Interviews October 2006

Sorrow Without Pity

Carmen Callil discusses Bad Faith, her unflinching portrait of a fascist Frenchman.

Putting aside for a moment all of Darquier's vitriol against Jews, Freemasons and communists, you make it clear that at heart, he was a conman. How was he able to rise to a position of authority as the head of the commissariat of Jewish Affairs?

Keep in mind that he was appointed by the Germans. He earned his medals by being an outspoken anti-Semite, funded by them in the ‘30s. And the existing commissioner, Xavier Vallat, wasn't doing what the Nazis wanted because he was a Catholic anti-Semite, which meant that he was making all these exceptions for war veterans and others. Vallat would never have supplied the number of Jews that they wanted. But much of it was about money. Darquier was terribly interested in money. The Occupation really only became the money machine that the Nazis wanted once Darquier was running the joint. Not that he was running it himself, really. But under him, efficient people were in place to make sure that all Jewish property, art, and everything else went to the Reich. And of course, Vichy officials were trying to get it for themselves. Darquier was put in because the Nazis thought they could manipulate him for that purpose.

Another thing that’s hard to really understand is why these people would steal the property of those they deported. Even if we can try to enter the logic of these men who committed genocide, in their own minds it was a defensive maneuver. But I don't see how they could rationalize stealing art and property, because I would think that would make them feel like petty thieves.

Everything … all my research showed that money came out of everything. They all wanted the wealth as much as anything else, both individually and for the state.

But that's what’s so ironic. These collaborators and Vichy officials seem to be fulfilling the very stereotypes they’re using to demonize the Jews—people manipulating others and seeking to profit at all costs. Attacking Jews for the qualities they see most in themselves. Is that fair?

I don't know. Well, Darquier wasn't an absolute monster. The monsters were really those above him, who used him as a puppet—people like Pétain who used beautiful words, saying, "We're saving the nation," and then did terrible things. Darquier, on the other hand, said terrible things and then did terrible things. I think that's the area where the book will be a problem for the French when it's published there next year. Not because they haven't faced up to Vichy, but because they haven't faced up to this class of person.

Given all of your exploration of the extreme right wing political groups between the wars, what is your perception on the National Front and other extreme right parties today?

All the parties, particularly LePen's National Front, use the motto that Edouard Drumont, used in the 1880s, "France for the French." I think LePen softens it a bit, but it's much the same. There's always been ten to fifteen percent of the French population who didn't accept the Revolution; they’re represented in the vote every time, and that's LePen and his confreres. It won't go away. But what happened in Vichy is that these people got power.

In the United States, culturally speaking, there was a price to pay when artists, like Elia Kazan for example, named names during the Red Scare. And yet there are many French cultural figures who collaborated with the Germans—people like the writer Colette, or Coco Chanel, to say nothing of Taittinger of the eponymous champagne and Scheuller, who created L'Oreal—whose reputations not only survived but flourished. And others, like Darquier, weren't pursued at all for their crimes. How do you account for the pass some got after the war?

That's a very complicated subject. DeGaulle wanted to unite the nation and many people were tried and sentenced. But the restof them were let off by about 1958, in the name of healing the great rift in the French body politic. To some degree it worked. But that means that justice was not carried out. And I think there needs to be some lancing of boils, if you know what I mean. I can understand that they didn't want to go on with civil war forever. And in Collette's case, she just didn't care about politics. I much more dislike Gertrude Stein. After all, she was Jewish. Collette was only married to a Jew. But Gertrude Stein….yecch. This whole business that art is above human life, I don't accept that.

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Grant Rosenberg lives in Paris where he writes for TIME and other publications.

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