|French Governmental Commission for the Defense of National Interests[a]|
|Date formed||6 September 1944|
|Date dissolved||22 April 1945|
|Deputy head of government||Fernand de Brinon|
|Status in legislature||none|
|Incoming formation||enforced evacuation of Vichy by German forces|
|Outgoing formation||advancing Allied forces|
|Predecessor||Laval government of 1942|
|Successor||none Provisional Government in control of France|
Location of Sigmaringen enclave
The Sigmaringen enclave was the exiled remnant of France's Nazi-sympathizing Vichy government which had to flee to Germany during the Liberation of France near the end of World War II in order to avoid capture by the advancing Allied Powers of World War II. They were allocated the requisitioned Sigmaringen Castle as the seat of their government-in-exile.
The puppet government occupied the castle for seven months with nothing to govern, Philippe Pétain, the head of Vichy France, keeping to himself, while the others wined and dined on unlimited food and drink, and local residents faced wartime rationing.
Nazi Germany invaded France in May 1940 during the early part of World War II. The Armistice of 22 June 1940 ended hostilities, dividing France into two zones: an Occupied zone in the north and west, and a nominally "free zone" (Zone libre) in the south and east. Known officially as the "French State", the Zone libre became known as the "Vichy regime" for the location of its nominal capital. The regime was headed by Marshal Philippe Pétain, who was given full powers to control the regime. In November 1942, the Zone libre was also occupied by the Germans, in response to the landing of the Allies in North Africa. Vichy lost its military force, but continued to exercise jurisdiction over most of Metropolitan France until the gradual collapse of the Vichy regime following the Allied invasion in June 1944 and the ongoing liberation of France.
On 17 August 1944, Vichy's head of government and minister of foreign affairs Pierre Laval held the last government council with five of his government ministers. With permission from the Germans, he attempted to call back the prior National Assembly with the goal of giving it power and thus impeding the communists and de Gaulle. So he obtained the agreement of German ambassador Otto Abetz to bring Édouard Herriot, (President of the Chamber of Deputies) back to Paris. But ultra-collaborationists Marcel Déat and Fernand de Brinon protested this to the Germans, who changed their minds and took Laval to Belfort along with the remains of his government, "to assure its legitimate security", and arrested Herriot.
Also on 17 August, Cecil von Renthe-Fink, "special diplomatic delegate of the Führer to the French Head of State", asked Pétain to allow himself to be transferred to the northern zone.
Pétain refused and asked for a written formulation of this request.
Von Renthe-Fink renewed his request twice on the 18th, then returned on the 19th, at 11:30, accompanied by General von Neubroon, who told him that he had "formal orders from Berlin".
The written text is submitted to Pétain: "The Reich Government instructs that the transfer of the Head of State be carried out, even against his will".
Faced with the Marshal's continued refusal, the Germans threatened to bring in the Wehrmacht to bomb Vichy.
After having requested the Swiss ambassador Walter Stucki to bear witness to the Germans' blackmail, Pétain submitted. When Renthe-Fink entered the Marshal's office at the Hôtel du Parc with General von Neubronn "at 7:30 p.m.", the Head of State was supervising the packing up of his suitcases and papers.
The next day, 20 August 1944, Pétain was taken against his will by the German army to Belfort and then, on 8 September to Sigmaringen in southwestern Germany, where dignitaries of his regime had taken refuge. Rather than resigning, he maintained in a letter to the French the fiction that "I am, and remain morally, your leader".
Hitler requisitioned the Sigmaringen Castle belonging to the Hohenzollerns in the town of Sigmaringen in Swabia, southwestern Germany. This was then occupied and used by the Vichy government-in-exile from September 1944 to April 1945. Vichy head of state Marshal Philippe Pétain was brought there against his will, and refused to cooperate, and ex-Prime Minister Pierre Laval also refused. Despite the efforts of the collaborationists and the Germans, Pétain never recognized the Sigmaringen Commission. The Germans, wanting to present a facade of legality, enlisted other Vichy officials such as Fernand de Brinon as president, along with Joseph Darnand, Jean Luchaire, Eugène Bridoux, and Marcel Déat.
On 7 September 1944, fleeing the advance of Allied troops into France, while Germany was in flames and the Vichy regime ceased to exist, a thousand French collaborators (including a hundred officials of the Vichy regime, a few hundred members of the French Militia, collaborationist party militants, and the editorial staff of the newspaper Je suis partout) but also waiting-game opportunists[b] also went into exile in Sigmaringen.
Militia leaders sought to recruit new members to swell the ranks of the Franc-Garde by finding sympathizers, especially in the enforced labor camps of prisoners in Germany. Their goal was to promote the ideal of a true National Revolution by actively preparing for an underground struggle by creating Maquis groups. Operation Maquis blanc was designed to parachute in political agitators, who, when the time came, would sow panic and prepare future agents who would be able to infiltrate French society more easily than German agents could.
The Castle received official designation from Germany as extraterritorialized to France and became a French enclave legally, complete with flag-raising. It was a matter of some importance to attempt to gain legal recognition for the government in exile from other countries, however at Sigmaringen, there were only the embassies of Germany and of Japan and an Italian consulate which maintained a presence. The governmental commission was thus a legally French enclave from September 1944 through April 1945.
The offices used the official title French Delegation (Délégation française) or the French Government Commission for the Defense of National Interests.[a]
The commission had its own radio station (Radio-patrie, Ici la France) and official press (La France, Le Petit Parisien), and hosted the embassies of the Axis powers: Germany, Italy and Japan. The population of the enclave was about 6,000, including known collaborationist journalists, the writers Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Lucien Rebatet, the actor Robert Le Vigan, and their families, as well as 500 soldiers, 700 French SS, prisoners of war and French civilian forced laborers.
Pétain and his ministers, although "on strike" were lodged in the requisitioned Sigmaringen castle. Pétain chose a suite that wasn't too big, as it was less cold. The rest of the enclave was lodged in schools and gymnasiums converted to dormitories, in scarce rooms in private residences or in hotels such as the Bären or the Löwen which were mostly reserved for more distinguished guests, notably the novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline, who wrote about the experience in his 1957 book Castle to Castle. Céline describes at length the Löwen Brasserie where the French gathered to follow the news of the approaching Allied armies and to talk about the latest rumors about the imminent, albeit improbable, German victory in the war.
New arrivals lived with difficulty in the cramped dwellings of the city under the rumblings of American bombs in the summer, but it was worse during the intensely cold winter that reached −30 °C (−22 °F) in December 1944: Having left France in a panic ahead of advancing Allied forces, they arrived exclusively with summer clothing, and suffered from the cold. Inadequate housing, insufficient food, promiscuity among the paramilitaries, and lack of hygiene facilitated the spread of numerous illnesses, including flu and tuberculosis, and a high mortality rate among children; ailments that were treated as best they could by the only two French doctors, Doctor Destouches (Céline's real-life surname) and Bernard Ménétrel.
On 21 April 1945 General de Lattre ordered his forces to take Sigmaringen. The end came within days. By the 26th, Pétain was captured by French authorities in Switzerland, and Laval had fled to Spain. Brinon, Luchaire, and Darnand were captured, tried, and executed by 1947. Other members escaped to Italy or Spain.
Exilees included the unwilling Pétain and Laval, the Commission members, as well as several thousand other collaborators or those sympathetic to the Nazis. Some prominent residents of the enclave include:
Several documentaries or fictionalized documentaries have been released about the Sigmaringen enclave. These include:
- Sigmaringen, l'ultime trahison [Sigmaringen, the ultimate betrayal] – a documentary by Rachel Kahn and Laurent Perrin, 1996, 56 min. (VHS).
- The darkness – terminus Sigmaringen [Die Finsternis, Germany, 2005] – a documentary by Thomas Tielsch, after the novel by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, K-Films, 2006, 82 min. (DVD).
- Sigmaringen, the last refuge – documentary-fiction by Serge Moati, Arte France, 2015, 78 min.
- ^ a b Commission gouvernementale française pour la défense des intérêts nationaux; also known as the Délégation gouvernementale française pour la défense des intérêts français en Allemagne
- ^ "waiting-game opportunists": Attentistes in the original.
- ^ Traveler, Amazing (27 December 2015). "Sigmaringen Castle is not a Castle from the Fairytales but a Fairytale of a Castle". YourAmazingPlaces.com. Retrieved 8 November 2020.
- ^ Peyret, Emmanuèle (9 March 1996). "Samedi, France 3, 22 h 30. Les dossiers de l'histoire : " Sigmaringen, l'ultime trahison ", documentaire. Voyage au bout de la collaboration. L'agonie de " L'État français " pétainiste dans une forteresse allemande" [Saturday, France 3, 10:30 p.m. Topics in History: 'Sigmaringen, the ultimate betrayal', documentary. Journey to the depths of collaboration. The death throes of the petainist 'French State' inside a German fortress.]. liberation.fr. Libération. Retrieved 15 August 2020..
- Brissaud, André (1965), La Dernière année de Vichy (1943-1944) [The Last Year of Vichy] (in French), Paris: Librairie Académique Perrin, OCLC 406974043
- Jäckel, Eberhard (1968) [1st pub. 1966: Deutsche Verlag-Anstalg GmbH (in German) as "Frankreich in Hitlers Europa – Die deutsche Frankreichpolitik im Zweiten Weltkrieg"]. La France dans l'Europe de Hitler [France in Hitler's Europe - Germany's France foreign policy in the Second World War]. Les grandes études contemporaines (in French). Paris: Fayard.
- Paxton, Robert O. (1997) [1st pub: 1972: Knopf (in English) as "Vichy France: old guard and new order, 1940-1944" (978-0394-47360-4)], La France de Vichy – 1940-1944, Points-Histoire (in French), translated by Bertrand, Claude, Paris: Éditions du Seuil, ISBN 978-2-02-039210-5