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?