The term “Vichy France” reflects a period in French history which many historians view as both dark and unfortunate. It refers to a wartime government based in the city of Vichy, south of Paris. The government lasted from July 1940 to 1944, when the Allied liberation took place. Many leaders in the Vichy government continued to be powerful after the German takeover in 1942, and the period of Vichy governance in France was later extensively criticized.
The roots of Vichy France can be found in the initial German invasion of France, in 1940. Within a very short period of time, the French realized that they could not combat the invading German forces, and ultimately an armistice agreement between the two nations was reached. Under the terms of the armistice, the Germans fully occupied the Northern Region of France, leaving the French government to administer the Southern region of France.
In 1940, the National Assembly voted to offer unprecedented powers to Marshal Pétain. The circumstances of this vote may not have been entirely legal, but the end result was the establishment of Vichy France, which was in theory a government which was independent from the Germans. History suggests otherwise, however, as it is clear that the Vichy government reached multiple agreements with Hitler, and that it participated in Nazi activities in both Northern and Southern France. The government was essentially forced to do so, as it was clear that Germany would quickly dominate France otherwise.
Vichy France called itself L'État Français “the French state,” to separate itself from the Third Republic. The government also abandoned the traditional French motto of “Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood” in favor of “Work, Family, Country.” Within France, the Vichy government was opposed both by extremist partisans seeking a fascist state and people like Charles de Gaulle, who wanted to restore the French Republic.
Cooperation between Nazi Germany and the Vichy regime may have been quite extensive. In 1942, Vichy France was technically dissolved, as Germany took over the entire nation of France, but it is clear that remnants of the Vichy government and its officials continued to hold power in France. After liberation in 1944, France responded with a groundswell of anger against “collaborators,” resulting in executions, public humiliation, and general social chaos. A provisional government was quickly established, ultimately trying members of the Vichy regime and establishing a new, permanent government for France.