October 15

This Day in History

General Interest

Oct 15, 1945:

Vichy leader executed for treason

Pierre Laval, the puppet leader of Nazi-occupied Vichy France, is executed by firing squad for treason against France.

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 Pétain took over the new Vichy state, and Laval served as minister of state. Laval was dismissed by PÉtain in December 1940 for negotiating privately with Germany.

By 1942, Laval had won the trust of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, and the elderly Pétain 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.

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