The Bernonville Affair: A French War Criminal in Post-WW II Québec

Description

154 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
$17.99
ISBN 1-895854-41-5
DDC 971.4'04

Year

1995

Contributor

Translated by George Tombs
Reviewed by Steve Pitt

Steve Pitt is a Toronto-based freelance writer and an award-winning journalist. He has written many young adult and children's books, including Day of the Flying Fox: The True Story of World War II Pilot Charley Fox.

Review

In 1947, a French fugitive was discovered living under an assumed name
in the Quebec town of Saint Pacome. The exile’s real name was Jacques
Bernonville, and he was wanted by the French government for
collaborating with the Nazis during World War II. As a high-ranking
official in Marshal Pétain’s Vichy government, Bernonville had
actively fought against the French Resistance. He had also pledged
allegiance to Adolf Hitler in 1943 and was on the payroll of the German
SS. After the war Bernonville fled to Canada disguised as a priest. When
his true identity was revealed, Bernonville applied to remain in Canada
as a political refugee. His case was supported by many respected Quebec
politicians, Roman Catholic clergy, and nationalist academics, who saw
Bernonville as a victim of a conspiracy of Jews, communists, and English
Canadians. For the five years Bernonville battled deportation, his very
presence in Quebec became a major embarrassment to the Canadian
government.

In this short, well-written book, Montreal historian Yves Lavertu
carefully explores why Bernonville and other war criminals readily found
supporters among Quebec’s elite. He also examines why the federal
government refused to enforce its immigration laws against Bernonville
until 1952. It is not a flattering portrait of any of the players
involved. A strong anti-Semitic and pro-fascist element dominated Quebec
nationalists. Liberal and Conservative politicians, on the other hand,
proved to be willing to tolerate a convicted Nazi criminal in Canada if
they thought it would win Quebec seats in an election.

Lavertu also underscores the tug-of-war between the Canadian and Quebec
governments for control of immigration. This issue surfaced again as
recently as the Quebec referendum in 1995. Lavertu’s book is a
valuable, albeit often painful, probe into one of Canada’s darker
chapters.

Citation

Lavertu, Yves., “The Bernonville Affair: A French War Criminal in Post-WW II Québec,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/1143.