TWO SIMPLE FRENCH ALUMINIUM COINS, PITTED SEVENTY-SIX YEARS OF USE.
On one hand they are insignificant and practically worthless. On the other they are truly valuable, telling the story of a country in turmoil, a country divided into ‘Occupied’ and ‘Free’ zones, people divided into those beaten and those who would resist, a government that claimed to be independent, but had no parliament and whose leader shared many of the views of Adolf Hitler.
The coins are to a design by Lucien Georges Bazor, Chief Engraver at the Paris Mint (1) and replaced one by Pierre-Alexandre Morlon which had been in circulation from 1931.
Morlon had produced a number of designs for coins and medals including the winning design for the French Victory Medal of the First World War. (2) (3) (4)
In comparison to his predecessor’s design Bazor’s rendition was stripped back to basics. (5)
Gone are the lofty words ‘Liberté, Égalitié, Fraternité’ – a sentiment dating from the time of the French Revolution.
Instead are the new values ‘Travail, Famille, Patrie’ – work, family and country – values that could be identified with by all.
Marrianne (6) another revolutionary symbol of France – and one of emancipation – was replaced by a double-headed axe, reminiscent of the time of the Franks, a Germanic people who invaded the Western Roman Empire in 5 century CE and gave the country its name. (7)
Ears of wheat symbolise the peasant or common man. Oak leaves and acorns replace the laurel leaves and berries on previous designs.
Even the very status of the nation was changed. No longer ’République Française’ (the French Republic) it has become ‘État Française’ – ‘the French State’.
And finally the coin is minted in aluminium instead of aluminium-bronze as copper (an ingredient of bronze) is diverted to the war effort.
It was the mark of an austere New Order.
With hindsight (always a potentially dangerous thing) it can be viewed as the sign of a wounded and conquered nation having lost so much in a previous war withdrawing into itself.
AS THESE COINS WERE BEING PASSED FROM HAND TO HAND AND THROWN INTO CASH REGISTERS, the Vichy Government under the leadership of Maréchal Phillippe Pétain was in power and administered the ‘Unoccupied’ or ‘Free Zone’ of France – about 40% of the area of Metropolitan France.
But of course the regime based at the small spa town in central France was far from ‘free’ and independent, working closely as it did with the German and Italian forces that occupied the rest of France.
As an example one only has to look at the Vel d’ Hiv round-up that began on a sweltering hot July day in 1942.
Following the Armistice of 1940 and the establishment of the Vichy administration, it had – without any pressure from the German authorities – set in place a series of measures that resulted in the Statut des Juifs of 2 June 1941 that applied to all Jews – French or foreign-born, wherever they lived in France. (8)
A Jewish Affairs Office was established in 1941 that would act to ensure the rights of Jews were curtailed. (9)
Originally scheduled for 13 – 15 July the ‘Vél d’hiv’ round up of Jews in the Paris area (named after the colloquial term for the Vélodrome d’ Hiver – a sports stadium within sight of the Eiffel Tower). The action – planned by the French authorities – was rescheduled to avoid the French National Holiday on 14 July and carried out by the French police at dawn on 16 July 1942 – netted almost 13,000 people – approximately one third being children. (10)
Just under half were sent to the Drancy internment camp outside Paris, a large unfinished housing complex. (11) This served as a holding camp for the journey to the execution camps to the east.
The rest – some 7,000 – were held in the Vélodrome in high July temperatures with only one working water tap in the whole complex. (12) No food was given to those arrested. Windows and ventilation ducts had been sealed to prevent escape and there were only a handful of nurses and only two qualified doctors at a time to provide aid. (13) (14)
Five days later the survivors – there were a number of suicides – left for either camps in the Loiret district of France or Drancy. In almost all cases they were eventually sent to Auschwitz in Poland. (15)
The Vél d’hiv action was part of a bigger operation, (Operation VENT PRINTANIER – Operation SPRING WIND) which continued through July and August 1942.
The German authorities thought the operation might give them 25,000 Jews.
It actually brought in 33,000 individuals thanks to the co-operation of the Vichy regime who rounded up Jewish persons in the Unoccupied Zone, together with the fact that (according to one report) French born Jews and all those under 18 were to be exempt from arrest but this was argued against by the Vichy authorities.
Another report states that Pierre Laval, the Vichy Prime Minister argued that it would be more ‘humane’ to arrest children under 16 with their parents so that they could be looked after by them. (16)
The French would see further arrests and more of the ups and downs of war; the raid on Dieppe, the capture of Madagascar by Allied forces and Operation TORCH – the Allied landings in North Africa – from 8 to 16 November 1942.
This action would be in turn lead to the end of Vichy controlled France. Two days after the landings started the Germans took control of the whole country on 10 November 1942. (17)
They say ‘Money talks!’
If it did, what tales these drab pieces of aluminium could tell?
(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucien_Georges_Bazor – retrieved 16 July 2018
(2) https://en.numista.com/catalogue/pieces707.html – retrieved 16 July 2018
(3) http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O72616/tank-medal-morlon-pierre-alexandre/ – retrieved 16 July 2018
(4) https://www.collectorsweekly.com/stories/36149-the-wwi-victory-medal-series-france – retrieved 16 July 2018
(5) https://en.ucoin.net/coin/france-1-franc-1931-1941/?tid=30460 – retrieved 16 July 2018
(6) http://www.messynessychic.com/2017/07/14/meet-marianne-and-the-many-faces-of-the-french-republic/ – retrieved 16 July 2018 – retrieved 16 July 2018
(7) https://www.britannica.com/topic/Frank-people – retrieved 16 July 2018
(8) http://www.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/Microsoft%20Word%20-%206045.pdf – retrieved 16 July 2018
(9) http://www.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/Microsoft%20Word%20-%205798.pdf – retrieved 16 July 2018
(10) http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/holocaust/france/vel_dhiv_roundup.asp – retrieved 16 July 2018
(11) https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005215 – retrieved 16 July 2018
(12) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/jul/18/worlddispatch.jonhenley – retrieved 16 July 2018
(13) https://leblog1815.blogspot.com/2011/01/la-rafle-du-vel-dhiv-vel-dhiv-round-up.html – retrieved 16 July 2018
(14) https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10008213 – retrieved 16 July 2018
(15) https://leblog1815.blogspot.com/2011/01/la-rafle-du-vel-dhiv-vel-dhiv-round-up.html – retrieved 16 July 2018
(16) https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/france-fails-to-admit-vichy-betrayal-of-jews-1533670.html – retrieved 16 July 2018
(17) https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/germans-take-vichy-france – retrieved 16 July 2018
A French documentary broadcast on 3 August 2018 (18) on the subject of France and the Second World War noted that after the Liberation of Paris and during the period of the setting of the Provisional Government (with the re-establishment of a suitable peace-time legal system) the Vel d’ Hiv was used to house thousands of alleged collaborators.
Guarded by Free French Forces of the Interior members they too were taken to Drancy and imprisoned to await their fate.
A quick search online leads to a reference to David Drake’s book ‘Paris at War’ which adds that a number of the encarsurated were driven to the Drancy camp ‘in the same buses used to take Jews to the camp during the Occupation’.
The Vel d’ Hiv was partially destroyed by fire in 1959 and subsequently demolished. The site has been built on and a number of commemorative plaques and memorials have been placed in the area.
Among them is a piece by Walter Spitzer, dedicated in 1994 and showing a group of people with their bags sitting on a section of the curved cycle track. More details can be found at: http://samgrubersjewishartmonuments.blogspot.com/2013/07/paris-monuments-to-deportation-to.html
(18) L’ Été 44 – La Libération, RMC Decouverte, 22.45 3 August 2018.
http://playtv.fr/programmes-tv/rmc-decouverte/03-08-2018/ – retrieved 4 August 2018.
(19) Paris at War: 1939 – 1944, by David Drake published by Belknap Press (2015), page 415.
https://books.google.fr/books?id=LCxUCwAAQBAJ&pg=PA415&lpg=PA415&dq=paris+collaborators+held+in+vel+d%27hiv&source=bl&ots=Zkj9TS8MHp&sig=ahaQewXtU_IQaweApcLOfL9dWw8&hl=fr&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwigk8f3m9PcAhVP3RoKHa55BJgQ6AEwFXoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=paris%20collaborators%20held%20in%20vel%20d’hiv&f=false – retrieved 4 August 2018.