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“Vichysto-Résistant”, a strange concept in France

In the late 2000s, French historians coined the neologism “vichysto-résistant”. This ambiguous term was unthinkable before, as France during World War II was seen as divided into two irreconcilable camps: on the one hand the “collabos”, those who were part or supported the Vichy-regime; and on the other hand the “résistants”, those who fought against Nazi Germany and the collaborating Vichy regime led by maréchal Philippe Pétain. However, many investigations and testimonies have nuanced this binary vision. The “vichysto-résistants” were those who supported the Vichy government but were also committed to the Resistance.

These ambivalent protagonists were often anti-Germans who had joined Vichy out of admiration for Pétain, the legendary commander of the French army during World War I, or to prepare the country’s recovery. They initially thought that the Vichy regime would defend French interests but later realised that the regime was harmful and a failure. The ranks of the Vichy regime were thus home to a den of resistance fighters. For a long time, this idea seemed incongruous and even scandalous. It was only in 1994, with the publication of Une jeunesse française (A French Youth) by the journalist Pierre Péan, that the Vichy past of president François Mitterrand came to light. Wounded at the front in 1940, then captured by the Germans, the young Mitterrand escaped from German prisoners camp in 1941 and then worked as civil servant for the Vichy administration. Employed at the General Commissariat for the Reclassification of Prisoners of War, he organised a clandestine escape route and forged papers to recover French citizens detained in Germany. He left the Vichy administration in January 1943 and joined (under the pseudonym of François Morland) the Resistance network Rassemblement national des prisonniers de guerre (National gathering of prisoners of war, RNPG), a resistance network composed mainly of persons who admired Pétain.

After the publication of the book “Une jeunesse francaise”, Mitterand did not deny his links with Vichy, but used them to demonstrate the effectiveness of his clandestine actions. If the term of “vichysto-résistant” is specifically French, the phenomenon it describes can be found also in occupied Yugoslavia and other European countries during World War II : persons who were part of the collaboration regime but at the same time supported the resistance, with various motivations, what illustrates that the borders between collaboration and resistance were often fluid.


Yvan Gastaut

Sources /further readings
  • Bénédicte Vergez-Chaignon, Les vichysto-résistants de 1940 à nos jours, Paris, Perrin, 2008.
  • Johanna Barasz, “De Vichy à la Résistance : les vichysto-résistants 1940-1944”, in Guerres mondiales et conflits contemporains, 2011/2 (n° 242), 27-50, online:

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