The Collaborator

by Alice Kaplan

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The collaborator of the title is Robert Brasillach, a twentieth-century French writer who was a prominent contributor to the pro-Nazi publication Je Suis Partout during World War II. Historian Alice Kaplan explores the circumstances that led Brasillach to collaborate with the Nazis during their occupation of France. He was tried and executed for treason in 1945. She also aims to uncover the reasons that this charge, rather than other possibilities, was levied against him, why he was found guilty, and how the trial and execution have been interpreted in the intervening years. After the Liberation in 1944, many others from all walks of life were also tried, and some were executed.

No other defendant spoke as eloquently, appeared as dignified or as proud of his past actions, as Robert Brasillach. After it was all over, after Brasillach was executed by the Liberation government, he remained in the public mind the symbol of the collaborator for generations to come.

How did Robert Brasillach, a writer, come to play that singular and shameful role?

Examining Brasillach’s writings in Je Suis Partout, Kaplan shows that he was not only anti-Semitic, but also anti-Catholic and anti-Communist, and he espoused antagonism and even hatred for Anglo-Saxons, which to him included both the English and the Americans. He believed that Pétain had not gone far enough in condemning de Gaulle and the Popular Front (unoccupied zone) government, which he blamed for losing the country’s freedom. Portraying Germany as a rightful partner with France in creating a European unity that deliberately excluded England, his 1942 writings in favor of collaboration with Germany noted,

France and Germany desire the unity of our countries and the unity of the West.

The atmosphere in Occupied France, especially Paris, was dangerous for Jews. Je Suis Partout took an active role, with a regular column, denouncing Jews in general, and naming individuals who continued to practice their professions—including doctor, lawyer, and journalist—often under pseudonyms, despite bans on doing so. Citing a law against Jewish editors, one such article named such an individual.

[T]he law . . . prohibits any Jew from being the editor of a newspaper. Under the pseudonym of Jean Lubert, [Charles] Lussy is nonetheless writing articles . . . in a regional daily. Is this because his ancestors had a ghetto in the city of the popes?

Kaplan explains that in the 1940 German invasion and subsequent weeks of fighting for control of France, Brasillach was a French army officer who was captured by the Germans. While in the camps, he pointed out Jews to the Germans, knowing that outing them would mean sending them to camps in Germany. He sent anti-Semitic writings from the camps, and after several months began to publicly endorse Pétain, in an article in Je Suis Partout, which had recently recommenced publication. In the article,

he supported Pétain’s handshake with Hitler in the famous meeting at Montoire. He reitereated Je Suis Partout’s prewar demands for anti-Jewish legislation and demanded that the nation acknowledge that Third Republic socialism had brought the country to its knees.

Shortly after that, he was released from the camp, and soon became a front-page columnist for the paper.

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