François Mitterrand, who served as the President of France from 1981 to 1995, has long been known to have had an ambiguous relationship with the Nazis. As a mid-level civil servant in the wartime Vichy government, Mitterrand supported the Nazi puppet Marshal Pétain until 1943 and was duly awarded the “Ordre de la francisque gallique (a Vichy Regime honor handed out personally by Pétain).
Widely believed to have hedged his bets, so that he could benefit no matter which side won, Mitterrand eventually cast his lot with the Resistance, but remained a lifelong friend of René Bousquet the Secretary General of the Vichy Police who in 1942, when the Nazis were deporting Jewish adults, insisted that they remove Jewish children as well from France. As late as 1986, Mitterrand socialized with Bousquet, a preferred houseguest and now it appears the two men shared a common taste in reading material.
“Jacques Dutronc: la Bio,” a forthcoming biography of the French actor/songwriter Jacques Dutronc, out January 7 from Seuil Editions in Paris, recounts that circa 1990, during a luncheon at the Élysees Palace, Mitterrand confessed to Dutronc that his favorite “bedside book” (livre de chevet) is Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” It’s an unpleasant surprise, if unfortunately not a shock, that one of western Europe’s leading postwar politicians was a happy mein kampfer.