The French are once again picking the scab of Nazi collaboration, said Marie-Amélie Lombard. The car company Renault was nationalized right after World War II because of its complicity with the Nazis while France was under German occupation. Last week, seven grandchildren of Louis Renault, the company’s late founder, went to court to challenge the state takeover, saying that their grandfather was forced to cooperate with the Germans and arguing that other companies—such as Peugeot and Michelin—that did similar deals were not punished with nationalization. Whether the case has any legal merit has yet to be determined by the courts, but already the question has “rekindled the old debate” about the extent of French collaboration.
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Survivors of Nazi camps routinely brandish a damning photo of Renault proudly showing a model car to Hitler and Göring, and ask how such a man who profited from the Nazis can possibly be exonerated. Others point out that plenty of French companies, including Peugeot and Michelin, worked actively with the French Resistance even as their factories were taken over by the Nazis, while Renault did not. Was Renault treated more harshly than other companies by the free French regime after the war? Yes. “Did it warrant such treatment? Maybe.”
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