Despite autonomy from German policies, Pétain brought in legislation setting up a Jewish Statute in October 1940. By then about 150,000 Jews had crossed what was known as the Demarcation Line to seek protection from Vichy in the south - only to find they were subjected to fierce discrimination along lines practised by the Germans in the north.
Jews were eventually banned from the professions, show business, teaching, the civil service and journalism. After an intense propaganda campaign, Jewish businesses were 'aryanised' by Vichy's Commission for Jewish Affairs and their property was confiscated. More than 40,000 refugee Jews were held in concentration camps under French control, and 3,000 died of poor treatment during the winters of 1940 and 1941. The writer Arthur Koestler, who was held at Le Vernet near the Spanish frontier, said conditions were worse than in the notorious German camp, Dachau.
During 1941 anti-Semitic legislation, applicable in both zones, was tightened. French police carried out the first mass arrests in Paris in May 1941when 3,747 men were interned. Two more sweeps took place before the first deportation train provided by French state railways left for Germany under French guard on 12 March 1942.
On 16 July 1942, French police arrested 12,884 Jews, including 4,501 children and 5,802 women, in Paris during what became known as La Grande Rafle ('the big round-up'). Most were temporarily interned in a sports stadium, in conditions witnessed by a Paris lawyer, Georges Wellers.
'All those wretched people lived five horrifying days in the enormous interior filled with deafening noise ... among the screams and cries of people who had gone mad, or the injured who tried to kill themselves', he recalled. Within days, detainees were being sent to Germany in cattle-wagons, and some became the first Jews to die in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.
French courts, responding to Mitterrand's warnings that trials would cause civil unrest, blocked other prosecutions, including that of the Vichy police chief, René Bousquet, who organised the Paris and Vichy zone mass arrests. He was assassinated by a lone gunman in June 1993.
It was not until Mitterrand retired in 1995 that France began to face up to its responsibility in the persecution of Jews. When the new right-wing president, Jacques Chirac, came to power, he immediately condemned Vichy as a criminal regime and two years later the Catholic Church publicly asked for forgiveness for its failure to protect the Jews.
But the most significant step forward was the trial in 1997 of Maurice Papon, 89, for crimes concerning the deportation of Jews from Bordeaux. He had served as a cabinet minister after the war, before losing a 16-year legal battle to avoid trial. He was released from jail because of poor health, but his ten-year prison sentence has been interpreted as official recognition of French complicity in the Holocaust, although there are still those who continue to defend his actions.
Since the trial, France has opened up hidden archives and offered compensation to survivors - and ensured that schools, where history manuals used not to mention France's part in the deportations, now have compulsory lessons on Vichy persecution. While anti-Semitism is still a social problem in France, there is no official discrimination, and today's 600,000-strong Jewish community is represented at every level of the establishment, including in the Catholic Church, where the Archbishop of Paris is Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger.
In 1942, while on the run from the French police, Lustiger converted to Catholicism, but three years later was told that his mother had died in the Auschwitz gas chambers. It seems fitting that he presently (June 2003) occupies such an important position within French society.
Find out more
A History of the Jews by Paul Johnson (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1987)
Vichy France and the Jews by Michael Marrus, Robert Paxton (Schocken, 1983)
Vichy-Auschwitz by Serge Klarsfeld (Fayard, 1983)
The Collapse of the Third Republic by William Shirer (Pan, 1969)
France: The Dark Years by Julian Jackson (Oxford University Press, 2001)
Occupation by Ian Ousby (Pimlico, 1997)
The Extreme Right in France: 1789 to Present by Peter Davies (Routledge, 2002)
Verdict on Vichy by Michael Curtis (Weidenfield and Nicholson, 2002)
Places to visit
A complete repertory of anti-Jewish legislation and its consequences was drawn up by a government commission headed by Jean Matteoli in 2000. A printed version of the findings can be obtained from La Documentation francaise, 29-31 quai Voltaire, 75344 Paris Cedex 07. Telephone: 00331-40157000
A CD-ROM for libraries and researchers with a facsimile of all laws, confiscation and restitution of property is available from the same address.
The main research centre on the subject is the Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine, 17 rue Geoffrey l'Asnier, 75004 Paris. Telephone: 00331- 42772042