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Pierre Laval

Laval, Pierre (pyĕr lävälˈ) [key], 1883–1945, French politician. Elected (1914) to the chamber of deputies as a Socialist, he held various cabinet posts and in 1926 became a senator as an Independent, moving away from his leftist affiliations. In 1931–32 and 1935–36 he was premier and foreign minister. With Sir Samuel Hoare (later Viscount Templewood), he proposed (Dec., 1935) a settlement to halt the Italian conquest of Ethiopia; the plan was seen as appeasement of Benito Mussolini, and his government collapsed. After the start of World War II and the fall of France in 1940, Laval reached new prominence. In the Vichy government under Marshal Pétain he became vice premier and foreign minister, but in Dec., 1940, he was dismissed and replaced by Admiral Darlan, apparently on suspicion that he was planning to overthrow Pétain. Entering the German-occupied part of France, Laval outspokenly advocated collaboration with Germany. Pétain reinstated Laval in Apr., 1942, and in November gave him dictatorial powers. Laval's government drafted laborers for German factories, cooperated in the persecution and deportation of Jews to death camps, authorized a French fascist militia, and instituted a rule of terror. After the Allied invasion of France he was taken (Aug., 1944) with the retreating Germans to Germany. He fled (May, 1945) to Spain, was expelled, and finally surrendered in Austria to American forces, which extradited him to France. Tried for treason, he was sentenced to death, and after an unsuccessful attempt at suicide he was executed. While the verdict may have been just, Laval's trial was conducted so poorly that it was denounced by many. Laval defended himself brilliantly and ascribed patriotic motives to his opportunist policies. His notes for his defense were edited by his daughter, Josée Laval, comtesse de Chambrun, and appeared in English in 1948.

See biography by Hubert Cole (1963); D. Thompson, Two Frenchmen: Pierre Laval and Charles de Gaulle (1951); G. Warner, Pierre Laval and the Eclipse of France (1968).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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