Georges Mandel (5 June 1885 – 7 July 1944) was a French journalist, politician, and French Resistance leader.
Born Louis George Rothschild in Chatou, Yvelines, he was the son of a tailor and his wife. His family was Jewish originally from Alsace.1 They moved into France in 1871 to preserve their French citizenship when Alsace-Lorraine was annexed by the German Empire at the end of the Franco-Prussian War.
Mandel began working life as a journalist for L'Aurore, a literary and socialist newspaper founded in 1897 by Émile Zola and Georges Clemenceau. They notably defended Alfred Dreyfus during the Dreyfus Affair of the 1890s. The paper continued until 1916.
As Minister of the Interior, Clemenceau later brought Mandel into politics as his aide. Described as "Clemenceau's right-hand man," Mandel helped Clemenceau control the press and the trade union movement during the First World War.2
In 1919 Mandel was elected to the Chamber of Deputies from Gironde. In September that year, he was delegated to try to draw the government out of its noncommittal attitude towards the bastardized system of proportional representation passed by both houses of the National Assembly earlier in the year.3 He lost his seat when the Cartel des Gauches swept the 1924 elections, but was returned to office in 1928. By 1932, he had become the Chairman of the Chamber's universal suffrage committee. Its actions led to passage of legislation enfranchising women, although the proposal was an anathema to the Senate.4
Mandel was an economic conservative and an outspoken opponent of Nazism and Fascism. In the 1930s, he played a similar role to that of Winston Churchill in the United Kingdom, highlighting the dangers posed by the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany. He opposed Pierre Laval's plan to partition Ethiopia following its invasion by Benito Mussolini's Italy (the Second Italo–Abyssinian War of 1935-1936). Mandel advocated a French military alliance with the Soviet Union and opposed the Munich Agreement.
During the 1936 Albert Sarraut government, Mandel served as both Minister of Posts and High Commissioner for Alsace and Lorraine. After the fall of the Popular Front government, he served from 1938 as Minister of Overseas France and her Colonies until 18 May 1940, when Premier Paul Reynaud appointed him, briefly, as Minister of the Interior.5
In September 1939, after the outbreak of the German-Polish War, Mandel argued that the French Army should fight an offensive war. Mandel was accused by some on the right of being a warmonger and of placing his Jewish ancestry above France's interests.
Mandel opposed the Armistice with the rapidly advancing Germans. On 16 June 1940 in Bordeaux, Mandel was arrested "while lunching at the Chapon Fin restaurant.... He is released shortly afterwards, however, with apologies, upon urgent representations to Premier Petain made jointly and in person" by Édouard Herriot and Jules Jeanneney.6 Shortly thereafter, the British general Edward Spears, Churchill's military liaison officer, offered Mandel the chance to leave on his plane, together with Charles de Gaulle. Mandel declined, saying: "You fear for me because I am a Jew. Well, it is just because I am a Jew that I will not go tomorrow; it would look as though I was afraid, as if I was running away."
Mandel sought to persuade Albert Lebrun, the President of the Republic, the presidents of the Chamber of Deputies and of the Senate, and as many members of the Cabinet as possible to travel to French North Africa, to continue the fight against the Germans. Only 25 other deputies and one senator embarked with Mandel on the Massilia on 21 June, including Pierre Mendès France and the former Popular Front education minister, Jean Zay, both of whom also had Jewish ancestry.
Mandel was arrested on 8 August 1941 in Morocco by General Charles Nogues on the orders of Pierre Laval, Prime Minister of the Vichy government. He was conveyed to the Château de Chazeron via Fort du Portalet,7 where Paul Reynaud, Édouard Daladier and General Maurice Gamelin were also being held prisoner. Churchill tried unsuccessfully to arrange Mandel's rescue. He described Mandel as "the first resister" and is believed to have preferred him over Charles de Gaulle to lead the Free French Forces. Following pressure from the Germans and trials in Riom, all four were sentenced to life imprisonment on 7 November 1941.
In November 1942, after the German Army moved into unoccupied France and took it over, the Vichy government transferred Mandel and Reynaud to the Gestapo. The Nazis took over the former Free Zone to counter the threat from the Allies, who had just landed in North Africa. The Gestapo deported Mandel to Oranienburg, and then to Buchenwald, where he was held with the French politician Léon Blum.
In 1944 the German Ambassador in Paris, Otto Abetz suggested to Laval that Mandel, Blum, and Reynaud should be executed by the Vichy government in retaliation for the assassination of Philippe Henriot, Minister of Propaganda, by the Algiers Committee, the Communist Maquis of the Resistance. Mandel was returned to Paris on 4 July 1944, supposedly as a hostage. While being transferred from one prison to another, he was captured by the Milice, the paramilitary force.
Laval was appalled and protested that he could not condone the execution: "I have no blood on my hands...and no responsibility for these events."8 He added that the members of the Vichy Cabinet were unanimous "in favour of refusing to hand over any hostages in future or to condone reprisals of this nature."9 Both Laval and Robert Brasillach, a French Fascist who had called for Mandel's trial or execution, were ultimately executed.
A monument to Mandel was erected near the site of his execution, next to the road connecting Fontainebleau to Nemours.
- Nicolas Sarkozy wrote a biography, Georges Mandel, moine de la politique, 1994. It was adapted as a French television film The Last Summer, which starred Jacques Villeret in the title role.
- Webster, Paul (1990). Pétain's Crime. London: Pan Macmillan. p. 40. ISBN 0-333-57301-3.
- Warner, Geoffrey (1968). Pierre Laval and the Eclipse of France. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode. p. 13.
- Warner, 1968, p.14-15.
- Warner, 1968, p.54-5.
- Warner, 1968, p.159.
- Hamilton Fish Armstrong, Chronology of Failure: The Last Days of the French Republic, New York: Macmillan, 1941, p.111.
- Warner, 1968, p. 399 & notes.
- Warner, 1968, p. 399 & notes.
- Mandel on "Alsatian Judaism" (in French)
|Minister of Posts, Telegraphs, and Telephones
|Minister of Colonies
|Minister of the Interior