Profile of Henri Pétain
Military Leader / Political Figure / World War II Figure
Date Of Birth:
24 April 1856
Date Of Death:
23 July 1951
Place Of Birth:
Cauchy-a-al-Tour, Pas de Calais, France
Best Known As:
He sold out France to the Nazis
Known throughout France as the "Hero of Verdun" for his prowess during World War I, Henri Pétain became the "Traitor of Vichy" during World War II for his collaboration with the occupying forces of Nazi Germany. A colonel when WW I began, Pétain proved himself early at the Battle of the Marne (September 1914) and was promoted to brigadier general. In 1916 he defended the German advance on Verdun and became a national hero, known for his rallying cry of "Ils ne passeront pas!" ("They shall not pass!"). By 1917 Pétain was the supreme commander of all French armies; he was instrumental in putting down mutinous rumblings from foot soldiers and in negotiating the end of the war. He was made a marshal of France for his service and spent the '20s and '30s in military and political matters in Morocco and France. While serving as the ambassador to Spain in 1940, Pétain was called back to try and save France from the Nazi invasion. Although he was 83, it was hoped that his involvement would boost French morale, and he was made titular head of a new government seated in Vichy, outside the territory occupied by the Nazis. Pétain surrendered to Germany on 22 June 1940 and tried unsuccessfully to maintain an independent and collaborative government. The Nazis occupied Vichy in 1942 and in August 1943 Pétain was arrested by the Germans. He was returned to France near the end of the war in April 1945 and was ultimately sentenced to death for treason. Charles de Gaulle immediately commuted his sentence to life imprisonment and Pétain, old and infirm, died a few years later in Port-Joinville.
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