Pierre Laval (1883 – 1945) was twice Prime Minister of France during the Third Republic, first in 1931 – 1932, and again in 1935 – 1936. He started off as a socialist but steadily drifted into conservatism until he became an extreme right-winger. When the Germans defeated France in 1940, Laval became an eager collaborator and went on to serve prominently in the German-aligned Vichy Regime.
A lawyer, Laval was a member of the Socialist Party from 1903 to 1920, and early in his career, made a name for himself defending leftists and trade unions. He became more conservative after WWI and rising steadily through political ranks, twice became French Prime Minister for brief periods in the 1930s, along with longer stints as Foreign Minister. When France fell to the Germans in 1940, he persuaded the French Assembly to dissolve itself and cede all powers to Marshall Petain, thus ending the Third Republic and inaugurating the Vichy Regime. Convinced of ultimate German victory in WWII, he eagerly collaborated with the Nazis to secure France a favored position after the war.
During the Vichy Regime, Laval served as vice president of the Council of Ministers for five months in 1940, until dismissed by Petain, and as head of the Vichy government from 1942 until the liberation of France in 1944. In an infamous 1942 speech, he avowed his desire that Germany win the war, and throughout, he avidly persecuted the French Resistance, rounded up Frenchmen for labor in Germany and the German war effort, and assisted in rounding up and deporting French Jews to the concentration and extermination camps.
Arrested by the Free French after the liberation of France, Laval was tried alongside Petain after the war on charges of high treason. He attempted to justify his treason on grounds that he had France’s best interests in mind all along, but to no avail, and he was convicted and sentenced to death. After a failed suicide attempt by poison, he was executed by firing squad on October, 15th, 1945.
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