The son of a tailor from southwest France, Pucheu won a scholarship to the École Normale Supérieure in Paris where he was a contemporary of both Robert Brasillach and Jean-Paul Sartre. Initially intending to follow the path of a writer himself, he became enamoured of capitalism in Paris and determined instead to enter the business world. He was ultimately drawn to the steel industry and eventually came to head up one of the largest monopolies, the Cartel d'Acier.
Initially showing little real interest in politics, his interest was sparked by the 6 February 1934 crisis and he became associated first with the Croix-de-Feu and then with Jacques Doriot's Parti Populaire Français before splitting from the latter group in 1938 over Doriot's financial links with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. In particular Pucheu was opposed to the Munich Agreement, which he felt punish Czechoslovakia. This was in part motivated by Pucheu's business interests, which included close links to Škoda Auto, a company threatened by German expansion. Pucheu's support for the PPF had been motivated by what he saw as the growth of communism and the desire for a rightist party to oppose that whilst his departure from the group (along with that of other industrialists whom he had encouraged to support them) saw the PPF decline sharply due a significant drop in funding.
After the occupation his political profile rose as he was pushed by industrialist allies in charge of Le Temps who ensured that he was given the position of Minister of Industrial Production in 1941, before being promoted to Minister of the Interior later that same year. In the latter role he became noted for his heavy-handed approach, notably selecting personally 89 hostages for execution in October 1941 in reprisal for the killing of German officers. He also formed the Police aux Questions Juives in 1941 and took personal charge of the organisation. He was also responsible for setting up the SPAC anti-communist police force, the anti-Masonic Service for Secret Societies and the Amicales de France, which served as the propaganda arm of Vichy.
According to Joseph Barthélemy, Pucheu, who had a violent hatred of Communists and Jews, was a confirmed Nazi. However, Pucheu actually wanted to model France's economy on Nazi Germany's rather than being fully convinced of the merits of occupation, and as such the Germans called for him to be replaced in April 1942. As part of a loose intellectual movement known as the jeunes cyclists, Pucheu quickly came to terms with Germany was the leader of Europe but hoped that economic renewal would ensure France would be one of the leading secondary powers in this new order. In government Pucheu has been characterised, along with the likes of Jean Bichelonne, Jacques Barnaud and François Lehideux, as a technocrat who helped to ensure that the Vichy regime was able to take on the administrative functions of a government. They were said to belong to a group called the Synarchy.
Deprived of his position Pucheu left France in 1943 and settled in French Algeria, which remained under Vichy control. However, after the Free French forces took charge Pucheu soon started moving around North Africa until he was arrested in Casablanca and brought to trial. The following year Charles de Gaulle ensured that the captured Pucheu faced the death penalty in order to undermine any further collaboration in France. He was the first of the leading collaborationist figures to be executed directly under de Gaulle's jurisdiction.
- P. Webster, Petain's Crime, London, Pan Books, 2001, p. 126
- Webster, Petain's Crime, p. 117
- Webster, Petain's Crime, p. 127
- M. Curtis, Verdict on Vichy, London: Phoenix Press, 2004, p. 79
- Jean-Baptiste Duroselle, France and the Nazi Threat: The Collapse of French Diplomacy, Enigman Books, 2004, p. 298
- Malcolm Anderson, Conservative Politics in France, Allen & Unwin, 1974, p. 218
- Anderson, Conservative Politics in France, p. 219
- Webster, Petain's Crime, p. 119
- David Littlejohn, The Patriotic Traitors, London: Heinemann, 1972, p. 231
- Curtis, Verdict on Vichy, p. 259
- Curtis, Verdict on Vichy, p. 80
- Webster, Petain's Crime, p. 270
- Curtis, Verdict on Vichy, p. 345
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