Persecution and Rescue

The Politics of the “Final Solution” in France, 1940-1944
Wolfgang Seibel


In 1942, two years after invading France, the Germans implemented their policy of exterminating the Jews. In contrast to Jews in many parts of German-occupied Europe, however, the majority of Jews in France survived, thanks to opposition to the Nazi extermination policy from Church dignitaries and the moral indignation of the average Frenchmen. Seeking to maintain popular support, the Vichy Regime bargained with the Germans over the substance and extent of its collaboration, which the Germans needed in order to hold France.

Translated from the German and drawing on German and French sources, Wolfgang Seibel traces the twisted process of political decision-making that shaped the fate of the Jews in German-occupied France during World War II. By analyzing the German-French negotiations, he reveals the underlying logic as well as the actual course of the bargaining process as both the Vichy Regime and the Germans sought a stable relationship. Yet that relationship was continually reshaped by the progress of the war, Germany’s deteriorating prospects, France’s economic and geopolitical position, and the Vichy government’s quest for domestic political support. The Jews’ suffering intensified when the Germans had the upper hand; but when the French felt empowered, the Vichy Regime stopped collaborating in the completion of the “final solution.” Persecution and Rescue: The Politics of the “Final Solution” in France, 1940–1944 demonstrates the ways in which political circumstances can mitigate—or foster—mass crime.

“This book is a very detailed account, based on both French and German sources, of the process that led to the persecution and deportation but also a deep questioning of the limits of the process : why were the deportations slowed down after the first wave of Summer 1942? Wolfgang Seibel studies the structure of persecution as his main focus of interest but he wants to break away from the traditional narrative of cumulative radicalisation provoked by a competition between agents/agencies. His technique of analysis is much more complex, questioning the a persecution apparatus often described as monolithic, the traditional differentiation between perpetrators, victims and bystanders and the question of actors’ rationality that should be considered in a whole repertoire, including a moral one. It is a must read book for any researchers or students of the Holocaust in France”.
--Jean-Marc Dreyfus, The University of Manchester, author of Pillages sur ordonnances. Aryanisation et restitutions des banques en France, 1940-1953

“Besides being, forever, a moral ignominy, Hitler’s will to annihilate Jewish population living in Nazi-controlled Europe can also be read as a public policy—though an incredibly barbarous one. Hence, it is theoretically possible to apply to the Holocaust most of the tools of policy analysis. Yet this is easier said than done—especially, maybe, for a German scholar.
Having read both Herbert Simon and Hannah Arendt, Wolfgang Seibel has the immense merit to dare studying the processes leading to the assassination of millions of Jewish men, women, children, infants, with methodological skill and human empathy. The result is impressive with intelligence and depth: confronted with the worst public crimes in contemporary history, the reader realizes they also meant inconsistency, ambivalence and bargaining.
Within the intensely repetitive literature on the Holocaust, Wolfgang Seibel’s outstanding and thought-provoking book opens a new and promising path for interdisciplinary research in the field of Holocaust studies.”
—Marc Olivier Baruch, School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS), Paris, and author of Sérvir l'État français: l'administration en France de 1940 à 1944
“While I recommend this book to all students of the Holocaust in France, particularly political scientists, I also prescribe it for anyone who mistakenly believes that the wartime murder of Jews in France can be explained by simple explanations, or sweeping generalizations about French society and its attitudes toward the victims. . . Wolfgang Seibel has an excellent appreciation of complexity of these events. With an expert social scientist’s sense of shifting power relations among the actors, he provides a carefully balanced and morally sensitive assessment of wartime bargaining among German occupiers, French state collaborators, and bystanders such as the Catholic Church.”
—Michael R. Marrus, University of Toronto and co-author, with Robert O. Paxton, of Vichy France and the Jews
Photo: Headquarters of the German fascists in Paris on 5/01/1943. The French Prime Minister Pierre Laval (left) talks with the top leader of the SS in France, SS general, and Obergruppenführer Karl Oberg (center). (© German Federal Archive: France in the period of occupation and the fascist Vichy regime [1940/44].)

Wolfgang Seibel is Professor of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Konstanz and an Adjunct Professor at the Hertie School of Governance, Berlin.

Praise / Awards

  • "This is not just another narrative of what happened to Jews in France under the Vichy regime and the Nazi occupation ... Seibel shows significantly how French officials who had not been overtly antisemitic...were enticed into collaboration by the concession of more police independence."
    --Holocaust and Genocide Studies

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Product Details

  • 440 pages.
  • 15 illustrations.
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  • 2016
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  • 978-0-472-12162-5

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