“My mother has been taken away from me, I am alone without resources, not yet 11 years old… I ask your Majesty Marshal Pétain…” wrote one. “It is in a spirit of trust, of prayer, that I send you this letter,” wrote another. It is also a veteran SNCF engineer, who tries to explain that, among the Jews, there are real French people. It is the owner of a pharmacy who wonders about the follow-up to be given to the new legislation on the Jews concerning his pharmacy assistant, irreproachable moreover, with the concern of not “thwarting the work of recovery of the Marshal” .

He is a young boy who would like to see his father again, interned in a camp, and who expresses it in a formula, “as soon as my father will return to us, I will thank you that more”, for which he apologizes to the advance of the possible grammatical incorrectness. It is the employees of Jersey de Paris who sign a petition for the release of their boss, Alois Stern, without whom the company is threatened with bankruptcy. It is a chaplain who points out the virtues of one of his flock, a converted Jew.

Les Supplications, a film directed by Jérôme Prieur, co-written with Laurent Joly – Excerpt from LA GENERALE DE PRODUCTION on Vimeo.

She is a four-season merchant, mother of five children, already deprived of her husband and her eldest son, who has just had her merchant’s medal taken away, which allowed her to support her family. It is a teacher who tries to plead the cause of her best pupil. She is a depressed child, since being deprived of maternal love, and who hopes “that by taking an interest in your goodness, you, the marshal, you will be able to bring mother darling back into a home in distress.” . She’s a tailor’s wife who swears her husband’s conscience is pure, and worries about the sanity of a man who means everything to her. It’s an Aryan woman who asks if she should bring back her husband’s TSF, who is Jewish. He is a delivery cyclist, ex-prisoner of war, demobilized, who would like to know how he can exercise his profession if the Jews do not have the right to travel by bicycle. It’s a couple who are indignant at the moving of the furniture in their apartment.

She is the owner of a business who is protesting against the ridiculous sum she received after a forced sale that took place while she was interned in the Tournelles camp. He is a boy convinced that his father’s file is clean and who hopes to do a lot of good for France when he grows up. It’s an entire village calling for the release of “the most honest family there is”. He’s a 20-year-old who confesses to having “committed the horrible crime of being born Polish”, who admits that he is “just a common Jew, a dirty Yid, shoot me”, but who adds that for his sins he also badly wants to live.

These letters addressed to Pétain, or to Xavier Vallat, the first boss of the General Commission for Jewish Questions (CGQJ), located at 1, place des Petits-Pères, are around 3,000 in number, stored in the National Archives. Historian Laurent Joly, who has just published a book on the Vél’ d’Hiv roundup, published by Grasset, had discovered them during his thesis on the CGQJ, in 2004. His sidekick, the director Jérôme Prieur, has read nearly 200 before retaining about 30. Everything has been kept, the mailings as well as the responses from the recipient administrations. “Make the usual response”, can be deciphered on an envelope. The usual answer, dry, which held in a few lines, to recall the law, the new anti-Jewish laws of Vichy, and the impossibility of derogating from them, of tolerating the slightest exception. The impossibility therefore of satisfying the requests made.

Jérôme Prieur has chosen a very sober device to present the litany of what were then called “the supplications” and which we guess from the outset had no effect. An excerpt from the letter. A very brief portrait of the author. The whole thing is intercut without commentary, relying on the simple effect of editing, with little Vichy propaganda films which ensured, at the very moment when the Marshal received these letters, that he was protecting all French people, that he was dispensing his infinite love to all his compatriots. The height of cynicism is reached in the episode where he receives a respectful letter from a little blonde girl to whom he responds with an affectionate letter.

What do these pleas suggest? That the Jews did not allow themselves to be excluded from the French community without reacting. That to the highest authorities, they expressed, sometimes with humor or insolence, their love of France, their medals, their fight for the country, their incomprehension at being rejected. They also tell of the anxieties, the hopes and the sometimes naive confidence in a marshal father of the nation to whom we turn as we turned to the king or the president of the Republic. They speak of solidarity movements, gestures of help from French people who were not Jews and who take up their pen at their own risk and peril. They finally express the conviction that all this is a vast misunderstanding, that there will always be a solution, however unjust and implacable the law may be. They also sometimes represent the last testimonies of these Jews who almost all, after having written in vain specifying their address, were deported and murdered in Auschwitz.

Les Supplications, written by Jérôme Prieur and Laurent Joly, directed by Jérôme Prieur. France 3. Monday 11 July. 10:40 p.m.