Maurice Rolland – A Judge in the ‘Épuration Légale’
by Anna Pingen
Maurice Rolland was a judge who joined the French Resistance and worked on the “épuration légale” – the reformation of the French justice system – by ensuring that those judicial actors who actively participated in the Vichy-Regime (e.g., by supporting its antisemitic legislation) would be convicted and removed from office.
Maurice Rolland was born in 1904 in the southwest of France, at Montauban. After studying literature and law, Rolland became a judge in 1927. On 02 September 1941, Rolland – like the majority in the French judiciary at the time – pledged allegiance to Philippe Pétain, the head of the French collaborationist Vichy-Regime.1
Pleading allegiance allowed him to stay in office and to continue his work as a judge. At the same time, he also joined the “Civil and Military Organisation” (OCM) – one of the French Resistance movements – and even lead one of its branches called “Samson”, which among other duties, was in charge of communicating with the Belgian and English secret services. During the Vichy-Regime, he was continuously urging the law enforcement to act on antisemitic order with as little zeal as possible.2 During this time, he also took over the direction of the Versailles Public Prosecutor’s Office and was threatened of being arrested because he did not prosecute communists.2
In 1943, Rolland formed a “group of judicial resistance”, composed of judges and lawyers opposing the Vichy-Regime and it’s antisemitic politics.3 During this time, he was engaged in preparing future legislation for the re-establishment of the justice system post-liberation. A few months later, Rolland barely managed to escape arrest and went underground. By March 1944, he finally arrived in England where he made an appeal through “Radio Londres”, calling on all French lawyers and judicial officials to disobey the arbitrary, immoral, and racial laws of the Vichy-Regime.
After the French Liberation, Rolland came back to Paris where he reintegrated in the judicial system and was appointed the General Inspector of the Judicial Services (Inspecteur general des services judiciaires) on 02 September 1944. He then travelled across France, trying to organise and initiate the judicial reform by establishing courts that would trace and prosecute those who collaborated with the Nazis (les cours de justice).5 For him, the reestablishment of a functional judicial system that would differentiate itself from the Vichy-Regime was vital:
Rolland regretted that the épuration was not pushed within the bar as thoroughly as within the judiciary.7 After the end of his role as General Inspector of the Judicial Services in 1947, Rolland continued his work and activities and strongly advocated for the establishment of international criminal justice.8 For his services to France, he received many honours; among them the “Legion of Honour”, one of the highest French orders of merit. Rolland died in January 1988 in Paris.
- With regard to the pledge of allegiance to the Vichy-Regime and its significance, Serge Fuster, a French judge and writer (known under the pseudonym Casamayor), who participated in the Nuremberg Trials as part of the French delegation, wrote: “En 1940, tous les magistrats, sauf le président Didier, prêtèrent serment au maréchal Pétain. Et maintenant, quelque trente ans après, on est porté à en conclure hâtivement que ces magistrats étaient des lâches… Une telle conclusion, dangereuse, est aussi techniquement mauvaise. […] Pour la plupart d’entre eux, c’était « la bourse ou la vie ». Ils choisissaient la vie bien évidemment, qui songerait à les en blâmer ?… Ceux qui demandaient le serment n’avaient aucune illusion sur sa portée directe, mais en attendaient une teinture morale répandue sur le régime et aussi une mesure de publicité pour rendre plus sensible la cohérence d’un système politique, une preuve à l’adresse du commun des mortels de l’adhésion des meilleurs d’entre eux au nouveau gouvernement.” (The author’s translation: “In 1940, all the magistrates, except President Didier, took an oath to Marshal Pétain. And now, some thirty years later, one is inclined to hastily conclude that these magistrates were cowards… Such a conclusion is not only dangerous, it is also technically wrong. […] For most of them, it was “your money or your life”. They chose life, of course, who would blame them?… Those who asked for the oath had no illusions about its direct scope, but expected it to be a moral stain spread over the regime and also a measure of publicity to make the coherence of a political system more sensitive, a proof to the common people of the adherence of the best among them to the new government.”). Casamayor, La justice pour tous, Flammarion, p. 190.
- See: https://www.ordredelaliberation.fr/fr/compagnons/maurice-rolland
- Jean, Jean-Paul, “Maurice Rolland et l’inspection des services judiciaires à la Libération”, in Jean (éd.), Juger sous Vichy, juger Vichy, p. 376.
- The author’s translation: “In the name of what would we pretend from now on to impose on you the respect of a legality which is only the arbitrary put in a decree and which violates all the legal principles which formed our conscience. […] Magistrates of France, there is no text that can bind you. Above the written law, there is the moral law. In the absence of laws, a magistrate has only his conscience to guide him. You have only one duty, to follow its orders: refuse to obey the laws which it condemns, hinder their application, prevent their execution, repress arbitrary acts, protect your fellow citizens, endeavor to soften their fate, so that they have the feeling of finding in you help and support“. Speech cited in Jean, Jean-Paul, “Juger sous Vichy et à la Libération”, in Jean (éd.), Juger sous Vichy, juger Vichy, p. 16.
- Jean, Jean-Paul, “Le rôle de Maurice Rolland (1904-1988) et de l’Inspection des services judiciaires à la Libération”, Histoire de la justice, vol. 18, no. 1, 2008, pp. 133-148
- The author’s translation: “The government of the Liberation had to re-establish justice before the railroads; in other words, provide courts capable of functioning even before the country was occupied with all the essential services.” Interview with Maurice Rolland in Lottman (H.), L’épuration, 1943-1953, p. 245
- Jean, Jean-Paul, “Maurice Rolland et l’inspection des services judiciaires à la Libération”, in Jean (éd.), Juger sous Vichy, juger Vichy, p. 381
- Jean, Jean-Paul, “Maurice Rolland et l’inspection des services judiciaires à la Libération”, in Jean (éd.), Juger sous Vichy, juger Vichy, p. 389