Maître Pierre Laval, a French lawyer, was sentenced to death and faced a firing squad at the large prison of Fresnes, France, on October 15, 1945. The triggers were very willingly pulled by by fellow Frenchmen. Fresnes was the same prison where members of the French Resistance were held, tortured and shot during Laval's heyday.

Laval, a Frenchman, made all the wrong choices during the Second World War and even given allowances for stupidity, all of those choices had dire consequences for its intended victims, all fellow French citizens. His life was a waste of a good law degree, admitedly in a time and place where decisions and choises were hard to make, health if not life of state and family at stake almost daily.

When the Nazis broke through the Maginot Line in 1940, then rural France then Paris, they were quick to arrange a puppet and military government led by the soldier and World War 1 hero, Major Henri Philippe Pétain, first offshore in North Africa and then in the resort town of Vichy in central France. Pétain was the figure-head national hero and army chief but Pierre Laval was the bureaucrat and politician behind the farce of the Nazi puppet government in Vichy.

Pierre LavalIf nothing else, Hitler and his Nazis were good stage managers and they found in lawyer Pierre Laval, a very willing player in their nightmarish script.

Laval was born at Chateldon, France in 1883. As a young man, he was, as was the nation, engrossed in the events of the Dreyfus Affair, which finally ended in 1906 and which made Laval an avowed socialist.

Laval got his law degree at Dijon and then cut his lawyer teeth in Paris as a labour lawyer, especially defending unions. He got himself elected to the National Assembly of France in 1914 and served several terms as a socialist and pacifist, in an era and state where those titles attracted rather than scared away votes. He rose through the ranks of pre-war French governments and one accomplishments was arranging for an accord with the fascist government of Benito Mussolino in Italy. He mets with Stalin in Moscow and came out against the idea of a League of Nations protesting that diplomats are too polite to be honest, a point well taken but there was more, sinister more to Laval.

In 1932, Pierre Laval was on top of the world, named Man of the Year by the American weekly magazine Time.

After the blood spilt as the German Nazi war machine, SS and Gestapo in tow rolled and cowered France, and by then safely ensconced in Vichy, Laval, was one of the highest ministers in Petain's puppet government. That France could forgive and work with Adfolf Hitler and his Nazis was one of his favourite refrains. He visited Hitler at Montoire, Central France on October 22, 1940 to promote this ludicrous idea of cooperation between his conquered nation and conqueror/occupier Nazi Germany. By all appearances, Laval was not speaking with gun to his temple but was genuinely sincere in the idea of the Nazification of France.

Once, he went even too far for Pétain who had him dismissed and arrested but the Germans, mainly in black suits and red bands of the Gestapo, got their inside man released and back to his seat of power.

Petain and Pierre LavalIn August 1941, his fellow Frenchmen keenly aware of the traitorous leanings of this French avocat, tried to assassinate Laval near Versailles but missed, unfortunately for history. Laval was soon back leading the Pétain government, again with Nazi persuasion. By 1942, he was all but president of the puppet government with the obvious backing of the German Nazis and their ubiquitous SS officers,

Laval, rather than bend back for France, seemed to go off the deep end. He made public statements for a Nazi German victory over the Allies. This, he said, to halt the spread of communism.

Most horrifically, he encouraged the round-up of French Jews, including children, to be exported to Germany to be triaged and then given to concentration camps. He also set up a puppet government militia to chase down and report on any and all of the frequent French Resistance activities.

He was arrested by the Nazi Gestapo with the rest of the Vichy/Pétain government when the Allies landed at Normandy and taken to Singmaringen, Germany. But when the Allies persisted on advancing even onto German soil, Laval tried managed to escape but not to France. He wasn't that stupid. He ran instead to Spain and sought asylum but was rejected and returned to France.

He was tried in a trial that last five days (October 4-9, 1945), convicted of collaboration with the Nazis and given the death penalty. He tried to commit suicide in his prison cell using poison but he was alive when his body was riddled with French bullets, a firing squad execution for the hated French lawyer, on October 15, 1945.

A week later, Time magazine ran this story:

"Devil's Advocate. Last week Pierre Laval came to judgment. With him came none of the dreadful pity, the sense of terrible duty that had been in every Frenchman's heart during the trial, death sentence and commutation to life imprisonment, of old Marshal Henri Pétain. The elimination of Pierre Laval, a necessary chore, might have been a satisfying vengeance. He made it a shameful farce. The sunken-cheeked, 62-year-old Auvergnat wore his usual white tie, looked more than ever like a peasant dressed in untidy Sunday clothes."

REFERENCES:

  • Assemblee Nationale de la France, Pierre Laval, biographie [retrieved on April 9, 2013 from http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/sycomore/fiche.asp?num_dept=7519].