Bad Faith: A For­got­ten His­to­ry of Fam­i­ly, Father­land, and Vichy France

Car­men Callil
  • Review
By – December 16, 2011

Louis Dar­quier failed at every­thing he under­took except anti-Semi­tism. In 1942 he was appoint­ed com­mis­sion­er for Jew­ish affairs in Vichy France, charged with the man­age­ment of Jews and Aryaniza­tion of Jew­ish prop­er­ty. He was large­ly respon­si­ble for the depor­ta­tion of 75,000 Jews, includ­ing more than 11,000 chil­dren. After D‑Day he escaped to Spain, where he lived a long and com­fort­able life although a French court sen­tenced him to death in absen­tia in 1947 and stripped him of his citizenship. 

The sor­did sto­ry of Louis Dar­quier — he added the aris­to­crat­ic flour­ish de Pelle­poix to his name — might have remained for­got­ten if Car­men Callil, a promi­nent British edi­tor and pub­lish­er, had not seen his name in a doc­u­men­tary on occu­pied France. She had first heard the name Dar­quier de Pelle­poix just a year before, at the funer­al of her long-time psy­chi­a­trist, Dr. Anne Dar­quier. Speak­ing of her par­ents, Anne Dar­quier had once said to Callil, There are some things and some peo­ple you can nev­er for­give.” These words, with the dis­cov­ery of Anne’s father, set Callil on a decades-long search for Louis Darquier. 

To find Dar­quier, Callil stud­ied archives and his­to­ries, inter­viewed rel­a­tives and acquain­tances, and gained access to pri­vate let­ters and jour­nals across three con­ti­nents. The result of her extra­or­di­nar­i­ly exten­sive research is a sear­ing record of the tumult that was France from the end of World War I until after World War II. Torn by inter­nal fac­tions, France sur­ren­dered to Ger­many in 1940 under the illu­sion that the coun­try would be revi­tal­ized. In this delud­ed and divi­sive cli­mate, Dar­quier real­ized his mis­sion of purg­ing France of Jews and at the same time enrich­ing himself. 

Hatred of Jews and the con­stant need for mon­ey dom­i­nat­ed Darquier’s life. Nev­er tru­ly employed, Dar­quier drift­ed for years on elab­o­rate fic­tions, sup­port­ing his high liv­ing by beg­ging for hand­outs from his fam­i­ly. After some time trav­el­ing and in Eng­land, he returned to France and became active in extreme right-wing pol­i­tics; soon he was a pop­u­lar ultra­na­tion­al­ist known for his vicious attacks — phys­i­cal as well as polemic — on com­mu­nists, Free Masons, and Jews. His anti-Semit­ic stance attract­ed Ger­man atten­tion and finan­cial back­ing and ulti­mate­ly led to his appoint­ment as commissioner. 

Despite his zeal­ous pur­suit of Jews and pas­sion­ate nation­al­ism, Dar­quier was always regard­ed with sus­pi­cion by Vichy as a Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tor and by the Ger­mans as inef­fec­tive and dis­hon­est. Con­tentious, demand­ing, and vain, a slop­py admin­is­tra­tor who sel­dom turned up at his office, Dar­quier used his posi­tion not only to round up Jews but also to exploit them to finance his expen­sive life. In 1944 the Ger­mans forced him to resign, and Dar­quier soon dis­ap­peared from pub­lic life. 

Here Darquier’s sto­ry as the engi­neer of the French Holo­caust ends, but Callil picks up a per­son­al strand as she unrav­els the sad­ness and silence that she saw in Anne Dar­quier. After the war, Anne, now a teenag­er, met the par­ents who had left her as an infant when they went to France, turn­ing her over to an Eng­lish nan­ny who brought Anne up in wartime Eng­lish depri­va­tion. Dis­gust­ed by her alco­holic moth­er and the shock­ing knowl­edge of her father’s wartime career, Anne turned her back on them. But her grand­moth­ers, aunts, and uncles offered emo­tion­al and finan­cial sup­port and helped her real­ize her ambi­tion to become a doc­tor. With great deter­mi­na­tion she over­came her inad­e­quate edu­ca­tion and built a suc­cess­ful career and full life birth­day, by the demons that haunt­ed her. She was found dead on her bath­room floor, felled by depres­sion, pre­scrip­tion drugs, and alcohol.

Callil’s straight­for­ward account of Louis Darquier’s career con­trasts with the sto­ry of his daugh­ter. Equal­ly well researched but more inti­mate­ly expe­ri­enced, Anne’s sto­ry becomes the per­son­al tem­plate on which Louis Darquier’s heinous career played out. Anne suf­fered the inhu­man­i­ty her father mas­ter­mind­ed. Untouched by remorse, he out­lived his daugh­ter and after her death bought the only home he ever owned; she died intes­tate, and he inher­it­ed her estate. 

A flu­id and com­pelling doc­u­men­ta­tion of Vichy France and the polit­i­cal ten­sions that gave rise to it, Bad Faith reveals a sor­ry and sav­age peri­od of French his­to­ry and a pet­ty but bru­tal bureau­crat who wrought vast dev­as­ta­tion. Appen­dices, bib­li­og­ra­phy, exten­sive notes, index, photographs.

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

Discussion Questions