Category Archives: The French State

The Hôtel de Séville

How François Mitterrand navigated between the government and the Resistance

In post-war France, it was generally believed that from 1940 the Resistance and its activities were systematically motivated by a determination to combat not only the Germans but also the French State. Yet many members of the Resistance shared the same values as Marshal Pétain. These men and women considered that working for the government and helping the Resistance went hand in hand. Their prime aim was to prepare the terrain so that France’s leaders could resume combat when this became possible. Many of these so-called “Vichysto-resistants” worked for Vichy’s institutions and ministries such as the French Legion of Combatants, which had its headquarters in the Hôtel de Séville.

Created in August 1940, the French Legion of Combatants represented the new order that the Vichy government wanted to establish. Its role as a propaganda machine was immense and its members were among the staunchest supporters of Marshal Pétain and the National Revolution. After escaping from Stalag IXA in Germany in December 1941, François Mitterrand arrived in Vichy in January 1942 and began working in the Legion’s “documentation” service, which was in fact an intelligence unit whose purpose was to gather information on “anti-nationals” such as Communists and Gaullists.

After several months at the Hôtel de Séville, he was employed by the Service for the Orientation of Prisoners of War. In 1943, he received the francisque, a medal awarded by the Vichy regime. The same year, he built up a resistance movement mainly composed of ex-prisoners of war, which became affiliated to the Organisation de Résistance de l’Armée, Giraudist in allegiance. Late in 1943, Mitterrand, hunted by the Gestapo, left Vichy for good.

The Cintra Bar

The imperial chalet at 109 Boulevard des États-Unis, now known as the “Villa Marie-Louise,” is one of the chalets that Napoleon III built in Vichy between 1861 and 1864. In 1928, the “Marie Louise” was bought by the Société de l’hôtel des Lilas, which transformed the ground floor into a bar, the Cintra.

During the Second World War, the bar became the meeting place for Vichy high society. Daily, Germans, French ministers, foreign diplomats and the local bourgeoisie rubbed shoulders there, and throughout the war the Cintra flourished as a melting pot for all kinds of murky political and commercial deals and of course amorous affairs.

Henry Vuitton, manager of the Vuitton boutique on the ground floor of the Hôtel du Parc, was a regular at the Cintra, where one day he met Robert Lallemant, who had just created Marshal Pétain’s artistic service, whose main purpose was the production of objects depicting the marshal. Henry Vuitton proposed his services and Lallemant accepted. Although Vuitton’s precise role in Vichyist propaganda is still obscure, it is nonetheless certain that they produced several objects portraying Marshal Pétain.

Despite its salacious reputation, the Cintra remained open after the war. It closed for good in the mid-1970s.