A story in many newspapers this week contained the headline “Idaho state senator compares Holocaust to health exchange.” The story goes on to describe how Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, said that insurance companies were like “the Jews boarding the trains to concentration camps.”
But like a lot of newspaper articles, it lacks the historical context needed to understand what the commentator, in this case, Nuxoll, was saying. Context is important, and is an opportunity for news organizations to educate, rather than inflame. Lacking context, the article is great at the latter.
In 1940, Germany defeated and occupied France. German forces gave full power to a puppet regime led by Marshal Philppe Pétain. This was called the “Vichy Government,” named for the government’s administrative headquarters of Vichy, located southeast of Paris. The Vichy Government actively collaborated with the Nazis. Defenders of this collaboration policy contended that it helped keep the Nazi regime at bay. This myth of resistance to German policies continued in France’s popular culture up until the 1970s. That’s when historians and filmmakers took a closer look at Vichy France and concluded that the opposite was true: the Vichy Government, and indeed, the French people collaborated to a point that they met and exceeded Nazi demands.
Historians offer differing reasons for the collaboration and the extent. In his 1972 book on the Vichy Government, historian Robert Paxton concludes that collaboration was not something that the Nazis imposed on France, but rather that France itself put in place.
Historian Stanley Hoffmann notes there were several reasons for this. For starters, some French denizens believed that Germany would win the war, and France would be better positioned if it embraced German rule. Others concluded that a content Germany would keep that foreign force out of France’s domestic affairs. Some observe that the French population felt it was spared total German occupation. Indeed, there were also opportunists, who viewed the Vichy Government as ripe for a certain level of profiteering or political positioning.
However, historians do agree on one thing: The Vichy Government was directly responsible for the oppression and deaths of thousands of Jews, even though, in the Vichy regime’s formative early years, the German government, otherwise focusing its energies on war with Britain and Russia, “preferred to leave the Vichy authorities as much as possible the expense and bother for administration,” write World War II historians. The Vichy Government gave the Nazis what it wanted—and in spades.
The French government confiscated property, restricted movements and interned Jews in special camps. In 1942, the French government, aided by the Nazis, conducted “arrests, internments and deportations to Aushwitz in Poland with increasing frequency, often with the direct complicity of the French government and administration. Ultimately, close to seventy-six thousand Jews left France in cattle cars … of these Jews only about 3 percent returned at the end of the war,” according to a 1982 book on the Vichy government and its impact on Jews.
In the context of today’s discussion, some states and businesses, including the insurance industry, contend they can “keep the federal government at bay” by putting in place the things that the federal government want, namely a health insurance exchange. That’s the parallel that Nuxoll may have been trying to draw.