The World at War


Paul Reynaud

French politician and statesman, Premier of France March-June 1940.

     Paul Reynaud was born at Barcelonnette, France on October 15th, 1878 and died September 21st, 1966. Reynaud's father made a fortune in the textile business which enabled Paul to attend universtiy and become a lawyer. Like most he served in World War I.
     After the war he entered politics first representing his home district from 1919 to 1924 and from 1928 he represented the district of the Bourse in Paris in the Chamber of Deputies He served as minister of finance, of colonies and of justice between 1930 and 1932. Out of office until 1938, he was almost alone in calling on France to resist Nazi Germany and to prepare for combined arms warfare, as recommended by Colonel Charles de Gaulle. Appointed minister of justice in April 1938, he protested the appeasement of Germany by Great Britain and France and resigned from his parliamentary bloc when its leader congratulated Adolf Hitler after the Munich Conference (which allowed Germany to occupy large sections of Czechoslovakia). During his time in the wilderness he, like Winston Churchill in Great Britain, called for resistance to Germany and the building of strong forces to oppose aggression. From November 1938 to March 1940 Reynaud was minister of finance, in which post he sponsored austerity measures to put the French economy on a war footing.
     Reynaud became premier on March 21st, 1940 by only one vote with most of his own party abstaining. Tragically for France he was forced to accept Edouard Daladier the former premier, as minister of defense, a man Reynaud held partially responsible for the condition of the French Army. He made de Gaulle undersecretary of state for war and, as France was collapsing under the German onslaught that May, he urged French resistance and maintenance of the alliance with Britain. But Marshal Philippe Pétain, a World War I hero whom Reynaud had made vice-premier to strengthen his cabinet, and other ministers preferred armistice with Germany. Unwilling to be party to an armistice, Reynaud resigned on June 16; arrested shortly thereafter, he was kept in captivity for the duration of the war. After the liberation Reynaud was a member of the Chamber of Deputies (1946-62), held office in two governments (1948, 1950), and twice tried to form cabinets of his own (1952, 1953). He presided over the Consultative Committee on the drafting of the constitution of the Fifth Republic. In 1962, however, he denounced de Gaulle for trying to circumvent that constitution by inaugurating a presidential regime elected by direct vote.
     Reynaud was a true Frenchman and an energetic man and if he (and de Gaulle) had been listened to in the thirties the Third Republic may have survived.

Reynaud's major publications are La France a sauvé l'Europe (1947; revised as Au coeur de la mêlée, 1930-45, 1951; Eng. trans., In the Thick of the Fight, 1930-45) and Mémoires (2 vol., 1960-63). 1945.

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