The World at War


Pierre Laval

French Politician

Born: June 28, 1883 at Chateldon, Auvergne
Died: October 15, 1945 at Paris

Premier of France:January 27, 1931 - February 6, 1932 (1st, 2nd & 3rd cabinets)
June 7, 1935 - January 22, 1936

     Laval entered politics in 1914 winning a seat in the Chamber of Deputies as member of the Socialist SFIO. Professed pacifism and parliamentary exemption kept him out of World War I. Laval moved to the Right after the war. He was elected to the Senate in 1927, served as Premier in three short cabinets between January 1931 and February 1932 and again in 1935.

     Laval made sharp changes in foreign policy during his tenure as Foreign Minister and Premier in the mid-thirties. He sought to isolate Germany by rapprochement with Italy but failed thanks in part to British opposition then signed a mutual assistance pact with the Soviet Union. The Popular Front victory in the 1936 election put him out of government. Laval's taste for electoral politics soured and he began investigating other means to power.

     Laval was the leading spokesman for a faction demanding a new order in the wake of defeat. He excoriated the republican regime as the source of the country's misfortune in an address to the National Assembly. His July 10, 1940 harangue convinced the Assembly to abdicated its powers to Petain. The Marshal rewarded him with appointment as Chief of Government in the French State.

     Laval met with Hitler at Montoire on October 22,1940, offered his own collaboration and arranged a meeting two days later at which Petain pledged the collaboration of the French State as well. Petain was wary of his subordinate's ambition. Laval was dismissed and arrested on December 13, 1940. Pressure from German ambassador Otto Abetz secured his release. Laval left for Paris and the protection of his German patron.

     Laval was shot four times while reviewing the Legion des Volontaires Francais at Versailles on August 27, 1941, survived his wounds and was returned to power in Vichy on April 18,1942. Pressured to increase collaboration and deliver a reward for collaboration, Laval went on the radio four days after his return to announce la Releve , under which the Germans agreed to free one French prisoner for every three French workers who volunteered for work in Germany. Laval proclaimed that he, " hoped for German victory because without it tomorrow Bolshevism will be everywhere" during the same broadcast. The Releve failed to attract sufficient volunteers after word of conditions in Germany filter back to France. Laval responded by instituting Service du Travail Obligatoire (conscription for forced labor) and unleashing la Milice to enforce it in 1943.

     Laval left Paris with the Germans in August 1944. He joined the other Vichy exiles in Belfort and later in Sigmaringen, Germany. He was flown to Spain a few days before the German surrender. Franco had him arrested and turned over to the Americans in Austria who extradited him to the French authorities in July 1945. He was tried, convicted and executed for collaboration in October 1945.

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