The Marshal and his lawyer during the audience













The pleading of Isorni Master

































Isorni Master : courtroom sketches.




























Philippe Pétain gets into the prison van.

The first session of the trial takes place Monday July 23, at 1 p.m. Mongibeaux, President of the Supreme Court of Appeals, is the Court’s President, assisted by Donat-Guigue, President of the Criminal Chamber of the Court of Appeals, and also assisted by Picard, First President of the Court of Appeals of Paris.

The accusation is carried by Attorney General Mornet. Marshal Pétain’s defence is ensured by three lawyers : Payen, President of the Bar, and attorneys Jacques Isorni and Jean Lemaire. Twenty-four members of the jury were chosen according to primarily political criteria. They were drawn at random from two lists : one list containing the names of those members of Parliament who had not voted full powers to the Marsha on July 10, 1940 ; the other list containing names provided by the Resistance networks.

Marshal Pétain presents himself before the Court wearing a uniform having as its only decoration, the Military Medal given to Generals having commanded on the front against the enemy. Standing upright, he reads a declaration starting with these words : « I spent my life in the service of France » and ending in « My life matters little to me, I made the gift of my person to France ; at this supreme moment, my sacrifice should no longer be questioned. »

The acts drawn up by Mornet accuse the Marshal of having been « the standard-bearer of the Cagoule » whose members had wanted, « to seize power, to create a regime fashioned after that of Franco and using the latter’s services and, as needed, the support of Hitler (…) who had been favourable to goals of these conspirators, having even helped them financially while providing them the necessary military support» (Official Journal of the trial, page 7c.)

And these conclude by accusing Pétain « of complicity with the enemy to facilitate the enemy’s undertakings in correlation with his own. Crime specified in articles 87 and 75 of the penal code » (Official Journal of the trial, page 8c).
Two of the prosecution’s witnesses create a sensation in expressing their attitude : the French Ambassador, Charles-Roux, former Foreign Affairs Secretary-general who, entering the Court, bows with respect before the Marshal, and also Commander Loustaunau-Lacau. Former aide-de-camp to Marshal Pétain, Loustaunau-Lacau went over to the Resistance early on and was deported to the camp of Mathausen; very weakened by his detention in Germany, he makes his deposition while sitting down and concludes with these words of contempt for some of the prosecution witnesses : « I do not owe anything to Marshal Pétain, but this does not prevent me from being nauseated by the spectacle of those who, in this room, try to pass onto a man almost one hundred years old, a slate filled with all their own mistakes. »

Among the prosecution witnesses are : Paul Reynaud, former President of the Council, who declares that the Marshal committed treason in signing the Armistice; Edouard Daladier, former President of the Council; the former President of the Republic, Albert Lebrun; former President of the Senate, Jeanneney, who criticizes the Marshal for having exceeded his authority and who refuses to answer the question posed by attorney Isorni: « What did you do to protest? » ; President Herriot, who declares that the war should have been pursued and, to that end, the government should have gone to North Africa; the former President of the Council, Léon Blum, who criticizes those members of Parliament who voted full powers to the Marshal, as well as the magistrates took an oath of fidelity to Pétain.

The testimony of defence witnesses is marked in particular by the deposition of General Weygand in his oratorical duel against Paul Reynaud.

Specifically, General Weygand declares : « Paul Reynaud has testified that, subsequent to having given me direction of the High Military Command, he had thought of dismissing me but did not do it ; he also declared that he did not have faith us; if he did not have confidence, why then did he call upon us ? Lastly, he says he thought of removing us, Marshal Pétain and myself, but he did not do it. » Before Paul Reynaud, visibly struck, the General severely apostrophizes : « In this matter and in serious circumstances, Mr. Paul Reynaud, President of the Council, has committed the most serious crime which a Head of State can commit; he lacked firmness and he did not follow in the footsteps of our great ancestors, certainly not ! And so what happens ? Presently without any responsibilities, after having not even dared to vote in Parliament on July 10, 1940, after having subsequently agreed to being sent by Marshal Pétain to Washington, he dares now utter these words and he has the gall to accuse us… yes, us - men like us - of treason ! Ah ! Gentlemen, No ! »

Other defence witnesses make remarkable depositions, in particular General Laffargue, former Chief of Staff of General de Lattre de Tassigny, who appeared in his battle uniform bearing the badge of the Army of the « Rhine and Danube » ; the day following his testimony his command is withdrawn from him! ; Prince Xavier de Bourbon-Parma, back from deportation, who quotes what the Marshal said to him : « I try to save what I can for the French State ; inevitably, after me in peacetime, we will necessarily return to the Republic » ; former President of the Council, Pierre Laval, who declares: « Marshal Pétain never had a desire for a dictatorship: he was too old for that ; additionally, in the constitutional law that I myself wrote, I kept the word Republic » ; the key Pétain cabinet members, witnesses of Pétain’s most private thinking : Jardel, Tracou, Lavagne, Estèbe, for each of which one wanted to shout: « Long live Fidelity ! » ; Admiral Bléhaut, General Débeney taken into captivity along with the Marshal by the Germans in 1944 ; Generals Bergeret, George, Héring, Lacaille, Picquendard, Picard, Serrigny, Vauthier ; The Marshal’s former ministers : Yves Bouthillier, Marcel Peyrouton, Jacques Chevalier ; General Juin, victor of Garigliano and Chief of the Army of Africa, who had himself intended to come testify subject to General de Gaulle’s authorization, found himself prevented from doing so, de Gaulle having intentionally sent him on a mission into Germany. He provided a written testimony in favour of the Marshal, whereas the defence attorneys had at the outset wanted his oral testimony.

On Saturday, August 11, Attorney General Mornet finishes his indictment with these words : « Having myself arrived toward the end of my life, not lacking a profound emotion but with the sense here and now of accomplishing a rigorous duty : it is the death penalty which I ask High the Court of Justice to pronounce against the man who was Marshal Pétain. » Mornet is a survivor of the major treason trial of the war of 1914-1918 : he had been prosecutor in the Caillaux affair, in the trial of Mata-Hari. His indictment does not hold any account whatsoever of the facts revealed by the testimony of defence witnesses.

The extent of his bias is obvious in many of his prosecutions. The most striking case is his interpretation of the Pétain-Tuck interview of November 8, 1942 following which the American chargé d'affaires, Tuck, reports to Washington with the following message : « As I rose to leave, the Marshal took me by both hands, looked at me straight in the eyes and smiled. He accompanied me all the way to the anteroom and, in a perky step, headed back towards his office humming an airy tune. » (Foreign relations of the United States, 1942, vol.11, page 430 to 432). Bernard Ménétrel who was present at the time specified that it was a hunter’s tune. And Woodruff Wallner of the American embassy at Vichy, comes back with Tuck’s account of the incident : « Pétain did a very nice thing. He suddenly seemed twenty years younger. His blue eyes were clear and sparkling. The landing was anything but displeasing to him. He seemed as happy as can be, he accompanied me back while humming a song. » (testimony quoted by Tournoux in Pétain and France, page 411).

As for Jean Jardel, Secretary-General to the Chief of State, who attended this meeting, he notes in his daily report : « Mr Tuck has tears in his eyes leaving the Marshal. The Marshal then shakes his hand. » (Jardel-MAE report, 1940 papers).

These few words, taken out of their context, are exploited with a singular, even criminal, dishonesty by the Attorney General who fails to mention Tuck’s message, but quotes and interprets in his own fashion Jardel’s text in which he sees – so he declares before the High Court -- « the emotional disappointment of one of France’s friends before the attitude of those who claim to represent France. » (Official Journal of the trial, page 3346).

By this falsification, Mornet remains a prisoner of his bill of indictment according to which Pétain was « a partner of the Führer » (OJ, page 8c). He knows that the fable he wrote and recited would be ruined if he honestly analyzed this critical testimony on the Marshal Pétain’s anticipated strategy in favour of the allies.

August 13 and 14 are dedicated to the summations of the Marshal’s three lawyers, the Payen, President of the Bar, and attorneys Jacques Isorni and Jean Lemaire.

The attorney Payen declares : « Gentlemen, the Attorney General spoke to us Saturday of his sentiments. I rise before you with an immense sadness. » He continues his plea speaking of the Marshal’s past glory and great age, which clearly irritates Pétain ; he evokes the 1940 Armistice which, according to him, was inevitable and necessary; he refutes the accusation of complicity preferred against the Marshal.

It is attorney Lemaire’s turn to speak : he personally attacks Attorney General Mornet: « You are a dedicated servant of law and Government » and he conclude his plea saying: « No indeed, no crime against the Republic and the Nation was committed, and I ask you cleanse the Marshal’s honour ».

After adjournment, Jacques Isorni begins a plea which was brilliant, moving and to which was paid particular attention : notably, he is addressed himself with much emotion directly to those of the jury who were members of Parliament; he undertakes the defence of the Vichy government’s domestic policy ; and, to the question: « What about our dead ? » addressed to him by a member of the jury, attorney Isorni replied : «These deaths, believe me, we grieve for them together ». The lawyer succeeds in deeply disturbing the jury with the final words of his finale : « Gentlemen, at the very time when peace finally spreads to the entire world, when the clamour of weapons has been made silent and when mothers begin to breathe again, oh ! how peace, our peace, peace in society, prevents our sacred land from further bruising itself ! Magistrates of this High Court, listen to me, hear my call. You are not only judges; you are not only judging one man. Rather, you carry in your hands the destiny of France. »

As planned, and following Jacques Isorni’s moving discourse by, it is again attorney Payen’s turn conclude by declaring : « Yes, I have faith. And I was going to say, whatever your decision. But I do not want to doubt your decision. There is a word which must absolutely be the final word to resound in this place : I pronounce that word. I shout it with all my heart, on my own behalf, on his behalf and, I am sure you agree, also on your behalf : Vive la France ! »


At the end of his lawyers’ pleas, Marshal Pétain reads a declaration which ends with these words : « Dispose of me according to your consciences. Mine does not reproach me anything because, during an already long life and having arrived by age at the threshold of death, I affirm that I had no another ambition but to serve France. »


The condemnation of the illustrious soldier was unavoidable because of political choices which had controlled the appointment of both the Attorney General and the jury.
The judgement pronounced at four o'clock in the morning on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1945, follows the « themes » developed by Mornet in the bill of indictment. By a single voice, Marshal Pétain is condemned to death for « intelligence with Germany » and « for having asked for an armistice » with the intention to « seize power » so as to install a political system whose goal was « to destroy or change the form of government. » (OJ of the trial, page386c).


This fable that became this trial could not stand up to the judgement of History nor, for that matter, to the judgement of the adversary himself. Thus Goering acknowledged that, « the Armistice was the Führer’s most important error. » (Quoted by Tournoux in Pétain and France, page 154). Which means, by antiphrasis, that the signature of the Armistice was, for France and its allies, a salutary event ». And Henri Amouroux in, The Last Page is not yet Turned, wrote : « The need for the Armistice is, today, for all intents and purposes, not called into question ».

Conscious of this fact, lobbies supported by powerful Medias proceed henceforth to a historiographic reversal by which the Pétain-Auschwitz amalgam is substituted for the Pétain-Hitler couple invented in 1945 by a political tribunal. But the Jewish question is another story, one which was never evoked at the time of the Marshal’s trial, neither by members of the jury such as Jean-Pierre Bloch, nor by prosecution witnesses such as Leon Blum.