This summer, the University of Notre Dame Press will release a translation of The Choice of the Jews under Vichy: Between Submission and Resistance, by the late Adam Rayski. The publisher’s description follows:
“It is France that, along with Germany, has persecuted the most Jews.” Spoken at the beginning of 1943, this phrase was not a denunciation, but an unashamed assertion by André Lavagne, the chief of Marshal Pétain’s civil cabinet. Indeed, France’s leadership stood prominently among the governments of occupied Europe in its initiative and zeal in collaborating with the Nazis. Yet nearly three-quarters of the Jews living in France at the beginning of the war survived the “Final Solution.” How was this possible?
And what considerations motivated many prominent representatives of French Jewry, at least initially, to submit to the antisemitic measures of Vichy? Adam Rayski addresses these and other important questions in The Choice of the Jews under Vichy. He writes from the joint perspective of a historian and a participant in the events he describes. An organizer of the communist faction of the Jewish resistance in France, Rayski buttresses his analysis of war-era archival materials with his own personal testimony.
Based on extensive research into previously unpublished sources, including the archives of the military, the Central Consistory of French Jewry, police prefectures, and Philippe Pétain, Rayski clearly demonstrates the Vichy government’s role as an accomplice in the Nazis’ program of genocide. He also explores the sizeable pre-war divide between French-born and immigrant Jews. This manifested itself in cultural conflicts and mutual antagonism as well as in varied initial responses to the antisemitic edicts and actions of the Vichy government. Rayski reveals how these communities eventually set aside their differences and united to resist the Vichy-supported Nazi threat.
Although some French Jews did passively submit to the moves of the Vichy regime, Rayski provides evidence that many did not. With an informed account of the formation and actions of the French Jewish resistance, Rayski combats the clichéd image of Jews as victims. He also documents and describes the efforts and the absence of efforts of French Protestant and Catholic groups on behalf of their Jewish countrymen. Written for general readers and scholars alike, this book provides compelling insight into the story of French Jews during World War II.