Writing Occupation
Jewish Émigré Voices in Wartime France
Julia Elsky


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: Jewish Émigré Writers and the French Language
chapter abstract

This chapter provides the historical and theoretical context of the book. It investigates Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe to France during the interwar period, and it traces the experiences of Jewish émigré writers in France from the interwar period through the Occupation. It places these authors within a new category of European Francophonie as a form of linguistic resistance to their rejection from French letters during the war. The writers in this book employed literary strategies, including multilingualism, heteroglossia, and transcription of accents in ways that blur the boundaries of belonging within national borders and within national languages, as well as the boundaries between Jewish and secular language.

1 A Jewish Poetics of Exile: Benjamin Fondane's Exodus
chapter abstract

Benjamin Fondane lived through two displacements: first when he immigrated from Romania to France in the 1920s; and then again when he went into semihiding in Paris under the Occupation. Although he had come to French in search of a literary community through language adoption, in his wartime poetry he questions the possibility of a monolingual language. This chapter focuses on Fondane's revisions of his poetry during the war, and in particular on L'Exode, his literary representations of the June 1940 flight toward the Southern Zone. Fondane writes in many languages at once: he not only incorporates the names of Hebrew letters and transcriptions of prayer in his French text but he also states that even if only one word existed in the world there would still be no one language. In this chapter, Fondane's texts are also put into dialogue with Jacques Derrida's Monolingualism of the Other.

2 Accents in Jean Malaquais's Carrefour Marseille
chapter abstract

This chapter extends further into the years of the Occupation, deepening the analysis of multilingual immigrant identities in French in the Polish-born writer Jean Malaquais's portrayal of the accents of Eastern and Central European refugees trying to leave France for the Americas through the port of Marseille in 1942. In Planète sans visa (World without Visa), Malaquais reappropriates Jewish refugee accents from the mockery of the antisemitic press to show that accents do not reveal immutable and inassimilable racial traits. On the contrary, they are the spaces in which language plays as well as expressions of the ways intimacy and love are formed. As such, an attachment to the French language is not innate, inherited, or linked to the soil. Malquais's text demonstrates that French literary language itself is capable of containing multiple registers of ethnicity, including a Jewish accented voice.

3 European Language and the Resistance: Romain Gary's Heteroglossia
chapter abstract

This chapter looks at language choice within the context of Franco-Polish relations in the Resistance in Romain Gary's novel Éducation européenne. It draws on Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of heteroglossia to analyze characters who speak in multiple languages but whom Gary represents in French. Gary's use of heteroglossic French and of multilingualism in the novel is a response to the politics of La France libre, the journal where excerpts from his novel were first published. French and Polish authors of numerous articles focus on links between France and Poland—especially through a shared history of Romantic Revolution—as an expression of European democracy, one that could pave the way for a united Europe in the postwar period. Gary represents this link through language, but he also inserts Jewish language into the discussion, including the Jewish people in a European Resistance.

4 Buried Language: Elsa Triolet's Bilingualism
chapter abstract

This chapter marks a departure from the previous three authors treated in this book and looks at an author who questioned the role of a particular Jewish identity in French. Triolet shifted from writing about the painful and confining experience of being a bilingual writer in interwar France to celebrating French-Russian bilingualism in the war in her novel about the Communist Resistance in Lyon and its environs, Le Premier accroc coûte deux cents frances (A Fine of Two Hundred Francs). In the same novel, she also began to analyze Franco-Jewish identity. While she embraces bilingualism in the war, and while she includes Jews in the International struggle, she rejects a particular Jewish language and a particular Jewish experience of the war. The chapter traces her shifting approach to language and Jewishness through three symbols: the corset, a painting of a woman, and buried notebooks.

5 Displacing Stereotypes: Irène Némirovsky in the Occupied Zone
chapter abstract

This chapter presents a counterexample by focusing on a writer who completely removed Jewish voice and Jewish characters from her wartime writing. In analyzing Irène Neìmirovsky's writings about the exode and displacement in the Burgundy region, I argue that Neìmirovsky's removal of Jewish voices, languages, and accents that were present in her interwar literature is not an expression of Jewish self-hatred but an attempt to show that Jews have been rejected from the nation. She also moves away from the stereotypes she wrote about and that were imposed on her in the press, which are also discussed in this chapter. However, the constant theme of absence and displacement in her wartime short stories points to this absence. The overwhelming sense of displacement marks a shift away from her interwar writing about ambivalence toward Jewishness. This is particularly true for her three short stories about the town of Montjeu.

Epilogue: Memory, Language, and Jewish Francophonie
chapter abstract

This epilogue theorizes a Jewish Francophonie, looking at the question of Jewishness within the French language among the heirs to the writers in Writing Occupation including Myriam Anissimov, Hélène Cixous, and Cécile Wajsbrot. These writers demonstrate the lasting impact of Jewish multilingualism on writerly identity, in particular in relation to the memory and postmemory of the Shoah and histories of migration. These writers also relate to Yiddish in different ways, from lamenting the disappearance of Yiddish to resisting that trope and embodying what Samuel J. Spinner has called "reading Jewish," which is related to Jeffrey Shandler's concept of postvernacular Yiddish. Like the authors studied in Writing Occupation, Anissimov, Cixous, and Wajsbrot shift the paradigms of dominant and dominated cultures to one of immigration and transnational circulation.