Remembrance Pitfalls on France during WWII ‘Were Jews victims of the Persecution or Resistance activists?’

Talk by Renée Poznanski
Discussant: Robert Gildea

Holocaust remembrance in France (scholarly as well as public memory) underwent a fundamental change in the early 1980s. It happened at a time when the Holocaust was emerging in the international public arena as a benchmark of a nation’s moral value. The spotlight was aimed at the Vichy regime, its collaboration with the Nazi occupiers, the autonomous aspects of its anti-Jewish policy and its contribution to the “Final solution”, while the ambiguity of the French society was highlighted. Jews appeared therefore as the victims of both the State and the society. At a second stage, French resistance was reduced to an activist minority in French memory and historians unveiled its diverging trends, while foreigners – sometimes Jews – made their entry into its narrative. Yet, Jews had become an integral part of French history and memory of that period essentially as victims. Nowadays, the spotlight switched to the Righteous French, who helped rescue Jews and seem to represent the majority of the population. The righteous have become the new Resistance. Then and now, memory was and is about French identity, as it revealed itself through the society’s reaction towards the anti-Jewish policy. The Resistance of Jews, when addressed by historians, appears as a kind of exogeneous phenomenon. The real changes affect the approaches to its scope, but it concerns only the internal Jewish memory. A complete change of paradigm would be needed to integrate the Jews as part of the Resistance in France.