July 31

This Day in History

General Interest

Jul 31, 1945:

Fugitive Vichy leader surrenders in Austria

Pierre Laval, the puppet leader of Nazi-occupied Vichy France, surrenders to American authorities in Austria, who extradite him to France to stand trial.

Laval, originally a deputy and senator of pacifist tendencies, shifted to the right in the 1930s while serving as minister of foreign affairs and twice as the French premier. A staunch anti-communist, he delayed the Soviet-Franco pact of 1935 and sought to align France with Fascist Italy. Hostile to the declaration of war against Germany in 1939, Laval encouraged the antiwar faction in the French government, and with the German invasion in 1940 he used his political influence to force an armistice with Germany. Henri Petain took over the new Vichy state, and Laval served as minister of state. Laval was dismissed by Petain in December 1940 for negotiating privately with Germany.

By 1942, Laval had won the trust of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, and the elderly Petain became merely a figurehead in the Vichy regime. As the premier of Vichy France, Laval collaborated with the Nazi programs of oppression and genocide and increasingly became a puppet of Hitler. After the Allied liberation of France, he was forced to flee east for German protection. With the defeat of Germany in May 1945, he escaped to Spain but was expelled and went into hiding in Austria, where he finally surrendered to American authorities in late July. Extradited to France, Laval was convicted of treason by the High Court of Justice in a sensational trial. Condemned to death, he attempted suicide by poison but was nursed back to health in time for his execution on October 15, 1945.

Fact Check We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!

What Happened on Your Birthday?

Pick a Date

Shop HISTORY