A Holocaust survivor wears a yellow star during a ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Holocaust historians this week welcomed Paris’s decision to open up the records of the Vichy regime, a puppet government set up by the Germans during the Second World War, stating that the newly accessible documents may shed light on the nature of French collaboration with the Nazis.
During the war the Germans established a collaborationist government in the city of Vichy in central France.
The government, headed by former Gen. Philippe Pétain, subsequently revoked the citizenship of French Jews and cooperated with German forces in rounding up people for deportation to concentration camps.
While files from the archives had only previously been available to researchers who applied for special dispensations and the archives in their entirety were largely restricted, they are now being opened in their entirety to the general public.
“It is a shame that the Vichy files are only finally being opened to the public at this late date, at a time when the potential for prosecuting individuals, hereto unknown, who were responsible for the deportation of Jews to the death camps is negligible,” lamented Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s coordinator of war crimes research worldwide.
“Having said that,” he added, “we welcome the opening of the archives that will shed additional light on the sad chapter of French collaboration with the Nazis.”
Likewise, Dr. Robert Williams, chairman of the Archival Access group at the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, stated that he felt that the opening of the archives “is an encouraging step forward for scholars and researchers of the Holocaust and the other crimes of the Second World War.”
“The increased availability of such documents will inspire further research into the nature of collaboration during the Holocaust, and hopefully lead to greater understanding and appreciation of the ways by which the Holocaust and related forms of persecution continue to resonate in the present. We hope that other governments in the lands affected by the Holocaust follow suit by making available all archival materials that bear on this terrible epoch in our collective history.”
“Following a demand from historians and researchers, [French] President [François] Hollande decided to open the archives for researches fourand- a-half years before the limit of 75 years,” said Robert Ejnes, the executive director of the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France, a Jewish representative body.
“The archives will be more accessible for researchers and students who will have an access without prior complex documentation [as it was up to now] to the 200,000 documents.
According to historians, no scoop is expected from the opening of the archives. It will give information on the functioning of the French justice under Gestapo and Vichy leadership. But for many families it means the hope of a better understanding of their family history.”
“The French Government and the state archives of France [National Archives, Archives of the Foreign and Defense ministries, and the departmental archives] as well as the Mémorial de la Shoah were for many years and continue to be one of the best and the most reliable European partners of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
CNIL, the data protection agency of France, was also very helpful to the work in France of our museum,” said Radu Ioanid, director of the International Archival Programs Division at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “There is no doubt that the opening under the guidance of Prime Minister [Manuel] Valls of the remaining classified archival collections in the archives of the Justice, Defense and Interior ministries will allow the continuation of this exceptional archival and history related cooperation between our institutions and countries.”