Spring break is on its way, but it’s snowing up a, err, storm, and I will in fact have more work to do over break than on any given week of the semester. Not that I’m complaining–I love snow, and my work is in a large part writing three different papers about French Jews, for three different classes. This can, of course, get confusing. While the three papers are on different topics (roughly, Turkey, Zionism, and Vichy), many of the key words (“France” and “Juif,” among others) and themes are the same. When I left the library just now with two bags filled with Franco-Judaica, I realized that sorting out which books are for which paper will be a major task. And many of the books have chapters useful for more than one of the papers. This should provide an idea of why my posts are continually more sporadic. But sporadic doesn’t have to mean non-existent, so here goes:

Last night, I went to a seminar on the French and French Jewish understandings of the Holocaust between ’45 and the ’60s. A group of professors and graduate students all focusing on similar topics could not agree on whether postwar French Jews were open about their Jewishness, or whether there was a general understanding of the extent and significance of the Holocaust in France or America in the immediate postwar period. What wasn’t discussed, as it wasn’t directly relevant to the subject at hand, is the fact that, unlike anti-Semitic persecution in earlier times, in situations where there was no dispute as to which people were Jews, either among Jews themselves or among gentiles, the Holocaust involved an external definition of Judaism that did not always match up with who considered himself to be a Jew. Plenty died “as Jews” who, simply put, were not. What are we to make of this? Should this affect how we look at the Holocaust in terms of inspiring Jewish solidarity? Perhaps, but perhaps not–being persecuted as a Jew has led plenty of in-between identities closer to Judaism–but is this the sort of Judaism that ought to dominate, the kind born of anti-Semitism, and experienced by those who’d really rather not have to deal with this Jewish stuff, but seeing as they do, are going to deal with it and deal with it right? Is the “Jew” of Jewish solidarity the same as the one the Nazis were out to exterminate, and does it matter?

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  • Can you give an example of an in-betweener that was led closer to Judaism as a result of persecution? For me, the generality to hard to grasp. Maybe H’Ari and his cohorts? They were shaped by expulsion which made them a bit strange and even a tad paganish… if expulsion did that imagine extermination! Maybe the Satmars are another example?

    I wonder if we focus too much on The Holocaust as a raison d’être Jewish behavior and identity, thereby missing out on other external and internal influences. Please, this is not to minimize the horrors of The Holocaust. Are there other reasons why our philosophical, ethical, and moral beliefs and practices have been assailed, assimilated or even held up as virtuous throughout modern times? Example: you had to take note when you found out circumcised men are FAR less likely to get AIDS. But then again, no one said “thank you Jews, you were right all along!!!!”

    I don’t think much of the poor treatment we suffered in Europe is based on religion or even ethnicity; I think it was simply easiest. Put another way, religion was abused by the Spanish, the Germans, etc… (dare I say some Zionists) as a way to gain power. In the European cases we were not conducive to obtaining or maintaining that power structure, so we had to go. Why should the Pope want us around? We are living proof that the direct nature of his divine influence is not 100%. Even worse we believe in no intercessor! The whole Catholic religion’s finial hierarchy is based on paying for your intercessor, if you don’t pay, no talking to G-d. If we are even 1% right it means less money and power for him and his ilk. I hate to sound like Marx, but…

    France is different though, they never seemed to take it to the overt level the Spanish and others did (please, correct me if I am wrong…), but are the French overt about much? These are the people that rioted at Sacre du Printemps and produced some stunning philosophy. So there is something there.

    And in case you think I have rambled far from the topic of the above post, I tend to think all 97% of Jewish history is about how we were treated badly or tricked, so to make this question about how religiosity was influenced by hardship I think you have to step way way way back to the first few chapters of Genesis.

  • Great questions. Israel, as I’m sure you know, defines a Jew on the basis of having at least one grandparent who is Jewish. They put this definition into place, even though the rabbis disagree, because Hitler’s regime used this definition to articulate who deserved to be a victim of their rules and regulations and eventually murderous violence.

    However, many Jews who were killed then didn’t consider themselves Jews, just as Israel is now discovering that it has white supremacy movements populated by immigrants from Russia who meet the state’s technical definition but have no connection to that part of their personal history. These individuals are also not considered Jewish according to the rabbinate.

    Jewish movements define Jews differently. Orthodox differs from Conservative and they both differ from Reform or Reconstructionist.

    I think you have to break down your question into a couple of parts. 1. Who do outsiders – non-Jews – consider to be a Jew. 2. Who do the Jews in various communal settings consider a Jew. 3. Which individuals perceive themselves to be Jewish.

    Those three questions will each give you different totals and different readings on who is Jewish. It should also clarify your answer. I suspect, however, that historians who have dealt with the question of pre-War and post-War Jewish demographics have probably had to address this question before making their assertions and I would guess their criteria fall in line with those of the Nazis since these are “measurable” victims.

  • There were also, of course, people who simply couldn’t prove “aryanness,” who may well have had no Jewish ancestry or inclination whatsoever. My point is that something is fundamentally different about persecution of a definite group versus that of an indefinite one in terms of what sorts of resistance is possible or even optimal.

  • “Can you give an example of an in-betweener that was led closer to Judaism as a result of persecution? For me, the generality to hard to grasp. Maybe H’Ari and his cohorts?”

    Vidal-Naquet was the example given at this talk; others I can think of, offhand, include Theodor Herzl, Bernard Lazare, the ex-Trotskyite “neoconservative” intellectuals in America…

    “France is different though, they never seemed to take it [anti-Semitism] to the overt level the Spanish and others did (please, correct me if I am wrong…)”

    Wrong indeed. Just read Paxton and Marrus’s “Vichy France and the Jews,” which shows that the French government during WWII at times took things a step beyond the Germans.

  • An anecdote is how, Phoebe, was it in Marseilles? Paris? The Germans wanted all the Jews rounded up who were over sixteen years old. The French rounded them all up, including the ones under sixteen years old. The Germans asked why. The French official said he was “practicing prophylaxis”, meaning prevention.

    Then there was the incident at Isieux or Ysieux, with the children who were taken away. It had been considered improper to blend them in with other children so they were visible as a Jewish group.