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. 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. Clemenceau said of him: “I fart and Mandel stinks”.
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 regarding the system of proportional representation adopted by both houses of the National Assembly earlier in the year. He lost his seat when the Cartel des Gauches swept the 1924 elections, but was reelected in 1928. By 1932, he had become the Chairman of the Chamber's universal suffrage committee. Its actions led to passage of a bill enfranchising women, although the proposal was rejected by the Senate.
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 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 as Minister of Colonies from 1938 to 18 May 1940, when Premier Paul Reynaud appointed him briefly Minister of the Interior.
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. He was an Anglophile and had inherited Clemenceau’s vicious tongue – he had particular contempt for Albert Lebrun, the President of the Republic, and for Deputy Prime Minister Camille Chautemps – but in the view of historian Julian Jackson he was a natural deputy, not a leader, and did not carry the political weight to oppose those - including France's two leading soldiers, Philippe Pétain and Maxime Weygand - who favoured an armistice. The British general Edward Spears, Churchill's military liaison officer, compared him to a fish, but a likeable one.
On 16 June 1940 in Bordeaux (the day Reynaud resigned and Pétain was asked to form a government), Mandel was arrested but released shortly afterwards, with apologies, upon urgent representations to Premier Pétain made jointly and in person by Édouard Herriot (President of the Chamber of Deputies) and Jules Jeanneney (President of the Senate). Spears offered Mandel the chance to leave on his plane on the morning of 17 June, 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 Lebrun, Herriot, Jeanneney, 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.
Arrest, detention and death
Mandel was arrested on 8 August 1941 in French Morocco by General Charles Noguès on the orders of Pierre Laval, Prime Minister of the Vichy government. He was conveyed to the Château de Chazeron via Fort du Portalet, 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 the Riom Trial, all four were sentenced to life imprisonment on 7 November 1941.
In November 1942, after the German Army moved into unoccupied France (Zone libre and took it over (Case Anton, 11 November 1942) to counter the threat from the Allies, who had just landed in North Africa (Operation Torch) the French government at Vichy transferred Mandel and Reynaud to the Gestapo upon their request. The Gestapo deported Mandel to KZ Oranienburg, and then to KZ 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. Three days later, the Milice took Mandel to the Forest of Fontainebleau, where they executed him. He was buried at Passy Cemetery.
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." 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." Both Laval and Robert Brasillach, a French Fascist who had called for Mandel's trial or execution, were ultimately executed in 1945.
Legacy and honours
A monument to Mandel was erected near the site of his execution, next to the road connecting Fontainebleau to Nemours.
Representation in other media
- 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.
- Jackson 2003, pp138-42
- Warner, 1968, p.14-15.
- Warner, 1968, p.54-5 in the event, women were not enfranchised in France until just after the Second World War
- Warner, 1968, p.159.
- Jackson 2003, pp.138-42
- Hamilton Fish Armstrong, Chronology of Failure: The Last Days of the French Republic, New York: Macmillan, 1941, p.111.
- John M. Sherwood: Georges Mandel and the Third Republic. Stanford University Press, 1970. p. 284
- 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