In the Aftermath of Genocide: Armenians and Jews in Twentieth-Century France

By Melson, Robert | Shofar, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

In the Aftermath of Genocide: Armenians and Jews in Twentieth-Century France


Melson, Robert, Shofar


In the Aftermath of Genocide: Armenians and Jews in Twentieth-Century France, by Maud S. Mandel. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003. 317 pp. $23.95.

Armenians and Jews differ in most things, including religion, origins, language, and socio-economic profile. Armenians are an ancient Christian community, one of the oldest in the world, whose origins lie in the Anatolian plateau of Asia Minor. Although Jewish roots may be traced to ancient Israel and Judah, for nearly two millennia Jews have been a diaspora community with shifting centers of concentration, from Rome, to Spain, to western Europe, to eastern Europe and Russia, to the United States, and most recently to modern Israel. Armenian is an Indo-European language; Hebrew is Semitic. Yiddish is a Germanic blend written in Hebrew, and Ladino is a blend of medieval Castilian, combined with Hebrew, Turkish, and Arabic. Until the latter half of the 19th century, Armenians were peasant farmers living in the eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire, while most European Jews were an urban population, prohibited from farming, earning its living as merchants, petty-traders, money-lenders, and skilled craftsmen.

Despite these many differences, Armenians and Jews share tragic modern histories in the Ottoman Empire and Europe, respectively, where they experienced massacres and genocide. The Armenian Genocide of 1915-23 destroyed more than half of Ottoman Armenians, while the Holocaust exterminated two-thirds of European Jewry. Both of these disasters, and the decades of violence that preceded them, produced refugee populations as well as bitter memories of persecution and survival for both peoples. Different though they may have been, Armenians and Jews share the common experience of massive violence, trauma, survival, flight, and the attempt to reestablish a normal existence in strange new lands.

In the Aftermath of Genocide is Maud S. Mandel's attempt to compare and contrast the similar and yet different experiences of these two communities in twentieth-century France. After the First World War, France was the principal place in Western Europe to which Armenians and Jews fled, seeking shelter and recovery. It was a modern, republican, democratic country with a strong tradition of assimilating immigrants and rejecting separate ethnic development. However, during the Second World War, Armenian and Jewish paths in France diverged: for the most part Armenians were not victimized, but French Jews and Jewish refugees, who had sought shelter in France before the war, were targets of the Nazis and their accomplices in Vichy. What happened to the two traumatized communities under these changing conditions? Specifically, what was the Armenian communal reaction in the interwar period in France following the genocide of 1915, and what was the Jewish reaction following the Holocaust? How did these two communities deal with their violent pasts? How did they assimilate or not assimilate to France? What were their relations with their communities in the diaspora, and with the new states, Armenia and Israel, that rose like two phoenixes following the two genocides? Mandel, who teaches in the History department and the Judaic Studies program at Brown University, has written an important, complex, and fascinating study. …

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