Study Guide

The French in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

By William L. Shirer

The French

Georges Bonnet

Georges Bonnet was the Foreign Minister of France in the lead-up to the Second World War. He participated in the negotiations that led to the Munich Agreement, and Shirer describes his treachery as being particularly awful. As Shirer notes, Bonnet actually tried "to convince the French and British cabinet ministers of the falsehood that the Czech government wanted the French to state that they would not fight for Czechoslovakia" (3.12.176, emphasis added).

Shirer later calls Bonnet a major appeaser and describes him in the autumn of 1939 as doing whatever he could to get out of France's obligations to Poland. His respect for the man is basically zilch, and Bonnet disappears from the book after Shirer recounts France's entrance into the war.

Édouard Daladier

Daladier was the premier of France in the lead-up to the outbreak of the Second World War. He enters Shirer's narrative in the spring of 1938, as Hitler was attempting—successfully—to bamboozle his way into seizing vast territories of Czechoslovakia.

Although Shirer's early descriptions of Daladier reveal his frustration with the premier's willingness to to collaborate with Hitler in signing Czechoslovakia away in the Munich Agreement, his later descriptions suggest that Daladier was less willing to capitulate when his own country was on the line.

Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain

Marshal Pétain was one of the "two most illustrious generals" in France—the other being General Weygand—who, in the spring of 1940, dominated the shaky French government and had no wish to oppose such a strong foe as Hitler.

Pétain replaced the French Premier and asked for an armistice from the invading Nazi forces. Shirer describes his collaborationist government in occupied France as a servile regime, and he writes that Pétain and his fellow defeatists both believed and accepted that France was fated to become subservient to Nazi Germany.

André François-Poncet

André François-Poncet served as the French ambassador to Germany in the years leading up to the outbreak of the Second World War. His written records of his years in Nazi Germany provide Shirer with ample anecdotes about, and insights into, the political maneuverings that went on during the steady "Nazification" of Germany.

Shirer characterizes François-Poncet as "the best-informed ambassador in Berlin" (3.9.58). Unlike most envoys, he managed to stay on very good terms with Hitler. Shirer also describes François-Poncet as being a man who tended to know the score.

General Maxime Weygand

Weygand enters our story as another important French general who didn't have it in him to oppose the Nazis.

Shirer describes Weygand, like Marshal Petain, as bearing much of the responsibility for France's final surrender and the break with Britain. But he gives him credit for at least objecting to some of the Nazi demands in the armistice treaty that Germany pressured France to sign.