Collect and Record! Jewish Holocaust Documentation in Early Postwar Europe

By Laura Jockusch | Go to book overview

2
Writing French Judaisms
“Book of Martyrdom”
Holocaust Documentation in Liberated France

Liberation was still sixteen months away when a group of French Jews in Grenoble embarked on a collective effort to document their wartime suffering. Perhaps encouraged by the failure of the Wehrmacht’s military advances at El Alamein and Stalingrad, in April 1943 they formed a Jewish documentation center as preparation for the postwar era. Its leaders included representatives of Jewish communal, political, and welfare organizations, immigrants as well as French-born Jews. Given the circumstances of war and persecution, the actual collection and documentation project began only after the liberation, when survivors established a lasting institution in Paris. To put their work in context, this chapter begins with a discussion of the impact of the Holocaust on French Jewry, with its distinctive history and culture.

The postwar effort to document and research the history of the Jewish cataclysm in France began at a time when the remnants of the Jewish community struggled to recover from years of compound trauma: the loss of civic rights and property; the destruction of family structures and communal institutions; and ultimately, incarceration, internment, deportation, and mass murder. France’s Jewish population—numbering between 300,000 and 330,000 in the summer of 1939—suffered up to 80,000 deaths during the occupation. Nearly 76,000 Jews— two-thirds of whom had immigrated to France—were deported to death camps; only 2,560 returned.1 Even so, with 200,000–250,000 Jews in 1945, France became home to the largest Jewish community in noncommunist Continental Europe and a haven for Jewish refugees from eastern Europe.2 As historian David Weinberg observed, compared to other European Jewish communities French Jews were “in the unique position of having experienced the Holocaust yet having survived in large enough numbers to reassert themselves after the war.”3

Still, aside from coping with the psychological, physical, and material repercussions of persecution, the remnants of French Jewry had to come to terms with the

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Collect and Record! Jewish Holocaust Documentation in Early Postwar Europe
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