Georges Mandel

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See also: French Third Republic

Georges Mandel (5 June 1885 – 7 July 1944) was a French Jewish journalist, socialist politician and Government Minister.

Early life

Born Louis George Rothschild in Chatou, Yvelines, he was the son of a tailor. His family were Alsatian Jews. They moved into France proper in 1871 to preserve their French citizenship when Alsace-Lorraine was reincorporated into the German Empire at the end of the Franco-Prussian War.

Mandel began working life as a journalist for L'Aurore, a socialist newspaper founded in 1897 by Émile Zola and Georges Clemenceau. They unsurprisingly defended Alfred Dreyfus during the Dreyfus Affair of the 1890s. The paper continued until 1916.

As Minister of the Interior, Clemenceau later brought Mandel into politics as his personal aide. Described as "Clemenceau's right-hand man", Mandel helped Clemenceau control the press and the trade union movement during the First World War.[1]


In 1919 Mandel was elected to the Chamber of Deputies from Gironde. In September that year, he was delegated to try to draw the government out of its non-committal attitude regarding the system of proportional representation adopted by both houses of the National Assembly earlier in the year.[2] He lost his seat when the Cartel des Gauches swept the 1924 elections, but was re-elected in 1928. By 1932, he had become the Chairman of the Chamber's universal suffrage committee. Its actions led to passage of a bill enfranchising women, although the proposal was rejected by the Senate.[3]

In 1934, Mandel was appointed Minister of Posts, Telegraphs, and Telephones (till 1936).

Mandel was conservative in economics, and an outspoken opponent of National Socialism and Fascism. In the 1930s, he pronounced his public opposition to Adolf Hitler in Germany, when most were in guarded admiration for his restoration of Germany. He also opposed Pierre Laval's plan to partition Abyssinia following its invasion by Italy in 1935–1936. Mandel had also advocated a military alliance with the Soviet Union.

During the 1936 Albert Sarraut government, Mandel served as both Minister of Posts and High Commissioner for Alsace and Lorraine. After the fall of the Popular Front government, he served as Minister of Colonies from 1938 to 18 May 1940 in the Cabinet of Édouard Daladier.

Mandel opposed the Munich Agreement; and in August 1938 he told Georges Bonnet, Minister of Foreign Affairs, "there has got to be a [European] war, and the sooner the better." When Premier Daladier hesitated to declare war on Germany after Poland was invaded, "Mandel, Reynaud and their friends in the 'war party' brought formidable pressure to bear upon him." The former Minister of Justice (1934) Henry Lémery related: "at the end of February or the beginning of March 1940 Maurice de Rothschild invited me to lunch outside Paris. He told me Mandel would call and collect me. Reynard was present. Mandel said we needed to waste no time in replacing Daladier with Reynard."[4]

Mandel was known for his fierce hatred of Bonnet, whose foreign policy he opposed. Mandel was a close friend of the Jewish Soviet ambassador in Paris, Jakob Suritz.[5] In February 1939, Suritz reported to Moscow that Mandel was "absolutely devoid of any sentimentality. This is in the purest sense a rationalist with a proclivity to cynicism and a strong inclination to conspiracy and intrigue".[6] Suritz further stated that Mandel was lobbying very hard to have Bonnet sacked as foreign minister as he wrote: "He [Mandel] picks up facts, rumours, materials and bides his times. During the September days [of 1938], when he foresaw impending war and played for the first time the role of a second Clemenceau, he had already soaped the hangman's rope for Bonnet. He is keeping quiet now, but his hatred of Bonnet has not weakened. If you want to know anything about Bonnet, you have to go to Mandel".[7]

German invasion

On 1 September 1939, after the outbreak of the German-Polish War, and the French declaration of war on Germany three days later, Mandel argued that the French Army should fight an offensive war. But he was accused by some of being a warmonger and of placing his Jewish ancestry above France's interests. On 18 May 1940 Premier Paul Reynaud appointed him briefly Minister of the Interior.[8]

Mandel opposed the Armistice with the rapidly advancing German forces and the collapse of the French army. He was an Anglophile and had inherited Clemenceau's vicious tongue – he had particular contempt for Albert Lebrun, the President of the Republic, and for Deputy Prime Minister Camille Chautemps – but in the view of historian Julian Jackson he was a natural deputy, not a leader, and did not carry the political weight to oppose those - including France's two leading soldiers, Philippe Pétain and Maxime Weygand - who, with others in the Cabinet, favoured an armistice. The British General Sir Edward Spears, Bt., Churchill's military liaison officer, compared him to a fish, but a likeable one.[9]

On 16 June 1940 in Bordeaux (the day Reynaud resigned and Pétain was asked by Lebrun to form a government), Mandel was arrested but released shortly afterwards, with apologies, upon urgent representations to Premier Pétain made jointly and in person by Édouard Herriot (President of the Chamber of Deputies) and Jules Jeanneney (President of the Senate).[10] Spears offered Mandel the chance to leave on his plane on the morning of June 17th, together with the fleeing renegade Charles de Gaulle. Mandel declined, saying: "You fear for me because I am a Jew. Well, it is just because I am a Jew that I will not go tomorrow; it would look as though I was afraid, as if I was running away."

Mandel sought to persuade Lebrun, Herriot, Jeanneney, and as many members of the Cabinet as possible to travel to French North Africa, to continue the fight against the Germans. A mere 25 other deputies and only one senator embarked with Mandel on the SS Massilia on 21 June, including Pierre Mendès France and the former Popular Front education minister, Jean Zay.

Arrest, detention and death

Mandel, notwithstanding his criticism of the French Third Republic, was one of the few parliamentarians that on 10 July 1940 voted against the plenary powers for Marshal Petain. Only 57 deputies and 23 senators, dubbed "the eighty", refused to suspend the constitutional laws of France and to give full powers to the government of Marshal Petain, against 569 parliamentarians that supported those proposals.[11]

Mandel was arrested on 8 August 1940 in French Morocco by General Charles Noguès on the orders of Pierre Laval, then Prime Minister of the French State. He was conveyed to the Château de Chazeron via Fort du Portalet,[12] where Paul Reynaud, Édouard Daladier and General Maurice Gamelin, who were held responsible for France entering the war and for her defeat, were also being held. Following the Riom Trial, all four were sentenced to life imprisonment on 7 November 1941.

In November 1942, after the German Army moved into unoccupied France to counter the threat from the Allies who had just invaded French North Africa, the French government transferred Mandel and Reynaud to the Gestapo upon their request. The Gestapo deported Mandel to Oranienburg, and then to Buchenwald, where he was held with the French politician Léon Blum.[13]

It has been suggested that in 1944 the German Ambassador in Paris, Otto Abetz suggested to Laval that Mandel, Blum, and Reynaud should all be executed by the government in retaliation for the assassination of Philippe Henriot, Minister of Propaganda, by the Communist terrorists, the Maquis. Mandel was returned to Paris on 4 July 1944. While being transferred from one prison to another, he was captured by the Milice, the patriotic paramilitary force. Three days later, the Milice took Mandel to the Forest of Fontainebleau, where he was executed.[14] He was buried at Passy Cemetery.

Pierre Laval was appalled and protested that he could not condone the execution: "I have no blood on my hands...and no responsibility for these events." He added that the members of the Cabinet were unanimous "in favour of refusing to hand over any hostages in future or to condone reprisals of this nature."[15]


  1. Warner, Geoffrey (1968). Pierre Laval and the Eclipse of France. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 13. 
  2. Warner, 1968, p.14-15.
  3. Warner, 1968, p.54-5: in the event, women were not enfranchised in France until just after the Second World War.
  4. Montigny, J., Le Complot contre la Paix, Paris, n/d, pps:147-8, 282-4.
  5. Carley 1999, p. 19-20.
  6. Carley 1999, p. 93.
  7. Carley 1999, p. 93-94.
  8. Warner, 1968, p.159.
  9. Jackson 2003, pp.138-42
  10. Hamilton Fish Armstrong, Chronology of Failure: The Last Days of the French Republic, New York, Macmillan, 1941, p.111.
  11. Aguilhon, Maurice, La République, vol.ii, Hachette Littératures, Paris, 1997, p.91.
  12. ASPE Tourisme.
  13. Sherwood, John M., Georges Mandel and the Third Republic, Stanford University Press, 1970. p. 284
  14. "MANDEL'S MURDERERS.". The Hebrew Standard Of Australasia (New South Wales, Australia) 50 (33): p. 8. 18 January 1945. 
  15. Warner, 1968, p. 399 & notes.
  • Carley, Michael Jabara, 1939: The Alliance That Never Was and the Coming of World War II, Ivan R. Dee pubs., Chicago, 1999, ISBN: 9781461699385.
  • Jackson, Julian, The Fall of France, Oxford University Press, U.K., 2003, ISBN: 019280300X.