*** war and social upheaval: France Vichy unoccupied zone

World War II: Vichy France--Education

Figure 1.--This is a Paris primary school in 1942. Paris was in the occupied zone, but the Vichy regime administered schools in both the occupied and unoccupied zone. We know the portrait was taken in 1942 because the one Jewish boy is wearing the Jewish badge ordered by German authorities (June 1942) and he has not yet gone into hiding. (Notice how his expression differs from tht of the other children.) The badges were ordered to make it easier to round up Jews. The NAZI death camps were operating by 1942 and the Germans had begun to round up Jews and transport them to the camps. Unless the boy here was wearing the Juif badge, there would have been no way of knowing he was Jewish. Click on the image for more comments about the photograph.

France had one of the finest education systems in the world. It has a decidedly acacademic orientation. Many teachers as reflected by the Syndicat National des Instituteurs had left-wing socialist orietations. The horrors of World War I and the depradations of the Great Depression had greatly increased the orientation of mny French people. Even so, France was a deply fractured country with many Frenh people holding right ing views and other left wing views. The majority as reflected in French elections had left wing views to the frustration of the right. The German victory broght Defense Minister and World War I hero, Philippe Pétain, to power. As a result, Vichy Goverment recognized by German had a right wing orientation bordering on Fascism. Pétain and some army commanders even before the War had deep concerns about the left-wing, pacifist orientation of teachers and the impact they were having on French youth. (Hitler and the NAZIs had the same concern about German teachers when they seized power.) The collapse of the French Army in 1940 shocked the French people. It was a time of national soul searching. The pacifist, anti-War message of the socialists must have had som impact, albeit difficult to assess. What really sealed the fate of France, however, was the incompetence of senior French military commanders. Pétain was, however, determined to presreve the honor of the French Army. Thus the issue of national moral became important for Vichy to deflect responsibilyy for France's defeat away from the Army. Pétain had some of his pre-War ideas about education put in place and ordered major changes in teacher training. He named Georges Ripert Secretary of State for Public Instruction and Youth. He was a lawyer who had written about morals and public administration and served as Dean of the Faculty of Law of Paris. As Secretary of State hehelped draft the first Jewish Statute which excluded Jews from universities as students or teachers and dismissed the Jewish professors. He was followed by three other appointes before the Allies liberated France. These reforms had nothing to do with Germans which unlike World War did not interfere with the schools to any extent duuring the 4 years of occupation. .

French School System

Unlike actions in the East, the Germans did not shut down the French school system, one of the finest in the world. This was the general practice in the West. In the East the Germans so no prctical purpose in educating the population. As part of Generalplan Ost, the Slavic population of the East was to be murdered or reduced to Helot slaves as part of one of the greastest crimes in world history. NAZI plans for the West were less worked out. The Germans took a generally hands off to the French schools. This was in part due to the importance of maintaining stability. Not well understood in France that this would not have comtinued after the Germasns on the War. Some universities closed, but the primary and secondary schools continued to function througout the occupation. And the French Government transferred from Paris to Vichy continue to administer the schools throughout the country.

Secretary of State for Public Instruction and Youth

Pétain had some of his pre-War ideas about education put in place and ordered major changes in teacher training. He named Georges Ripert Secretary of State for Public Instruction and Youth, essentially minister of education. He was a lawyer who had written about morals and public administration and served as Dean of the Faculty of Law of Paris. As Secretary of State hehelped draft the first Jewish Statute which excluded Jews from universities as students or teachers and dismissed the Jewish professors. Unlike many Vichy men, Ripert was not punished after the War and continued to serve in prestigious positions. Ripert was followed by three other appointes before the Allies liberated France. These reforms had nothing to do with Germans which unlike World War did not interfere with the schools to any extent duuring the 4 years of occupation. .

German Actions

These reforms had nothing to do with Germans which unlike World War did not interfere with the schools to any extent duuring the 4 years of occupation. . The Wehrmacht and other German agencies seized many large civilian buildings like schools and seminaries. [Smith, p. 34.] The Germans did not demand that the teachers promulgate NAZI propaganda. Unlike World War I, the Germans did not interfere to any extent in the schools during the World War II occupatipn. (The Germans had occupied an area of northern France in World War I.) Teachers had, however, to be careful. Children might repeat what the teachers said and any one critical of the NAZIs or Vichy might be reported to the authorities. France at the time of the War was divided. And there was considerable right-wing sentiment. And there were rewards for reporting on people.

Vichy Educational Reforms

Vichy initiated educational reforms. Vichy increased state subsidies to Catholic schools. Many anti-clerical measures of the Third Republic were repealed. The educational program in state schools was revised permitting religious instruction. An American newspaper article reports, "Drastically reversing the educational policy of the Third Republic, the Pétain government promulgated today [Dec. 6] the return of the idea of God to the French public-school system. Theoretically the notion of a supreme deity was officially recognized by the charter of the French educational system as laid down by Jules Ferry, founder of the modern French public-school system, but in practice it had been ignored by the great majority of French school teachers for years. But now, by a law just promulgated, Georges Ripert, Minister of Education, has decreed that 'programs of morality must henceforth be taught in the elementary and secondary schools' beginning Jan. 1, 1941. In the elementary schools one hour a week must be devoted to the following subject: "The principal duties of the pupils toward their neighbors (family and country) and toward God." [!940: Vichy schools ....] A greater emphasis was devoted to sport and summer holiday camps, presumably a relection of Vichy's desire to shift responsibility of the 1940 disaster away from the incompetence of the French Army.

Concessions to the Germans

References to Germany which might have been seen as insulting were removed. There was more emphasis on the medieval error and the important kings. Texts written by Jewish authors were removed. [Proud, p. 18.] As far as we know these actions were done voluntarily without German prompting. We do not know of educational actions the Germans imposed on Vichy, but we have only begun to assess the topic.

The Teachers

The teachers and administrators mostly, except for Jews held their jobs. Some left-wing admiistrators were also replaced. Many believing in separation of church and state were shocked by the Vichy reforms, especially reintroducing religion into the curiculum. The renewed emphasis on patriotism also bother mby teachers who had socialist orientation. There was, however, nothing lik the purge of that took place in Germn schools after the NAZI takeover. There is no qustion about the socialist, left-wing orientation of teachers. For years theur union, the Syndicat National des Instituteurs had suported left wing-politics, often militant positions. [Kandel, p. 90.] The Syndicat had repeatedly approved resolutions against French Governments advovated radica; social reform, and supported policies that were anti-military, pacifist, and internationalist orientations. One author claims that there is o evidence that this orientation was carried into the classroom. [Kandel, p. 90.] We find such a claim highly suspect. It is very difficult for teachers with strong ideological views not to allow their views to affect their teaching, esoecially when teaching history and other social ciences. This would have especially been the case after the horors of World War I and the privations of the Great Depression.

The Children

While Jewish teachers were dismissed, Jewish children were not expelled, at least at first. Here we see a Jewish boy in a Paris school during 1942 at a time when the Germans and Vichy authories were beginning the Jewish roundups (figure 1).

The Holocaust

Vichy has a terrible record, but apprently the Juif badges were the Germans doing and not a regulation issued by Vichy. We do not yet know about actions toward the Jewish children in French schools. There may have been differences between foreign and French Jews. And when the Jews were ordered to wear the 'Juif' badges (June 1942), we do see Jewish children wearing the Juif badges in French school portraits. As the school portraits we have found are undated which means they are not helpful in following what was going on in French schools. The NAZIs and Vichy began began Jewish rondups almost immediately after ordering Jews to wear the Juif stars. The initial target were the foreihn Jews in France. After the NAZIs seized power in Germany (1933), Jews began fleeing Germany. And as a neigbiring country with enlighted laws, many came to france and were given santuary there. As a resilt, large nimbers of foreign Jews and their children were in France when the Germans invaded and occupied France. At this time, we do not have details about how the Jewish children were treated in French schools or to what extent they were targeted by Vichy/NAZi authorities. We believe after roundups intensified that most of the children were removed from the schools and went itbo his\f\ding, but we do nor yet have much information.


The ideological outlook of the Vichy regime is best summarized by the changing the famous dictim of the Revolution and French Republics -- 'Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Now there are problems with this formulation. Liberty is anthethetical to equality. People at liberty will inevitably become unequal. Only totalitarian powers denying liberty can guarantee equality. Despite this, the bywaords of the Revolution have become firmly ingrained in Western Civilization. Under Vichy France's famous dictum was changed to 'Patrie, Famille, Travail'. The change represented an enormous shift in values. And for Vichy it was the task of the educational system to trasmit these values to French Youth.


Vichy educational policy like the Church leadership itself stressed values like discipline and submission to authority. These same themes were also adopted by Vichy youth groups. Marshal P�tain who headed the Vichy Government was a military man who had played a major role in World War I, especially the all-important Battle of Verdun. But he took a special interest in education, especially as it impacted the outlook and attitudes of the young men drafted into the French Army. This was the case even before the 1940 disaster. In a fascinating pre-War address on education he provided a history of patriotism and French education. And then complained to the listeners about the modern situation in French schools where teachers "... neglect and at times to oppose instruction in patriotism." He then insisted, "Today our education system pursues as the sole aim the development of the individual considered as an end in himself. The members of the teaching profession devote themselves quite openly to the end of od destroying the state and society. Such are the teachers who bring up our soins in ignorance or contempt of their country." [Pétain, Le Revue.] And he explained how this affected the adolescents deafted for military training. He compared this to what was happening in Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union, all potential adversaries. What was going on in France, and Western Europe in general, was the the growing influence of socialist thought which was not only critical of French society, but the very idea of patriotism and the military. General Weygand, the French Army commander who would oversee the defense of France had very similar concerns and ideas. [Weygand] This is not unlike what is happening in America today where the pledge of alliegance has become controversial and children are increasingly presented a one-sided ideological view of American history by teachers with a scocialist outlook. The impact was and is to convince many children that the threats to their well being are domestic rather than a dangerous world. In some way the French can be excused, because at the time, durig the Depression, it was not really clear that socialism and not capitalism was a failed system. Today with the failure of the Soviet Union and the Chinese Communist conversion to capitalism, what is happening in America is more incomprehensible. To Pétin, the modst important point in educational policy "... is the action on youth by binding the school and army together." This was was a step beyond patruitism and shows him more aligned with the titalitarian powers (Soviet and Facist) from which he sought to defend France. It is unclear to what extent the failure of the French Army in 1940 was the result was a morale issue. It does seem to be a a factor, but the largest factor was surely the gross incompetence of French Army commanders. Pétain's focus on the adverse impact of socialism and the need for patriotism was heartfelt. But something more was at play here. There was a need to defend the French Army and to deflect the resonsibility for catastrotrophic defeat on the Army commanders.

Teacher Training

One author maintains that the primary education under Vichy was a reform of teacher training which was to address the Vichy belief, with some validity, that the 1940 disaster was in part due to the weakening of the national 'morale' as a result of pacifist and secularist ideology of the teachers unions -- the Syndicat National des Instituteurs. [Nettlebeck, p. 162.]


One author describes the German generally hands-off approach to educationn. This was possible because Marshal Pétain chose the path of collaboration. [Mazower, pp. 416-45.] The schools was just on area in which this occurred. The Vichy men thought that Germany was going to win the War and that they would be rewarded with a return to normal after the War. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Stability in France was vital to the German war effort because France played such an important role in the German Großraum. That did not mean that the German touch would have continued to be so light after they won the War. Gen. Weygand as Delegate-General in French North Africa. who developed a reputation opposing colboration applied Vichy's laws against Jews very harshly. With the assistabce of the Recteur (University chancellor) Georges Hardy, Weygand instituted, on his personal authority, with a simple mere 'note de service' (n°343QJ of 30 September 1941), a school accounting clausus (quota). This expelld most Jewish students from the colleges. We are less sure about the primary and sevomdary schools because agter the Jewish star decree (1942), we see Jewish children in the French primary schools (1942), but we are not sure about North Africa. Weygand took this actiom without any order from Pétain. He said it was 'by analogy to the law about Higher Education'.


Vichy promoted eugenics. Vichy influenced by Nobel Laureate Alexis Carrel created the Fondation française pour l'étude des problèmes humains (French Foundation for the Study of Human Problems). Foundation activies included the schools. Carrel's Foundation instituted the 'scholar booklet' (livret scolaire). The idea was to the grades of students in secondary schools so they could be classifed by academic ability. It was just one of the Foundation's eugenic activities designed to classifying the population with the purpose of improving the population's health.

Individual Schools

We do mjot have a lot of French school images during the German occupation, but we do have a few. We see the Malroy École Professionnelle D'Agriculture in the first year of German occupation (Winter 1940-41). :We also see an unidentiufied Catholic primary svhool. The Paris ptimary school image here (1942) is one of them. After the roundups, the Jewish children began to disaoppear because of Vichh roundups and because they began to be hiden. We note an unidentified village school (1943). The Ecole Champagne was a girls' school whichnwe see after thebliberatiin (1945).


Curtis, Michael. Verdict on Vichy: Power and Prejudice in the Vichy French Regime (Arcade, 2003), 419p.

Kandel, I.L. "The Vichy government and education in France," Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors Vol. 27, No. 1 (February 1941), pp. 88-91.

Mazower, Mark. Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe (Penguin Press: New York, 2008), 726p.

Nettlebeck, Colin. "A forgotton zone of menory: French primary school children and the history of the occupation," , pp. 157-66.

Pétain, Philippe. Address delivered December 3, 1934. La Revue des Deux Mondes (December 15, 1934).

Proud, Judith K. Children and Propaganda.

Smith, Meredith. "The civilan experience in German occupied France, 1940-1944," History Honors Paspers, Connecticut College (2010).

Wegand, Maxime. "Comment élever nos fils?" (How do we raise our sons?) (1937).

"1940: Vichy Schools Again to Teach Concept of God," New York Herald Tribune European Edition (December 7, 1940).


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Created: 5:19 AM 9/4/2017
Last updated: 10:32 PM 3/23/2019