Writing Occupation
Jewish Émigré Voices in Wartime France
Julia Elsky




IF YOU WERE TO STAND on the rue Soufflot in Paris and gaze up the sloping street, your eyes would fall on two institutions. Straight ahead would be the Panthéon, the monument to the great men and women of the nation, a secular temple and its own lieu de mémoire of France.1 In the choir of this sleepy edifice, to the right of the monument to the National Convention, you would read on another, more somber monument a list of names under this heading: “To the writers who died for France / MCMXXXIX–MCMXLV.” Among the approximately two hundred names listed, two might stand out: B. Fondane, the pen name of the Romanian-born Jewish poet and philosopher Benjamin Wechsler, and Irène Nemirowski, the Russian-born Jewish novelist whose name is more commonly spelled Némirovsky. Honoring victims of the Shoah as people who died for France was a standard practice when this memorial was consecrated in July 1949, a practice that has often been criticized for disregarding French collaboration in the persecution of the Jews. The text has since been replaced on contemporary memorials with more direct references to deportation and Vichy collaboration. Even so, this enshrinement of Fondane and Némirovsky by the French Republic not only restores universalist ideals that were suppressed under Vichy; it also actually vindicates the aspirations of these two Jewish émigrés—to be French writers.

Outside, seen from monumental steps of the Panthéon, the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève on the right spreads out in its long series of arched windows. There is no memorial plaque here, but the Polish-born Jewish novelist Jean Malaquais spent the winter nights of 1935 at one of the library desks, poring over books to improve his French while staying warm at one of the few heated places that were open into the evening at no cost. He was teaching himself to become a French writer in a library that to this day is mostly used by students. French letters and republican values loom large on the place du Panthéon. But the individual lives and writings of these three Jewish émigré writers who adopted French—Némirovsky, Fondane, and Malaquais—like all of the writers in Writing Occupation, illuminate an alternative view of French literary life from the interwar period through the Occupation. They ask us to consider their place in the buildings on the place du Panthéon and the values that they represent. These writers came to France for the promise of universalism and the possibility of adopting French as a literary language in a major cultural center. But under the pressures of World War II, they would fundamentally change what it means to write in French, and furthermore what constitutes a Jewish language. They created a new, multilingual idea of French in which to reflect on their status as Jewish naturalized citizens, stateless people, and resisters. Némirovsky actually stands out as a counterpoint, as she removed Jewish voice from French in her wartime novels; thus, an analysis of her work throws into sharp relief the multiplicity of Jewish voices in the works of the other writers.

This book studies Jewish writers of Eastern European origin who immigrated to France in the 1910s and 1920s, switching from their native tongues (in some cases multiple tongues) to writing in French. For the most part, they came to France in the interwar period precisely in order to establish themselves in a major center of the European literary world and to embrace the language of universalism. However, their approach would radically change under the Nazi Occupation of France that lasted from 1940 to 1944. I do not provide an encyclopedic study of this group; rather, I focus on five individuals who addressed their experiences through a reflection on language in ways that can be put into dialogue—Benjamin Fondane, Jean Malaquais, Romain Gary, Elsa Triolet, and Irène Némirovsky. By Eastern European Jews, I refer to Jewish immigrants from Romania, Poland, and the territories of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, among other countries. They were often described as a group, les juifs de l’Europe orientale, in the interwar and wartime periods; alternatively, they were grouped together in a discourse that negatively othered them as Eastern European Jews.2

This project began with my fascination with Némirovsky’s poignant and ambivalent portrayals of exclusion from France. The best-selling novel, Suite française, which reawakened interest in this forgotten writer, has been the subject of debate by literary critics since it was first discovered. Her daughters could not bring themselves to read the volume they believed was her diary until the 1970s, when they realized that it was actually a novel. The book was published in 2004 to great acclaim, and Némirovsky became the first author to win a posthumous Prix Renaudot. For Denise Epstein, Némirovsky’s daughter, reading the manuscript was “at the same time stimulating and desperate and intoxicating.”3 For literary critics, it was like opening a time capsule and finding a masterpiece, one so immediately close to the events of the day and yet so lucid in its representation of the upheavals of the French defeat and the Occupation. It has often been noted that there are no Jewish characters in the story and no significant mention of Jews. The omission is especially striking given that, in some of her most important works from the interwar period, Némirovsky depicted Jews and Russian immigrants, as well as Eastern European Jewish speech, accents, and languages, in the context of immigration to France or displacement within Russia. Némirovsky herself had learned French as a child, first in Kiev and then in Saint Petersburg, from her French governess in a French-speaking home where Yiddish was forbidden. Her mastery of French as a prestige language was a sign of her family’s entry into the Russian middle classes and later into the society of wealthy financiers. The rediscovery of Némirovsky set off debates about whether her writing can be considered self-hating, with one critic maintaining that the removal of Jews from her magnum opus about the war was proof of her self-hatred.4 Susan Suleiman and others, however, have rejected this view of Némirovsky as a self-hating Jew, pointing to her ambivalence about her place as a French Jewish writer, as evidenced in her interwar novels and short stories.5 The omission of Jewish voice and immigrant Jewish voices from Suite française can then be seen as a dramatic staging of her exclusion from the French nation.

I began to seek out what other Jewish émigré authors were writing about under the Occupation, during the undoing of the same republican universalist values that drew them to France in the interwar period. I found many texts written and, in some cases, rewritten under the Occupation that dealt precisely with the questions of Frenchness, Jewishness, and language during the war. These writers did not stop thinking about their place in France as French writers at the moment of the June 1940 defeat: the start of the Occupation did not usher in their silence. Némirovsky turned out to be the exception. While she did, in fact, depict Jewish voice and Jewish languages in her interwar writing, she banished them from her wartime texts. She moved in a direction opposite to that of the other writers in this book, from a multilingual to a monolingual French reflecting the French state’s total rejection of Jewish voice from the nation. Read by themselves outside of this context, her works would make it seem like there was no European Francophonie during the war. Simply put, European Francophonie refers to non-French European writers who wrote in French, whether or not they immigrated to France. But it is particularly useful to read Némirovsky against the other writers in this book, and to read them against her. They underscore the purposeful silences in her writing, and she highlights the resounding voices in theirs that shout out against the horrors of the war.

In fact, this period has often been overlooked in studies of European Francophonie. But in this book, I argue that the Occupation is a crucial period of study. It was precisely under the Occupation that these authors addressed the choice to write in French in new ways. The desire to find their voices led me to the archives, and to multiple manuscript versions of the literary texts in many cases. When such sources were not available, I sought out different published versions of these texts as well as archived professional correspondences and diaries. Archival materials bring to life the ways in which these writers questioned and reworked their ideas, ways that are not always apparent in the final published versions of their novels and poems. Their wartime works, which they could no longer publish legally under their own names, testify to a variety of radically altered ideas of France and of the place of Jewish writers in France, especially with regard to the French language. I also saw that not all of these writers had the same point of view as Némirovsky. I came to ask the question: Why did some of the most brilliant but often forgotten Jewish émigré writers of the first half of the twentieth century choose to write in French, the language of their rejection, even as they faced a double exclusion under Vichy, both as foreigners and as Jews?

By uncovering the voices of these writers, even of those who perished in the Shoah, I attempt to show that they themselves were analyzing their roles as French and Jewish émigré writers at this time. Coming from a specific background of what we might call an Eastern European Francophonie, they blur the binary distinction between center and periphery, between culturally powerful institutions and the margins of power, the now contested paradigm for analyzing Francophone literature. My contention is that the linguistic drama of these authors’ wartime writing has less to do with the opposition of periphery and center than with a crisis at the center itself, with culturally central writers reflecting on the political and literary implications of their multiple and contradictory identities. In this way Eastern European Jewish authors writing in French challenge the most commonly held model of Francophonie, which has begun to be confronted only in recent years.

I maintain that Jewish émigré writers negotiated their positions as French writers through fraught interactions with the French language itself. This approach departs from, but still owes much to, Gisèle Sapiro’s indispensable text La Guerre des écrivains, 1940–1953 (The French Writers’ War, 1940–1953), in which she argues that writers engaged in the war through the prism of their writerly profession and their participation in major literary—and politicized—institutions.6 According to Sapiro, one category that measured the political position of writers and editors, as well as having been a means of their survival, was cultural capital. In her recent return to the topic, Sapiro states more explicitly that, as the prestige of an institution—and thus its capacity to confer cultural capital—increased, “the less likely it was to count Jews, foreigners, communists, or women among its members.”7 This would mean that literary figures who were “the most fragile—Jews, foreigners, communists—were the most threatened and thus were reduced to silence or clandestinity, if not to death.”8 Sapiro does nuance this claim by addressing the role of solidarity within these literary institutions in prompting them to help some Jewish and immigrant writers.9 Interestingly, in both La Guerre des écrivains and Sapiro’s revisiting of it, Triolet emerges as an important example, both because of her role in the Comité national des écrivains (CNE) and because she was awarded the Prix Goncourt—that is, because of her possession of symbolic capital. Nevertheless, it is precisely the supposition of silence among those lacking symbolic capital, as well as the specific position of foreign-born Jewish writers, that can be rethought. In this sense I hope to fill a gap in Sapiro’s foundational account.

Studies of memory in Holocaust literature have recognized the importance of postwar immigrants’ writing as well as the question of the choice of the language in which they write. As Naomi Seidman argues, “The polyglot nature of Jewish discourse and the displacements of postwar life affected the vagaries of Holocaust literature.”10 In particular, Seidman shows that the practice of translation, either by the authors themselves or by others, has constructed the discourse of the Holocaust.11 This is the case with the translations—and significant reworkings—of classic texts like The Diary of Anne Frank and Primo Levi’s memoir The Truce, as well as in the Yiddish and French versions of Elie Wiesel’s Night. When Susan Suleiman reads the memoirs of Hungarian survivors and immigrants writing in their adopted languages of French or English, she notes the ubiquity of translation in representing the Holocaust precisely because of the history of postwar migration. These memoirs are homeless because they are written in a foreign tongue, as translations “with no original,” but they are also able to reach a global audience, translating disparate experiences for readers across the world.12 In this connection Angela Kershaw’s study of postwar French Holocaust fiction by André Schwarz-Bart and the Polish-born writer Anna Langfus argues for the importance of translation across time, space, and languages, and for the importance of the narrative functions of multilingualism.13

But if we go back in time and look to Jewish émigré writers under the Occupation, we can go one step further in our understanding of literary multilingualism during the war, as these authors conceived of their position as Jewish immigrants through writing itself, often outside Sapiro’s categories of literary institutions and prior to discourses about memory of the Shoah. I contend that Jewish émigré writers under Vichy used French to express hybrid and shifting cultural, religious, and linguistic identities. They employ strategies including: multilingualism, that is, the presence of multiple languages in the text; the translation of non-French language in the text; the transcription of so-called foreign accents in French; and a version of heteroglossia, or the way in which different languages are depicted in French in the text. When the Vichy regime and the Nazi occupiers denied them their French identity through xenophobic and antisemitic laws, Jewish émigré authors from Eastern Europe began to reexamine and, in some cases, to reassert their role in the French nation through their literature in a redefined understanding of French.

In this introduction, I provide the historical context of the interwar period and the Occupation as well as the theoretical basis of the book. Because these writers began to write in French in the interwar period and changed their positions during the war, I present a continuous but shifting narrative, rather than a story that is bracketed off by the four years of the Occupation. These authors do not represent all Eastern European Jewish writers of French expression; rather, they each illuminate different paths and responses. I look at the interwar period through the end of the Occupation, starting with the writers’ countries of origin and continuing with their lives in France. All the while, I focus on the role of language. First, I trace the motivations for Jewish writers from Eastern Europe to immigrate to France during the interwar period in order to write in French and to assume a French literary position and, in many cases, a naturalized French identity. These choices must be situated in a discussion within interwar French Jewish communities about the role of Yiddish in Parisian life or about the need for immigrants to speak French and possibly to abandon Yiddish, as well as in the context of far-right French attitudes toward Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Based on these premises, I argue that Jewish immigrant writers changed their approach to French in response to the French defeat and the Nazi Occupation. The writers in this book employ literary strategies usually associated with postcolonial Francophone writers in ways that blur the boundaries of belonging within national borders and within national languages and that obscure the boundaries between Jewish languages (Yiddish and Hebrew) and other languages that have been seen as external to Jewish languages (French, for example). The introduction places these authors within a new category of European Francophonie as a form of linguistic resistance to their exclusion from French letters during the war.

Vi Got in Frankraykh: Jewish Immigrants in France, 1920s–1930s

The writers under discussion in this book are part of a generation that emigrated from Eastern European countries with strong histories of both Francophilia and Francophonie, not least because of the legacy of universalism and Jewish civil rights that is celebrated in the Yiddish expression lebn vi Got in Frankraykh (to live like God in France). Although these writers had different experiences of migration from most other Eastern European immigrants—different networks, different neighborhoods—they reacted to the double experience for immigrants in France, terre d’accueil, France hostile (land of immigrants, hostile France), to use the expression of the Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration in Paris.14 There is an urgency in studying this group in particular, for they were the first victims of the Shoah in France.15 These writers lived the Occupation differently from many other Eastern European Jews, and indeed from each other, for they all had different paths in the war. Nevertheless, they too were the victims of persecution as Jewish immigrants in France, and they responded to this shared spectrum of experience in their writing.

Understanding the legacy of universalism in which these writers wished to participate necessitates a jump back even further in time to the French Revolution. Republican universalism as constitutionalized by the Declaration of the Rights of Man rests on “the republican idea” that, in Mona Ozouf’s words, “recalls the possibility of rational communication between men and the unity of humanity.”16 Based on these universal rights, France was the first country to emancipate the Jews, granting citizenship to Sephardic Jews in 1790, and then to all other Jews in 1791. As the Count Stanislas de Clermont-Tonnerre famously argued in support of Jewish emancipation at the Constituent Assembly: “To the Jews as a Nation, nothing; to the Jews as individuals, everything.”17 They became “citizens as individuals.”18 Indeed, as Maurice Samuels writes in The Right to Difference, debates about universalism in France have often centered on the Jews of France. French universalism, as Samuels argues, has a complex history that has not always opposed particularism to universalism but can rather be grasped in terms of a continuum between assimilationist and pluralist poles.19 It is a topic that has come under debate in contemporary France and should be examined in this context. Pierre Birnbaum and Ira Katznelson unpack the term “emancipation,” calling it “a shorthand for access by Jews to the profound shifts in ideas and conditions wrought by the Enlightenment and its liberal offspring: religious toleration, secularization, scientific thought, and the apotheosization of reason, individualism, the law of contract, and choice.”20 Birnbaum and Katznelson locate a “double transformation” in this process: “in standing, as Jews moved from the position of presociological and prepolitical persons to become sociological and political actors, and in the creation of new options, based on rights, for them.”21 It was these rights that drew Jewish émigré writers from Eastern Europe to France.

The authors studied in Writing Occupation lived under radically different legal situations in Eastern Europe prior to their immigration to France. Emancipation did not come to Fondane’s Romania until 1919, and civil rights for Jews were entered into the 1923 Constitution in the same year of his emigration. But antisemitism only intensified in Romania in the wake of these newly acquired rights. In the Russian Empire, Jews were restricted to residing in an area called the Pale of Settlement, with specific exceptions, until the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917; only then were the legal restrictions on all ethnic and religious communities lifted. Gary and Malaquais grew up in the Pale in the years before World War I, although control of their native cities of Vilnius and Warsaw, respectively, shifted numerous times during this period in ways that changed the status of the Jewish communities there. Némirovsky’s and Triolet’s families had residence rights that allowed them to live beyond the legal boundaries of the Pale in Saint Petersburg and Moscow, but they did not have full civil rights.

France thus became one of the major destinations of Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe during the interwar period. This was the largest wave of Jewish migration in French history, one that radically changed the landscape of French Jewry. By 1940, of approximately 330,000 Jews in France, 140,000 were immigrants without French citizenship and 55,000 were naturalized.22 The center of Jewish life in France shifted from Alsace to Paris, in particular to the neighborhoods of the Marais and Belleville. Between the years 1921 and 1926, the number of immigrants, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, more than doubled, and by 1926 foreigners made up around 6 percent of the population.23 In response to fears about a natality crisis after the devastating loss of life in World War I, the government reformed the naturalization laws, reducing the residency requirement in France for citizenship from ten years to three in the law of August 10, 1927. This law, which paved the way for huge numbers of naturalizations in the late 1920s and into the 1930s, would later become the target of Vichy legislation seeking to denaturalize Jewish citizens.24

The writers in this book all came to France in their teens or twenties between the years 1919 and 1928 to settle in Paris and become French writers. Gary is an exception, as he came to Nice first, as a teenager, before moving to Paris, but his goal had always been to join the pantheon of great French writers. This intention distinguishes these writers from Spanish Republican refugees, for example, who arrived in 1939 (including the Spanish émigré writer and Holocaust survivor Jorge Semprún, who began to publish after the war); it also distinguishes them even from German Jewish refugees, who began to arrive in 1933 (including luminaries like Walter Benjamin and Hannah Arendt, among many others), but who had not set out to make careers for themselves as French authors.25 The authors discussed in Writing Occupation had varied paths that did not always conform to the typical story of Jewish migration. For example, they did not live in the neighborhoods of Paris that have often been associated with Jewish immigrants, even though in France there were no neighborhoods in which Jewish residents made up the majority, as there were in England and the United States.26 Rather, they lived and spent their time in areas frequented by other writers, artists, and intellectuals, and also near universities and libraries. Némirovsky was the outlier, residing in the wealthy seventh arrondissement.

Paris of the 1920s and 1930s witnessed exciting events of literary history, and these writers took part, sometimes from the sidelines. Fondane’s thrill at getting caught up in a Surrealist brawl in a Montparnasse club in 1930 is palpable in his letter to his friend, the Romanian Jewish émigré poet Claude Sernet; there he describes the Surrealist luminaries André Breton, Louis Aragon (Triolet’s future husband), and Paul Éluard, among others, entering the club in time to see the situation devolving into a free-for-all, with patrons throwing plates at each other.27 Triolet frequented these bustling Montparnasse cafés too. In the Latin Quarter, again, Malaquais was often at the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève. Another commemorative plaque to Fondane marks a nearby building, just a few minutes’ walk from the library, on the rue Rollin where he lived, as a trace of the world Jewish émigré writers made for themselves through integrating into the cultural life of Paris. In an amazing coincidence, Gary lived on the same tiny street—just around the corner from Hemingway’s and Joyce’s apartments on the rue du Cardinal Lemoine. These Jewish émigré writers’ switch to writing in French, their linguistic integration, had as much to do with the hopes of a literary career in France as with their legal and political reasons for immigrating.

The Occupation

The Occupation upended these writers’ expectations. It was at this moment that they also changed the way they wrote in French and about Jewishness and Frenchness. In this sense, the Occupation set the stage for a new writing of multilingualism. In The Jews of Modern France, Paula Hyman looks at the terrible war years for the 350,000 Jewish people in France, both immigrants and citizens, that “demonstrated that the long-standing faith of French Jews in the protection offered by the state was misplaced.”28 The months leading up to the French defeat are known as the drôle de guerre—literally, the strange war, or in English the Phoney War—for there were no major military operations, especially in comparison with the trench warfare of World War I. The start of the Occupation can be dated to June 22, 1940, when France signed an armistice with Germany that divided the country by a line of demarcation into two zones, the Occupied and Free (later Southern) Zones. As Philippe Pétain, the hero of Verdun, was declared the head of the French state with full governmental powers, the Third Republic collapsed. Five months later, the first Jewish Statutes were passed, stripping immigrant and native Jews alike of rights and excluding them from the professions and public life.

In the remainder of this section of the introduction, I give an overview of the Occupation, organized around three topics of concern to the authors discussed in this book: the June 1940 civilian flight from Paris; the resulting displacement within France under the constant fear of internment and deportation; and the Resistance.

The June 1940 civilian flight southward, called the exode (exodus), just before the German forces entered Paris, was a traumatic part of the disastrous defeat. On June 9, as the Germans approached Paris from the north, ministers deemed nonessential to national defense left Paris by order of the French prime minister Paul Reynaud.29 Most of the government fled the city. As Hanna Diamond shows, Parisians viewed the departure of their officials in the absence of an official evacuation of civilians as desertion or a clear sign of defeat.30 The French government did not leave behind any officials who “might take it upon themselves to ‘represent’ the government” or negotiate with the invading forces.31 But this also meant that almost no officials or administrators were on hand to oversee the massive flight of the population, with only some members of the military and the prefect of police remaining in Paris. The city’s population dropped from almost 3 million to between 700,000 and 1 million.32 In a matter of weeks this major city was emptied. Scholars estimate that the roads were flooded with around 6 million people, or one-sixth of the population of France, and 2 million Belgians and Luxembourgers.33 Némirovsky depicted this flight from Paris in Suite française while in Burgundy, having had the means to leave Paris just a couple of weeks before the defeat. Fondane escaped after he was taken as a prisoner of war, and he found himself on the roads of France, an experience he depicted in his poem L’Exode: Super flumina Babylonis.

Immigrants in France experienced the exode in a radically different way from les Français de souche—the Franco-French, those whose families had been French for generations. This was a paradoxical exodus for some Franco-French, since it meant a return to their country homes and to the French countryside in general. They were refugees within their own country. Unlike recent immigrants, however, they could rely on family, social circles, and other networks already established before the war. Shannon Fogg explains that the upheavals of the exodus forced people to rely even more on individual social structures and networks for survival.34 In 1940, many urban residents were only one generation removed from their rural background. These Parisians could go back to their rural origins for shelter.35 The French Jewish writer Léon Werth describes his departure from Paris in 33 Days, his firsthand account of the exode, which was smuggled out of France in 1940 by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.36 Werth left his apartment in Paris, as he had done every year, for the route to Saint-Amour in the Jura, where his wife had purchased a house from her aunt in the early 1920s.37 Describing the exhaustion, chaos, and humiliating uncertainty he feels on the road, he states: “I am prisoner of a route I didn’t choose. I have become a refugee and have no refuge.”38 But as he approaches Saint-Amour after a month of harrowing experiences, he understands the joy of sailors as they approach the shore: “We feel pity for these homeless, but quickly we are no more than sixty kilometers from home.”39 Despite being a refugee, he thinks within the framework of having a home. That is not to say that he experienced the war less painfully than émigré Jewish writers but rather that he had a different conception of the exodus.

Émigré authors, Jewish and non-Jewish, were in a unique position in June 1940, for these writers were fleeing in the country to which they had immigrated. As people doubly displaced from home, they were particularly in tune with the notion of exile. This perhaps explains why they wrote, in wartime, about the events of June 1940 in far greater numbers than their French-born colleagues. Aside from émigré wartime writing, surprisingly few literary representations of the exode were written during the war, although there do exist many journalistic accounts of the subject.40

Whether in the Occupied or the Southern Zones, the writers treated in this book were subject to antisemitic and xenophobic legislation, and were threatened with internment and deportation. As Patrick Weil demonstrates, there was no clear division between antisemitic and xenophobic laws under the Occupation; rather, they were interwoven and even competed with each other.41 From the beginning of the Occupation, the vulnerable status of Jewish refugees and recently naturalized Jewish French citizens was at the center of legal changes and government action. The law of August 10, 1927, which eased requirements for naturalization, was used as a negative symbol of the supposed degradation of France and became a vehicle for denying immigrants the right to belong to the French nation. Just as the Nazis denaturalized anyone who had gained citizenship in Germany after the defeat of 1918, the Vichy government sought to delegitimize naturalizations effected under the 1927 law, targeting Jews in particular.42 Over 15,000 French people, and 110,000 Algerian Jews, lost their citizenship, although none of the writers in this study fell victim to the policy.

Even before the Occupation, with the arrival of Spanish Republican refugees in early 1939, France had, as Michael R. Marrus and Robert O. Paxton put it, “crossed a new threshold: the resort to mass internment.”43 During the Phoney War, German Jewish refugees already in France were held in French internment camps. After the defeat, foreign Jews were the first to be rounded up in Paris in the spring and summer of 1941.44 Approximately three thousand foreign-born Jews died in the French internment camps early in the Occupation; these were the first deaths of the Shoah in France.45 With the collaboration of Vichy, Jewish foreign refugees in French internment camps were deported eastward in the first convoys from the Southern Zone in August 1942 to the concentration camps.46 The terrible roundups of July 16–17, 1942, targeted 27,388 Jewish immigrants, who were stateless or unnaturalized immigrants from Germany, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union.47 This has become known as the Vel d’Hiv roundup, as many of the 12,884 who were arrested by the French police were held in the Vélodrome d’Hiver, an indoor sports center in Paris, before being deported to Auschwitz.48 Not a single one of the approximately four thousand children survived deportation. By the end of the war, only 3 percent of Jewish people deported from France to “the East” returned. Némirovsky was murdered that same summer after being interned in Pithiviers and deported to Auschwitz; Fondane died in Auschwitz just after the liberation of France.

At the same time as these terrible actions were taking place, Jews were active in diverse movements of the Resistance; their experiences and political affiliations were wide-ranging, as demonstrated by the lives of two Resistance writers discussed in this book, Romain Gary and Elsa Triolet. The Resistance challenged Vichy’s rejection of immigrants by the French nation, and, since so many groups with different languages and political positions formed the different Resistance movements, they created a multilingual space of resistance. It is within this context that I study Jewish Resistance writers. The historian Julian Jackson spells out three forms of Jewish Resistance: individuals who were Jewish and in the Resistance; Jewish Resistance organizations; and Resistance organizations with Jewish objectives whose members were not always exclusively Jewish.49 Triolet and Gary would fall under the first category. They took part in two vastly different Resistance movements. Most significantly, as I argue, both movements were linguistically diverse, as were many of the Resistance networks with which immigrants were involved.

Gary fought with Charles de Gaulle’s Free French movement in London. Jewish and non-Jewish émigrés made major contributions to the Resistance effort in London. To take just one example, the very “Marseillaise” itself of the French Resistance, “Le Chant des partisans,” was written, translated, and performed by immigrants. In 1942, Anna Marly composed the music and lyrics for “Le Chant des partisans” in Russian. Marly was a singer who had immigrated to France from Saint Petersburg in the 1920s. She left France during the exode and in 1941 arrived in London, where she volunteered in the canteen of the Free French Forces’ headquarters at Carlton Gardens.50 The song was translated into French by Maurice Druon, the son of a Russian Jewish immigrant, and by Druon’s uncle, Joseph Kessel, a Lithuanian Jew who had immigrated to France in 1908. Gary and Kessel wrote two of the most famous novels of the Resistance, Éducation européenne (A European Education) and L’Armée des ombres (Army of Shadows), respectively. I argue that Gary’s novel references the connections to the Polish Government-in-Exile in London, resurrecting this memory of the French Resistance.

The Communist internal Resistance in France, with which Triolet sided as a clandestine journalist, was also linguistically diverse. One of the most famous examples is the Franc-tireurs et partisans–Main d’œuvre immigrée (FTP-MOI), the wartime reincarnation of an immigrant organization that was formed in the 1920s by the trade union linked to the French Communist Party, the Confédération générale du travail unitaire (CGTU).51 The FTP-MOI was divided into language groups, including a Yiddish group. Under the Occupation, the different language groups circulated clandestine journals, sometimes in their native languages, and at other times either entirely in French or in bilingual editions. The FTP-MOI is perhaps most famous for its Manouchian Group, which was the subject of the famous Nazi propaganda poster, the Affiche rouge. The group was led by Missak Manouchian, an Armenian émigré and poet. Louis Aragon wrote a poem, which Léo Ferré later made into a song, about this group, and Triolet wrote a journalistic account of the FTP-MOI toward the end of the Occupation.

In depicting key aspects of the war experience—the June 1940 civilian flight from Paris, life in the Occupied and Southern Zones, the roundups and internment camps, and the Resistance in France and London—the authors discussed in this book wrote about being foreign Jews, but they did so in French and in ways that contest the boundaries between foreignness and belonging, as expressed in their new approach to language. Unpublished archival documents, including correspondence, personal diaries, immigration papers, and a host of literary manuscripts, attest to a forgotten literary history that constantly challenges the binaries of center and periphery, of native and nonnative, of insider and outsider, of Jewish and non-Jewish language.


Author Note: All translations in this book are my own unless otherwise indicated.

1. Mona Ozouf, “The Pantheon: The École Normale of the Dead,” in Realms of Memory: The Construction of the French Past, vol. 3, Symbols, ed. Pierre Nora and Lawrence D. Kritzman, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 3:325–46. Ozouf complicates this narrative, stating that the Panthéon has been “a focal point of internal division” and that the memory it enshrines “is not the national memory but one of several political memories available to the French” (345).

2. There is a long history of the idea of Eastern Europe, which often lacks a precise geographical position. See Larry Wolff, Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994) for the Western invention of “Eastern Europe as its complementary other half in the eighteenth century, the age of Enlightenment,” a barbaric, backward land to be juxtaposed to its own civilized character (4). For a study of Ostjuden as a “non-European, semi-oriental people” in the German context, see Paul Mendes-Flohr, Divided Passions: Jewish Intellectuals and the Experience of Modernity (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991), 77–132.

3. Denise Epstein, interview by Vera Frankl, August 17, 2005, Toulouse, France, French transcript, p. 25, Jeff and Toby Herr Oral History Archive, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

4. See Ruth Franklin, “Scandale Française,” New Republic, January 30, 2008.

5. See chapter 5 for further discussion of these debates.

6. Gisèle Sapiro, La Guerre des écrivians, 1940–1953 (Paris: Fayard, 1999). See Margaret Atack, Literature and the French Resistance: Cultural Politics and Narrative Forms, 1940–1950 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989). In this important work, which takes a literary perspective, Atack looks through the prism of wartime unity and postwar ambiguities in the Resistance novel, although she does not distinguish the experience of Jewish émigré writers from those of Franco-French writers. Other foundational texts on the history and sociology of writers under the Occupation include Anne Simonin, Les Éditions de Minuit, 1942–1955: Le Devoir d’insoumission (Paris: IMEC, 1994); and Jeannine Verdès-Leroux, Refus et violences: Politique et littérature à l’extrême droite des années trente aux retombées de la Libération (Paris: Gallimard, 1996). In The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), Alice Kaplan shows the centrality of writing itself in confronting the war. She contends that “language is at stake in the Brasillach trial, the capacity of language to do real evil” (xv). Examples of two recent studies of writers in the war are: Alan Riding, And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied France (New York: Knopf, 2010); and Frederic Spotts, The Shameful Peace: How French Artists and Intellectuals Survived the Nazi Occupation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008).

7. Gisèle Sapiro, “Forces of Solidarity and Logics of Exclusion: The Role of Literary Institutions in Times of Crisis,” in Being Contemporary: French Literature, Culture, and Politics Today, ed. Lia Brozgal and Sara Kippur (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2016), 151.

8. Ibid., 150.

9. Ibid., 151.

10. Naomi Seidman, Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 201.

11. In addition to those mentioned here, there are numerous other studies of translation and the war. See, for example, Anita Norich, Writing in Tongues: Translating Yiddish in the Twentieth Century (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013), 42–65; and Sara Kippur, Writing It Twice: Self-Translation and the Making of a World Literature in French (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2015).

12. Susan Rubin Suleiman, “Monuments in a Foreign Tongue: On Reading Holocaust Memoirs by Emigrants,” in Exile and Creativity: Signposts, Travelers, Outsiders, Backward Glances, ed. Susan Rubin Suleiman (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), 401.

13. See Angela Kershaw, Translating War: Literature and Memory in France and Britain from the 1940s to the 1960s (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). In the first part of her book, Kershaw studies the translation of the experiences of the war—for Joseph Kessel, from London back to France, and for Elsa Triolet, from the experience of the Resistance to the postwar period and from postwar France to the United States and United Kingdom, when her book was translated into English. In so doing, Kershaw follows Hilary Footitt’s articulation of war zones as “fundamentally translational spaces.” For Footitt, war zones are “transnational contact zones which are, by definition, multivocal spaces in which identities are translated and communication attempted.” See Hilary Footitt, “War and Culture Studies in 2016: Putting ‘Translation’ into the Transnational?” Journal of War and Culture Studies 9, no. 3 (2016): 215.

14. “Terre d’accueil, France hostile,” n.d., Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration, accessed December 27, 2018,

15. Seventy-five percent of Jews in France survived the war; 90 percent of French Jews survived, compared to 60 percent of foreign Jews. See Jacques Semelin, La Survie des juifs en France 1940–1944 (Paris: CNRS, 2018), 21.

16. Quoted in Jeremy Jennings, “Universalism,” in The French Republic: History, Values, Debates, ed. Edward G. Berenson, Vincent Duclert, and Christophe Prochasson (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011), 147.

17. Quoted in Maurice Samuels, Inventing the Israelite: Jewish Fiction in Nineteenth-Century France (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010), 8. See also Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall, The Abbé Grégoire and the French Revolution: The Making of Modern Universalism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005) for a discussion of the Abbé Grégoire’s position supporting Jewish regeneration through political rights, whereby Jews would gain “formal inclusion in the nation” but also “needed to change physically, morally, and politically to become fully French” (95).

18. Samuels, Inventing the Israelite, 53–54.

19. Maurice Samuels, The Right to Difference: French Universalism and the Jews (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 5. See also Nadia Malinovich, French and Jewish: Culture and the Politics of Identity in Early Twentieth-Century France (Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2008), 4–5; and Lisa Moses Leff, Sacred Bonds of Solidarity: The Rise of Jewish Internationalism in Nineteenth-Century France (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006). Leff argues that French Jewish internationalism “used the language of solidarity—filled as it was with decidedly republican ideals—to solidify their own positions within France” (6).

20. Pierre Birnbaum and Ira Katznelson, “Emancipation and the Liberal Offer,” in Paths of Emancipation: Jews, States, and Citizenship, ed. Pierre Birnbaum and Ira Katznelson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995), 4.

21. Ibid.

22. Jean-Jacques Becker and Annette Wieviorka, eds., Les Juifs de France: De la Révolution française à nos jours (Paris: Liana Levi, 1998), 108.

23. Patrick Weil, Qu’est-ce qu’un Français?: Histoire de la nationalité française depuis la Révolution, rev. ed. (Paris: Gallimard, 2005), 110–11.

24. Ibid., 116. On average, 22,500 immigrants received French citizenship in 1928 and 1929, and around 17,000 people were naturalized each year into the 1930s.

25. For an in-depth study of Jewish refugees after the rise of Nazism in Germany, see Vicki Caron, Uneasy Asylum: France and the Jewish Refugee Crisis, 1933–1942 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999); and Michael R. Marrus, The Unwanted: European Refugees in the Twentieth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985). For a study of German refugees in France, see Gilbert Badia, Jean-Baptiste Joly, Jean-Philippe Mathieu, Jacques Omnès, Jean-Michel Palmier, and Hélène Roussel, eds., Les Bannis de Hitler: Accueil et luttes des exilés allemands en France (1933–1939) (Paris: Études et Documentation Internationales; Presses Universitaires de Vincennes, 1984); and for the history of Spanish refugees in France, see Scott Soo, The Routes to Exile: France and the Spanish Civil War Refugees, 1939–2009 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013).

26. Malinovich, French and Jewish, 113.

27. Benjamin Fondane to Claude Sernet, February 1930, FDA Enr C 2 (1), Fonds Benjamin Fondane, Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques Doucet, Paris.

28. Paula E. Hyman, The Jews of Modern France (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 161.

29. Hanna Diamond, Fleeing Hitler: France 1940 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 47. I rely on Diamond’s book for much of the information in this paragraph. See also Jean Vidalenc, L’Exode de mai–juin 1940 (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1957).

30. Diamond, Fleeing Hitler, 48.

31. Ibid., 49.

32. Richard Vinen, The Unfree French: Life Under the Occupation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), 30.

33. Ibid. See also Jean-Pierre Azéma, 1940, l’année noire: De la débandade au trauma (Paris: Fayard, 2010), 127.

34. See Shannon L. Fogg, The Politics of Everyday Life in Vichy France: Foreigners, Undesirables, and Strangers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

35. Diamond, Fleeing Hitler, 23.

36. Léon Werth, 33 Days, trans. Austin Denis Johnston (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2015), 6.

37. Gilles Heuré, L’Insoumis: Léon Werth, 1878–1955 (Paris: Vivianne Hamy, 2006), 249.

38. Werth, 33 Days, 20.

39. Ibid., 115.

40. One might add certain moving sections of Colette’s recollections, Journal à rebours (Paris: Fayard, 1941). Extensive bibliographies on the exodus include only three fictional accounts written in French during the war: Jacques Decrest’s Les Jeunes Filles perdues (1943); Irène Némirovsky’s Suite française; and Maurice Rostand’s La Tragédie de la route (1942). See the bibliographies of such texts in Éric Alary, L’Exode: Un drame oublié (Paris: Perrin, 2010), 445–48; and Diamond, Fleeing Hitler, xiv–xv and 241–45. Ilya Ehrenbourg first published Padenie Parizha (The Fall of Paris, 1942) in the Soviet Union in 1940; it appeared in French in 1945.

41. Weil, Qu’est-ce qu’un Français?, 145.

42. Ibid., 144.

43. Michael R. Marrus and Robert O. Paxton, Vichy France and the Jews (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995), 64–65. See also Denis Peschanski, La France des camps: L’Internement, 1938–1946 (Paris: Gallimard, 2002).

44. Susan Zuccotti, The Holocaust, the French, and the Jews (New York: Basic Books, 1993), 81. See also Renée Poznanski, Les Juifs en France pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, rev. ed. (Paris: Hachette, 1997).

45. Zuccotti, The Holocaust, the French, and the Jews, 67.

46. Ibid.

47. Ibid., 104–5.

48. Ibid., 107.

49. Julian Jackson, France: The Dark Years, 1940–1944 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 367.

50. Anna Marly, Anna Marly, troubadour de la Résistance: Mémoires (Paris: Tallandier, 2000), 14, 87.

51. Stéphane Courtois, Denis Peschanski, and Adam Rayski, Le Sang de l’étranger: Les Immigrés de la MOI dans la Résistance (Paris: Fayard, 1994), 16, 29. See also Annette Wieviorka, Ils étaient juifs, résistants, communistes, rev. ed. (Paris: Perrin, 2018).