Curtius, both eager for Franco-German reconciliation, were under siege on all sides. They faced a very weak economy which made meeting the government payroll a weekly miracle. Private bankruptcies and constant layoffs had the Communists on a short fuse. At the other end of the political spectrum, the German Army was spying on the Brüning cabinet and feeding information to Der Stahlhelm and the National Socialists, effectively freezing any overtures towards France.
In the United States the conference between Hoover and Laval was an exercise in mutual frustration. Hoover's plan for a reduced military had been rebuffed—albeit gently. A solution to the Danzig corridor problem had been retracted. The concept of introducing a silver standard for countries which left the gold standard was viewed by Laval and François Albert-Buisson as a frivolous proposal. Hoover thought it might have helped "Mexico, India, China and South America", but Laval dismissed the silver solution as an inflationary proposition, adding that "it was cheaper to inflate paper."
Laval did not get a security pact, without which the French would never consider disarmament, nor did he obtain an endorsement for the political moratorium. The promise to match any reduction of German reparations with a decrease of the French debt was not put in the communiqué. The joint statement declared the attachment of France and the United States to the gold standard. The two governments also agreed that the Banque de France and the Federal Reserve would consult each other before transfers of gold. This was welcome news after the run on American gold in the preceding weeks. In light of the financial crisis, the leaders agreed to review the economic situation in Germany before the Hoover moratorium had run its course.
These were meagre political results. The Hoover–Laval encounter, however, had other effects: it made Laval more widely known and raised his standing in the United States and France. The American and French press were smitten. His optimism was such a contrast to his grim-sounding international contemporaries that in Time magazine named him as the 1931 Man of the Year, an honour never bestowed before on a Frenchman. He followed Mohandas K. Gandhi and preceded Franklin D. Roosevelt in receiving the honour.
The second Cartel des Gauches (Left-Wing Cartel) resigned following the 6 February 1934 crisis involving anti-parliamentarist groups, composed of far-right leagues, veterans organizations, and the French Communist Party(PCF). Laval and Marshal Philippe Pétain had contacts with some conservative politicians among the groups involved. Laval became Minister of Colonies in the new right-wing government of Gaston Doumergue. In October, Foreign Minister Louis Barthou was assassinated; Laval succeeded him, holding that office until 1936.
At this time, Laval was opposed to Germany, the "hereditary enemy" of France, and he pursued anti-German alliances. He met with Mussolini in Rome, and they signed the Franco-Italian Agreement of 1935 on 4 January. The agreement ceded parts of French Somaliland to Italy and allowed her a free hand in Abyssinia, in exchange for support against any German aggression. Laval denied that he gave Mussolini a free hand in Abyssinia; he even wrote to Il Duce on the subject. In April 1935, Laval persuaded Italy and Great Britain to join France in the Stresa Front against German ambitions in Austria. On 2 May 1935, he likewise signed the Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance.
Laval's primary aim during the build-up to the Italo-Abyssinian War was to retain Italy as an anti-German power and not to drive her into Germany's hands by adopting a hostile attitude to an invasion of Abyssinia. According to the English historian Correlli Barnett, in Laval's view "all that really mattered was Nazi Germany. His eyes were on the demilitarised zone of the Rhineland; his thoughts on the Locarno guarantees. To estrange Italy, one of the Locarno powers, over such a question as Abyssinia did not appeal to Laval's Auvergnat peasant mind". In June 1935, he became Prime Minister as well. In October 1935, Laval and British foreign minister Samuel Hoare proposed a realpolitik solution to the Abyssinia Crisis. When leaked to the media in December, the Hoare–Laval Pact was widely denounced as appeasement of Mussolini. Laval was forced to resign on 22 January 1936, and was driven completely out of ministerial politics. The victory of the Popular Front in 1936 meant that Laval had a left-wing government as a target for his media.
During the Phoney War, Laval was cautiously ambivalent towards the conflict. He was on record as saying in March 1940 that although the war could have been avoided by diplomatic means, it was now up to the government to prosecute it with the utmost vigour.
On 9 June 1940, the Germans were advancing on a front of more than 250 kilometres (160 mi) in length across the entire width of France. As far as General Maxime Weygand was concerned, "if the Germans crossed the Seine and the Marne, it was the end." Simultaneously, Marshal Philippe Pétain was increasing the pressure upon Prime Minister Paul Reynaud to call for an armistice. During this time Laval was in Châteldon. On 10 June, in view of the German advance, the government left Paris for Tours. Weygand had informed Reynaud: "the final rupture of our lines may take place at any time." If that happened "our forces would continue to fight until their strength and resources were extinguished. But their disintegration would be no more than a matter of time." Weygand had avoided using the word armistice, but it was on the minds of all those involved. Reynaud was opposed to an armistice.
During this time Laval had left Châteldon for Bordeaux, where his daughter nearly convinced him of the necessity of going to the United States. Instead, it was reported that he was sending "messengers and messengers" to Pétain.
As the Germans occupied Paris, Pétain was asked to form a new government. To everyone's surprise, he produced a list of his ministers, convincing proof that he had been expecting and had prepared for the president's summons. When informed that he was to be appointed Minister of Justice, Laval's temper and ambitions became apparent as he ferociously demanded of Pétain, despite the objections of other men of government, that he be made Minister of Foreign Affairs. Laval realised that only through this position could he effect a reversal of alliances and bring himself to favour with Nazi Germany, the military power he viewed as the inevitable victor. However the Permanent Under-Secretary, Charles-Roux, refused to serve under Laval. One consequence of these events was that Laval was later able to claim that he was not part of the government that requested the armistice. His name did not appear in the chronicles of events until June when he began to assume a more active role in criticising the government's decision to leave France for North Africa.
Although the final terms of the armistice were harsh, the French colonial empire was left untouched and the French government was allowed to nominally administer the occupied and unoccupied zones, provided that it obey German directives. The concept of "collaboration" was written into the Armistice Convention, before Laval joined the government. The French representatives who affixed their signatures to the text accepted the term.
Article III. In the occupied areas of France, the German Reich is to exercise all the rights of an occupying power. The French government promises to facilitate by all possible means the regulations relative to the exercise of this right, and to carry out these regulations with the participation of the French administration. The French government will immediately order all the French authorities and administrative services in the occupied zone to follow the regulations of the German military authorities and to collaborate with the latter in a correct manner.
By this time, Laval had veered and now openly sympathized with National Socialism. He was convinced that Germany would win the war, and felt France needed to emulate its totalitarian regime as much as possible. To that end, when he was included in the cabinet as minister of state, Laval set about with the work for which he is remembered: dismantling the Third Republic and its democracy and taking up the fascist cause.
In October 1940, Laval understood collaboration more or less in the same sense as Pétain. For both, to collaborate meant to give up the least possible to get the most in return. Laval, in his role of go-between, was forced to be in constant touch with the German authorities, to shift ground, to be wily, and to plan ahead. All this, under the circumstances, drew more attention to him than to the Marshal and made him appear to many Frenchmen as "the agent of collaboration"; to others, he was "the Germans' man".
The meetings between Pétain and Adolf Hitler, and between Laval and Hitler, are often used as evidence of Vichy collaboration with the Nazis. In fact Montoire (24–26 October 1940) was a disappointment to both sides. Hitler wanted France to declare war on Britain, and the French wanted improved relations with her conqueror. Neither happened. Virtually the only concession the French obtained was the 'Berlin protocol' of 16 November 1940, which provided release of certain categories of French prisoners of war.
In November 1940, Laval took a number of pro-German decisions of his own, without consulting with colleagues. The most notorious examples concerned turning the RTB Bor copper mines and the Belgian gold reserves over to Nazi control. After the war, Laval's justification, apart from a denial that he acted unilaterally, was that Vichy was powerless to prevent the Germans from gaining something they were clearly so eager to obtain.
Laval's actions were a factor in his dismissal on 13 December 1940. Pétain asked all the ministers to sign a collective letter of resignation during a full cabinet meeting. Laval did so thinking it was a device to get rid of M. Belin, the Minister of Labor. He was therefore stunned when the Marshal announced, "the resignations of MM. Laval and Ripert are accepted." That evening, Laval was arrested and driven by the police to his home in Châteldon. The following day, Pétain announced his decision to remove Laval from the government. The reason for Laval's dismissal lies in a fundamental incompatibility with Pétain. Laval's methods of working appeared slovenly to Petain's precise military mind, and he showed a marked lack of deference, instanced by a habit of blowing cigarette smoke in Pétain's face. By doing so he aroused Pétain's irritation and the anger of the entire cabinet.
On 27 August 1941, several top Vichyites including Laval attended a review of the Légion des Volontaires Français (LVF), a collaborationist militia. Paul Collette, a member of the Croix-de-Feu, shot Laval (and also Marcel Déat, another prominent collaborationist), during a troop revue, slightly wounding him. Laval soon recovered from the injury.
Laval returned to power in April 1942. In a radio speech he gave on 22 June 1942 he outlined his policy objectives, expressing his "desire to re-establish normal and trusting relations with Germany and Italy". He added he "wished for a German victory" because otherwise "Bolshevism [would] establish itself everywhere." Laval had been in power for a mere two months when he was faced with the decision of providing forced workers to Germany. The Reich was short of skilled labour due to its need for troop replacements on the Russian front. Unlike other occupied countries, France was technically protected by the armistice, and its workers could not be simply rounded up for transportation. In the occupied zone the Germans used intimidation and control of raw materials to create unemployment, thus creating reasons for French labourers to volunteer to work in Germany. Nazi officials demanded Laval send more than 300,000 skilled workers immediately to factories in Germany. Laval delayed, making a counter-offer of one worker in return for one French POW. The proposal was sent to Hitler, and a compromise was reached: one prisoner of war to be repatriated for every three workers arriving in Germany.
Laval's precise role in the deportation of Jews has been hotly debated by both his accusers and defenders. The Germans never told the Vichy French authorities about the extermination camps; instead the French were told that Jews were being deported as forced labour for the Axis war effort. When ordered to have all Jews in France rounded up to be transported to German-occupied Poland, Laval negotiated a compromise. He allowed only those Jews who were not French citizens to be forfeited to German control. It was estimated that by the end of the war, the Germans had killed 90 percent of the Jewish population in other occupied countries, but in France fifty percent of the pre-war French and foreign Jewish population, with perhaps ninety percent of the purely French Jewish population still remaining alive. Laval went beyond the orders given to him by the Germans, as he included Jewish children under 16, whom the Germans had given him permission to spare, in the deportations. In his book Churches and the Holocaust, Mordecai Paldiel claims that when Protestant leader Marc Boegner visited Laval to remonstrate, Laval claimed that he had ordered children to be deported along with their parents because families should not be separated and "children should remain with their parents". According to Paldiel, when Boegner argued that the children would almost certainly die, Laval replied "not one [Jewish child] must remain in France". Sarah Fishman (in a reliably sourced book, but lacking citations) [discuss] writes that Laval also attempted to prevent Jewish children gaining visas to the United States, arranged by the American Friends Service Committee, and that Laval was committed less to expelling Jewish children from France than to making sure they reached Nazi camps.
More and more the insoluble dilemma of collaboration faced Laval and his chief of staff, Jean Jardin. Laval had to maintain Vichy's authority to prevent Germany from installing a Quisling Government made up of French Nazis such as Jacques Doriot.
In 1943, Laval became the nominal leader of the newly created Milice, though its operational leader was Secretary General Joseph Darnand.
When the Allied landings in French North Africa (Operation Torch) began, the Wehrmacht occupied the Zone libre. Hitler continued to ask whether the French government was prepared to fight at his side, requiring Vichy to declare war against Britain. Laval and Pétain agreed to maintain a firm refusal. During this time and the Normandy landings in 1944, Laval was in a struggle against ultra-collaborationist ministers.
In a speech broadcast on the Normandy landings' D-day, he appealed to the nation:
You are not in the war. You must not take part in the fighting. If you do not observe this rule, if you show proof of indiscipline, you will provoke reprisals the harshness of which the government would be powerless to moderate. You would suffer, both physically and materially, and you would add to your country's misfortunes. You will refuse to heed the insidious appeals, which will be addressed to you. Those who ask you to stop work or invite you to revolt are the enemies of our country. You will refuse to aggravate the foreign war on our soil with the horror of civil war... At this moment fraught with drama, when the war has been carried on to our territory, show by your worthy and disciplined attitude that you are thinking of France and only of her."
About two months later, he and some others were arrested by the Germans and transported to Belfort. In view of the speed of the Allied advance, on 7 September 1944 what was left of the Vichy government was moved from Belfort to the Sigmaringen enclave in Germany. Pétain took residence at the Hohenzollern castle in Sigmaringen. At first Laval also resided in this castle. In January 1945 Laval was assigned to the Stauffenberg castle in Wilflingen, 12 km outside the Sigmaringen enclave. By April 1945 US General George S. Patton's army approached Sigmaringen, so the Vichy ministers were forced to seek their own refuge. Laval received permission to enter Spain and was flown to Barcelona by a Luftwaffe plane. However, 90 days later, de Gaulle pressured Spain to expel Laval. The same Luftwaffe plane that flew him to Spain flew him to the American-occupied zone of Austria. The American authorities immediately arrested Laval and his wife and turned them over to the Free French. They were flown to Paris to be imprisoned at Fresnes Prison. Madame Laval was later released; Pierre Laval remained in prison to be tried for treason.
Prior to his arrest, Laval had planned to move to Sintra, Portugal, where a house had been leased for him.
Two trials were to be held. Although it had its faults, the Pétain trial permitted the presentation and examination of a vast amount of pertinent material.[discuss] Scholars including Robert Paxton and Geoffrey Warner believe that Laval's trial demonstrated the inadequacies of the judicial system and the poisonous political atmosphere of that purge-trial era. During his imprisonment pending the verdict of his treason trial, Laval wrote his only book, his posthumously published Diary (1948). His daughter, Josée de Chambrun, smuggled it out of the prison page by page.
Laval firmly believed that he would be able to convince his fellow-countrymen that he had been acting in their best interests all along. "Father-in-law wants a big trial which will illuminate everything", René de Chambrun told Laval's lawyers: "If he is given time to prepare his defence, if he is allowed to speak, to call witnesses and to obtain from abroad the information and documents which he needs, he will confound his accusers." "Do you want me to tell you the set-up?" Laval asked one of his lawyers on 4 August. "There will be no pre-trial hearings and no trial. I will be condemned – and got rid of – before the elections."
Laval's trial began at 1:30 pm on Thursday, 4 October 1945. He was charged with plotting against the security of the State and intelligence (collaboration) with the enemy. He had three defence lawyers (Jaques Baraduc, Albert Naud, and Yves-Frédéric Jaffré). None of his lawyers had met him before. He saw most of Jaffré, who sat with him, talked, listened and took down notes that he wanted to dictate. Baraduc, who quickly became convinced of Laval's innocence, kept contact with the Chambruns and at first shared their conviction that Laval would be acquitted or at most receive a sentence of temporary exile. Naud, who had been a member of the Resistance, believed Laval to be guilty and urged him to plead that he had made grave errors but had acted under constraint. Laval would not listen to him; he was convinced that he was innocent and could prove it. "He acted", said Naud, "as if his career, not his life, was at stake."
All three of his lawyers declined to be in court to hear the reading of the formal charges, saying "We fear that the haste which has been employed to open the hearings is inspired, not by judicial preoccupations, but motivated by political considerations." In lieu of attending the hearing, they sent letters stating the shortcomings and asked to be discharged as counsel. The court carried on without them. The president of the court, Pierre Mongibeaux, announced the trial had to be completed before the general election scheduled for 21 October. Mongibeaux and Mornet, the public prosecutor, were unable to control constant hostile outbursts from the jury. These occurred as increasingly heated exchanges between Mongibeaux and Laval became louder and louder. On the third day, Laval's three lawyers were with him as the President of the Bar Association had advised them to resume their duties.
After the adjournment, Mongibeaux announced that the part of the interrogation dealing with the charge of plotting against the security of the state was concluded. To the charge of collaboration Laval replied, "Monsieur le Président, the insulting way in which you questioned me earlier and the demonstrations in which some members of the jury indulged show me that I may be the victim of a judicial crime. I do not want to be an accomplice; I prefer to remain silent." Mongibeaux called the first of the prosecution witnesses, but they had not expected to testify so soon and none were present. Mongibeaux adjourned the hearing for the second time so that they could be located. When the court reassembled half an hour later, Laval was no longer in his place.
Although Pierre-Henri Teitgen, the Minister of Justice in Charles de Gaulle's cabinet, personally appealed to Laval's lawyers to have him attend the hearings, he declined to do so. Teitgen freely confirmed the conduct of Mongibeaux and Mornet, professing he was unable to do anything to curb them. A sentence of death was handed down in Laval's absence. His lawyers were refused a re-trial.
The execution was fixed for the morning of 15 October at Fresnes Prison. Laval attempted to cheat the firing squad by taking poison from a vial stitched inside the lining of his jacket. He did not intend, he explained in a suicide note, that French soldiers should become accomplices in a "judicial crime". The poison, however, was so old that it was ineffective, and repeated stomach-pumpings revived Laval. Laval requested that his lawyers witness his execution. He was shot shouting "Vive la France!" Shouts of "Murderers!" and "Long live Laval!" were apparently heard from the prison. Laval's widow declared: "It is not the French way to try a man without letting him speak", she told an English newspaper, "That's the way he always fought against – the German way."
His corpse was initially buried in an unmarked grave in the Thiais cemetery, until it was buried in the Chambrun family mausoleum at the Montparnasse Cemetery in November 1945.
His daughter, Josée Laval, wrote a letter to Churchill in 1948, suggesting the firing squad who killed her father "wore British uniforms". The letter was published in the June 1949 issue of Human Events, an American conservative newspaper.
The High Court, which functioned until 1949, judged 108 cases; it pronounced eight death penalties, including one for an elderly Pétain, whose appeal failed. Only three of the death penalties were carried out: Pierre Laval; Fernand de Brinon, Vichy's Ambassador in Paris to the German authorities; and Joseph Darnand, head of the Milice.
A few changes after Aristide Briand's retirement and the death of André Maginot on 7 January 1932:
The bullet-pierced body of Pierre Laval was moved today to the mausoleum of the Chambrun family in Montparnasse cemetery from an unmarked grave in Thiais cemetery, where it had lain since the former premier was executed as a traitor a month ago.
A law partner of his son-in-law, Count Rene de Chambrun, had gone to Portugal and leased an estate in Laval's name for three years. It is north of Lisbon near Cintra, on the sea and surrounded by high walls.
A law partner of his son-in-law, Count Rene de Chambrun, had gone to Portugal and leased an estate in Laval's name for three years. It is north of Lisbon near Cintra, on the sea and surrounded by high walls.