The Oxford Holocaust and Genocide Studies
Published: 2019-05-26

The Holocaust has been reduced to a series of memes which are constantly repeated in the media; mysterious trains moving through the night,  chimneys belching flames from human cremations, Anne Frank, articles that include a line like “Mr. Nagel had lost his youth and most of his family to the Holocaust…”

Beneath this propaganda shell, the Holocaust story is remarkably erratic in its specifics: The level of resistance by the victims sways between passive or cooperative  to heroic and active, the level of organization and direction by Hitler veers from total and top secret (the Internationalists story) to nonexistent, (the Functionalists), the profitability of the camps ranges from the Communists tales of them being a highly profitable perfect capitalist system where slaves are worked to death and then processed for their gold teeth and fat to the admission in Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler's Willing Executioners that the camps were extremely unprofitable. One of these sub stories is about the widening distribution of guilt. At first Germany alone was blamed for the Holocaust, a narrative presented at the Nuremberg military tribunal and embraced by Poland and France.  

This spring, it was France’s turn. Oxford Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Vol. 33, Issue 1, gave a four-barreled blast at France and a slap at Italy. One can guess at the contents of the article by their respective titles and you would be right. The titles are in bold followed by an abstract in italics.

1. The French Jewish Statute of October 3, 1940: A Reevaluation of Continuities and Discontinuities of French Antisemitism 

Recently declassified French documentation and continuing scholarly discussion show that Vichy France’s antisemitic legislation was no mere consequence of German antisemitic measures imposed in the Occupied Zone in summer 1940. One must differentiate between the economic persecution of Jews in France, in which the German occupational forces were the main actors, and measures of the French government, which enacted its own “racial” legislation. Franco-German collaboration started only in autumn 1940, after the promulgation of the first French racial legislation.

2. Being Jewish in Vichy under the Vichy Regime

  After the German occupation of Belgium, Luxembourg, and Northern France in spring 1940, tens of thousands of Jewish refugees fled to the Unoccupied Zone of France, some thousands of them to the spa resort of Vichy. A few weeks later, remnants of the French government also relocated to Vichy. Many of the Jewish refugees greeted the arrival of Marshal Pétain, hoping for his protection. However, as this article shows, Vichy proved anything but a safe haven. A rigorous policy of evictions reduced the number of Jews there from a few thousand in 1940, and 600 in 1943, to a handful in 1944. These evictions raise questions about institutionalized violence prior to the turning point of 1942, when French officials deported tens of thousands of Jews to German death camps.

3. French Bureaucrats and Anti-Jewish Persecution: The “Jewish Service” of the Paris Police Prefecture, 1940–1944  

During the German occupation of France, the “Jewish service” of the Police Prefecture was the primary institution responsible for monitoring Jews in the Paris region. This study concerns this largely unknown bureaucratic organization and its staff, focusing on the establishment of the index card registry known as the Fichier juif, and the manner in which Jews were received in the service’s offices. Using administrative archives and unpublished private sources (from two important former officers of the service, Hubert Le Fur and Pierre Vayssettes), the author details the background, mindset, and professional ethos of such bureaucrats. A tradition of bureaucratic competence motivated Le Fur, Vayssettes, and their colleagues to seek “best” solutions to improve the system of persecution.

4. Creating a Holocaust Landscape on the Streets of Paris: French Agency and the Synagogue Bombings of October 3, 1941  

On October 3, 1941 the French right-wing Mouvement Social Révolutionnaire (MSR) bombed six synagogues and one Jewish prayer house in Paris. The only scholarship addressing this “Nuit Bleue” focuses on the Nazi Security and Police Service, who provided the explosives but neither planned nor executed the attacks. Below, the authors restore memory of the bombings and re-establish French agency and culpability. 

5. Between Protection and Complicity: Guido Lospinoso, Fascist Italy, and the Holocaust in Occupied Southeastern France   

Police Inspector-General Guido Lospinoso has long been praised for the rescue of Jews before September 8, 1943 in Italian-occupied Southeastern France. This study proves that Lospinoso never embarked on a personal mission to do so. In fact, he implemented orders to evacuate foreign Jews from the Mediterranean coast under Italian rule. 

The big picture is that very few French/Jewish citizens were deported during the four years of Occupation, somewhere between 5% and 11% depending on how French citizen is defined.

Most people deported from France were “stateless” immigrants from Germany, Austria, and Central Europe.  Even among this group, only 76,000 out of a population of 340,000 were deported.   The heretofore-accepted explanation for this gap in the Holocaust story is presented by the Yad Vashem on its website.

Thousands of Frenchmen tried to help the Jews hidden from the deportations. Many of them paid for this with their lives. “Let us thank those who threaten us,” reads an editorial in a French Socialist newspaper, “for it is thanks to them that we must think dangerously, and thereby restore our own dignity.” Since 1962 a total of 3,512 French men and women have been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among The Nations (as of January 2012).

This story is now changing too.   




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Author(s): David Merlin
Title: The Oxford Holocaust and Genocide Studies
Published: 2019-05-26
First posted on CODOH: May 26, 2019, 3:13 p.m.
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