March 26, 2006
Author eyes Darquier, villain of Vichy France
By Mike Collett-White
LONDON (Reuters) - Others were more guilty of France's
collusion with the Nazis during World War Two and its part in
But by focusing on Louis Darquier, an overlooked villain of
the Vichy regime who acted as Commissioner for Jewish Affairs,
biographer Carmen Callil says she used the "underbelly of
history" to expose the truth.
"I would say that what's different about my book is that
nobody has given any attention to this man and his milieu,
which really is the essence of the shame of Vichy," Callil,
until now best known as a publisher, said in a weekend
"My point is you learn much more from the underbelly of
history. I think it teaches you how it really all happens."
Darquier's rise to power in the years running up to the war
mirrored growing anti-Semitism in France.
Born in 1897, Darquier was quick to adopt a nationalist
anti-Semitism that came from deep suspicion of all foreigners,
and by 1936 he was receiving messages of gratitude as well as
funding from Nazi Germany.
When shot in the thigh during demonstrations in 1934, he
quickly set up The Association of the Wounded and Victims of 6
February -- a cynical ploy to make money that was typical of a
man who begged, borrowed and stole his way through life.
In fact, money was Darquier's main motivation in
persecuting Jews before and during the war -- he was more
interested in their cash than their extermination.
"YOU CAN'T FORGIVE HIM"
In "Bad Faith," Callil draws the distinction between the
Nazis' desire to exterminate an entire race and hatred of Jews
among Vichy officials like Darquier.
In her postscript, she says Darquier used anti-Semitism to
make his way in the world and "to aggrandise his small self."
But she is adamant he should not be excused.
"You can't forgive him," she said. "I think he was a
grossly socially dysfunctional human being. That's the only
forgiveness one can find for him."
The monocled Darquier re-invented his past, gave himself
the title Baron, added "de Pellepoix" to his surname and beat
his wife Myrtle, all of which contributed to his being "beneath
French contempt" in subsequent histories of Vichy France.
When it dawned on Darquier that he might be answerable for
what he had demanded for so many years -- the murder of Jews --
he turned pale, "appalled at accepting such a responsibility."
Yet he almost certainly knew the fate of thousands of extra
Jews he promised to round up for the Germans in 1942.
In the end the Vichy state deported 75-76,000 Jews. Of
70,000 sent to Auschwitz only 2,500 survivors returned to
Australian-born Callil, 67, first became interested in
Darquier in 1972 when she saw a documentary in which she
noticed that he shared the unusual surname of her psychiatrist.
Anne Darquier, Callil's psychiatrist for seven years after
the author attempted suicide, was found dead in 1970. Although
she did not kill herself, Callil called Anne's death "slow
It eventually led to the discovery of the identity of
Anne's father, who lived freely in Spain until his death in
In 1978, Louis Darquier gave an infamous interview to
"L'Express" in which he called the Holocaust a "Jewish
invention" and said the reason for the gas chambers at
Auschwitz was to get rid of lice, not to exterminate people.
While the l'Express interviewer somewhat unfairly labeled
him the "French Eichmann," a reference to Adolf Eichmann, chief
organiser of the Holocaust, Darquier's interview helped France
face up to its past.
"It became public," Callil said. "After the 1978 'Darquier
Affair' they actually turned and tried for crimes against
humanity Papon, Touvier, Barbie and Bousquet," Callil added,
referring to other leading Vichy functionaries.
"It's the only good thing Darquier ever achieved."