Previously on Red Room: Waiting for the Fuehrer: The Terrified Jews of Unoccupied Europe During World War II
Vidkun Quisling with friend
Like Jell-O and Kleenex, the name of Vidkun Quisling, the puppet-dictator of Nazi-occupied Norway, has become a generic term, synonymous with traitor.
In all the nations under German control during World War II, many lower-case quislings served their Nazi masters with varying degrees of enthusiasm and reluctance.
After the Wehrmacht, Germany’s unstoppable military machine, rolled into and over Poland, Norway and the Low Countries within weeks, and France in little more than a month, Nazi collaborators in the occupied nations thought they knew which way the geopolitical wind was blowing.
A Nazi-dominated Europe seemed like the wave of the foreseeable future to defeatists and the defeated.
But collaborators calculated wrong. What Hitler predicted would be a Thousand Year Reich lasted only 12.
A Virtual Hall of Infamy
Among the members of a vast pantheon of Nazi-sympathizers, some stand out for the huge body counts their collaboration piled up.
Other traitors embodied the subtitle of Hannah Arendt’s account of Adolf Eichmann’s 1961 trial in Israel, A Report on the Banality of Evil.
For relief from war-time privations, many collaborators sold their patriotism for chocolates and nylons. Others hoped to avoid forced labor in Germany or advance their careers.
Conservative politicians found the radical right-wing philosophy of Hitler and his cronies made them strange but compatible bedfellows.
Fellow-travelers on the Nazi juggernaut that conquered most of continental Europe subscribed to the 19th century German term for political opportunism and amoral pragmatism, Realpolitik. Insane and careerist minds think alike.
Quislings at the Top
The Vatican was the first to sign a treaty with the new Nazi regime.
So many leaders became Hitler’s partners that the following list has no particular order of odiousness:
Pope Pius XII was one of the earliest supporters of Hitler after the Nazi leader became chancellor in January 1933.
During his tenure in the 1920s as Papal Nuncio or ambassador to Bavaria, then Cardinal-Archbishop Eugenio Pacelli deplored the excesses of an obscure right-wing party, Nationalsozialismus or National Socialism. “Nazi” was a derogatory abbreviation used by the party’s enemies.
Despite Pacelli’s earlier contempt, after Hitler came to power, he urged the man he would succeed, Pius XI, to sign a Reichskonkordat or peace treaty with the new regime only six months after Hitler’s took office following open elections.
The Vatican was the first sovereign nation to give its moral imprimatur to a government whose party Pacelli/Pius XII had condemned when it was still a fringe group during the democratic Weimar Republic that disastrously ruled Germany after World War I.
Munich’s Cardinal-Archbishop, Michael von Faulhaber, noted the value of a papal seal of approval. In a hand-written note to Hitler, Faulhaber boasted,
"For Germany's prestige in the east and the west and before the whole world, this handshake with the papacy, the greatest moral power in the history of the world, is a feat of immeasurable importance."
Pius XII Plays Let’s Make a Deal With the Devil
In return for moral legitimacy, what did Hitler give and get from the papacy?
Freedom of worship and autonomy.
Strengthened diplomatic relations between Berlin and the Vatican.
Control of Catholic schools and lay organizations, a promise Hitler reneged on.
A secret clause that kept Catholic clergy exempt from future conscription. Hitler felt that this concession represented the papacy’s tacit approval of German rearmament, restricted by the Treaty of Versailles following World War I.
In many ways, the Reichskonkordat was a giveaway by the Vatican.
The Nazi regime was allowed to approve or deny the appointment of clergy, including bishops, based on their ideological acceptability.
The papacy had been fighting secular control of religious appointments since before Henry II had Thomas Becket murdered over the issue in 12th century England.
The surrender of religious appointments represented a reverse in the historical trend that allowed the pope to pick his foreign representatives little or no secular interference.
Another concession compelled German bishops and lesser clergy to swear allegiance to Hitler.
Throughout the war, as revelations of Nazi atrocities grew with the Allied liberation of concentration camps, Pius did not repudiate the Reichskonkordat. The 1933 pact remained in effect after the defeat of Nazi Germany.
In Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair (2003) and in my previous post, Why Didn’t Pope Pius XII Condemn Hitler and the Holocaust? and elsewhere, the complicity of Pius in the Holocaust has been extensively examined and won’t be reexamined here.
Germany’s neighbor may have collaborated more than any other occupied country. Collaboration occurred at the very top of the French government.
Less than a year after France declared war on Germany following the Nazi invasion of Poland, the Wehrmacht marched under the Arc de Triomphe and the gaze of tearful Parisians.
Lacking manpower, Germany occupied northern France and created the rump state of Vichy, named after its capital in central France.
Philippe Petain, left, collaborator-ruler of unoccupied France, with friend
On June 22, 1940, Marshal Philippe Pétain, the hero of World War I and at 84 possibly impaired by dementia, signed an armistice with Germany.
The collaborationist Vichy government became notorious for not only enforcing Nazi decrees, but for acting on its own in support of its new masters, especially in the round-up and deportation of foreign Jews in Vichy.
After the war, Pétain was sentenced to death for treason, but because of his age and World War I service, General Charles de Gaulle commuted his sentence to life-time imprisonment. Pétain died in 1951 at the age of 95.
Next to Pétain in rank, the collaborator in chief was Premier (prime minister) Pierre Laval, who hoped to create a French clone of Germany’s totalitarian form of government.
Although he managed to save 90 percent of French Jews, Laval enthusiastically supported the deportation of foreign Jews in Vichy, including children under the age of 16 whom Hitler had exempted from deportation.
Pétain dismissed and reappointed Laval during the war. The dismissal had nothing to do with Laval’s freelance anti-Semitism but with his lack of deference toward Pétain, a marshal of France and head of government. Laval showed his contempt for his senile superior by blowing cigar smoke in Pétain’s face.
Both Pétain and Laval refused Hitler’s pleas that France declare war on the Allies. The successful D-Day landing in Normandy in June 1944 reinforced the collaborators’ pragmatic neutrality.
Unlike Pétain, Laval’s post-war death sentence was carried out.
There were too many other French collaborators to list all of them here, but one of the most prominent owed his notoriety to his nation-wide platform, the pro-Nazi, virulently anti-Semitic newspaper, Je Suis Partout (I Am Everywhere).
Robert Brasillach was fired from his position as editor-in-chief of the newspaper because he was “soft on democracy” and didn’t toe the Nazi party line with sufficient enthusiasm.
During his post-war trial presided over by a former collaborationist judge, the prosecutor added homosexuality to Brasillach’s reputed crimes.
Despite pleas from intellectuals he had persecuted, including Albert Camus and Jean Cocteau, de Gaulle refused to pardon him. Brasillach greeted the firing squad with, “Long live France anyway!”
Francois Truffaut’s 1980 film, The Last Metro, portrayed a fictionalized version of Brasillach as a guilt-ridden journalist who sought legitimacy from his anti-Nazi countrymen.
Minor collaborators did not receive clemency as Pétain had. Iconic newsreels of Frenchwomen whose collaboration consisted solely of sleeping with the enemy show these wretched women having their heads shorn.
What the war photographers didn’t reveal was post-tonsure fate of the women. These “horizontal collaborators” as they were called by a French intellectual were driven to the countryside, where they were shot.
Coco Chanel, France’s premiere dress designer, lived at the Ritz with a Nazi lover, but avoided the fate of other love-collaborators by fleeing to Switzerland, where she holed up for a decade before returning to France and new acclaim for her fashion designs.
French film star Arletty justified her affair with a Luftwaffe pilot with a quip: “My heart is French, but my ass is international.” She was imprisoned briefly after the war, but like Chanel, made a comeback.
Admiral Miklós Horthy, the ultra right-wing dictator of Hungary before and during the war, was an unenthusiastic quisling.
Although he allied Hungary with the Axis powers in 1941, by 1944 it was clear that Germany was losing the war, and Horthy sought an unconditional surrender to the Western Allies to preempt imminent occupation by the Soviet Red Army.
Hitler responded by invading Hungary and arresting Horthy, who remained in office as a Nazi puppet.
He survived the war and execution in part because he refused Hitler’s orders to round up Hungarian Jews while signing off on the removal of foreign Jews.
Horthy made the same fatal distinction as Vichy France did. The deportation of Hungarian Jews didn’t begin until Germany occupied Hungary.
After vigorous bombardment of his country by the Allies, Horthy countermanded Hitler’s orders and ended the deportation of Jews in July 1944, but not before 400,000 Hungarian Jews had been sent to the east.
Horthy’s order saved an estimated 124,000 Jews. A reporter for The New York Times wrote in 1944, “As long as they exercised any authority in their own house, the Hungarians tried to protect the Jews.”
After his arrest and release by the Western Allies, the United States and Pope Pius XII supported Horthy financially during his exile in Germany.
Romanian dictator Antonescu with friend
Ion Antonescu, prime minister during most of the war, joined Nazi Germany and invaded the Soviet Union in 1940.
Unlike his counterpart in Hungary and like French collaborators, Antonescu surpassed Hitler’s obsession with making Europe Judenrein or “Jew-free.”
Without prompting by the Fuehrer, the dictator signed off on the massacre of 400,000 Romanian residents, mostly Jews and some Roma or gypsies.
The Soviets arrested Antonescu in 1944 and turned him over to Romania’s new Communist government, which had him executed by firing squad in 1946.
William Joyce was the Third Reich's Tokyo Rose.
Germany’s Tokyo Rose was William Joyce. Known to his British listeners as Lord Haw-Haw, the Irish-American broadcast pro-German speeches on Berlin radio urging the British to make peace with Germany.
After the war, Joyce's status as a naturalized German citizen was denied by Allied judges because his passport indicated that he was still a British passport during his radio days.
Joyce was hanged in 1946, still blaming the Jews for the ills of the world: “In death as in life, I defy the Jews who caused this last war, and I defy the power of darkness which they represent.”
The Original Quisling’s Fate
Under Vidkun Quisling’s presidency, Norway fought on the side of Germany. With the help of Norwegian police, the SS deported the country’s tiny Jewish minority of less than 800.
During the war, Quisling claimed responsibility for the deportations, but some historians believe he was left out of the loop by Hitler.
Although Quisling was a powerless figurehead dominated by a Nazi official in Norway, he justified his collaboration as a way to end German occupation of his country. His argument didn’t convince a post-war jury, which sentenced him to death by firing squad in 1945.
Cold War Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows
Most of the prominent collaborators were punished after the war, but lesser traitors as well as Nazis were co-opted by both the Western Allies and the Soviets because they were useful during the Cold War.
Nazi war criminal Wehrner von Braun with Walt Disney
Aerospace pioneer and SS officer Wehrner von Braun was responsible for the deaths of slave laborers who built his V-2 flying bombs that devastated London in the closing year of the war.
His war crimes were overlooked by the U.S. because of his knowledge of rocket technology, which earned him the sobriquet “father of America’s space program” as the director of the Apollo Moon landings.
After the war, Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyons” who headed the local Gestapo, was briefly hired by U.S. Intelligence to spy on the Soviets. H eventually fled to Argentina via “ratlines” or safe houses operated by a Catholic priest and the U.S. government.
Except for the big names, most war criminals survived Germany’s defeat and prospered both in the West and in the Soviet Union.
In the early 19th century, French statesman Talleyrand justified his serial betrayal of Napoleon and the kings of France with an epigram that summarizes the post-World War II reconciliation between former enemies:
"Treason is a matter of dates."
Causes Frank Sanello Supports
ACLU, ASPCA, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders