Mitterrand's last word on his role in Vichy

Three and a half months after his death, France's former president, Francois Mitterrand, still lies uneasy in his grave. With his relatives blocking publication of a book that claims he misled the French public about his cancer, and his widow's not always flattering memoirs still on the best- seller list, his own recollections have now appeared in two slim volumes which are distinguished by the elegance of the language and the lavishness of the author's self-justification.

He completed the books, published today, only in the final days of his life and they contain his last words on the two big controversies that marked his later years: claims that he collaborated with the Vichy regime and accusations that he "misread history" by resisting the reunification of Germany.

On the unification of Germany, Mitterrand comes out fighting and appears to have been stung by the accusation that he misread history. The first time he broached the question in public, he says, was during a visit to Moscow in July 1989. He knew that his hosts strongly disapproved of unification - and implies that it would have been bad manners to disagree.

He charts his statements, interviews and articles between then and the day - again in Moscow - where the Allied powers finally approved the end of Germany's division, insisting all the time that he did not oppose unification, but merely laid down necessary conditions. "If moving towards unification was legitimate, that still did not mean that it should come about just anyhow," he says, insisting that it should be "peaceful and democratic". The only real disagreement with Chancellor Helmut Kohl, he claims, was over recognition of the German-Polish border along the Oder-Neisse line, but insists that they managed to preserve good relations despite this.

If I could be accused of anything, Mitterrand says, "it was that I did not jump through the window of the first carriage of the train [of history] ... but if I was left on the platform, so were a lot of other people."

On his connections with the Vichy regime, Mitterrand is ambivalent, while making every effort to appear forthright and reasonable. He presents himself as an eternal rebel, who bucked any curb on his freedom, while appreciating a strong leader when he saw one. Hence his decision to serve the Resistance in France rather than abroad, and his growing contempt for Marshall Petain - for "perpetually compromising".

For his decision to settle in Vichy after escaping from Germany in 1942, and his acceptance of a job ("only on contract") with the Vichy regime, his only defence is rhetoric: "What am I reproached with? Of not having been in the resistance in 1940, when I was in prison in Germany? Of being press-ganged by Vichy to take a high-level post for pay equivalent to less than today's minimum wage? Of having breathed the air of this town for a few months - air that many others gulped down and suffered no ill effects from?"

Mitterrand has admiration, but also misgivings about, General Charles de Gaulle. Only De Gaulle, he suggests, could have united the resistance and emerged as France's liberator. But, he argues, if De Gaulle's resistance appeal from London had not been mythologised in the way it was, "De Gaulle would not have been able to obscure the internal resistance, whose role has been systematically and unjustly played down."

In one anecdote Mitterrand sums up the chancy atmosphere of the time. Returning to Paris in 1943 as "Resistance agent Morland", he was stopped by the officers looking for blackmarket goods. His case contained a British pistol and cyanide capsules. It was examined, and handed back: "No butter, no eggs? On your way!"

There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Life and Style
life“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

PHP Web Developer (HTML5, CSS3, Jenkins, Vagrant, MySQL)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: PHP Web Develo...

Network Engineer (CCNA, CCNP, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£40000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNA, CCNP, Linux, OSPF,...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice