Foreword by François Bédarida,
Translated by William Sayers
“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Based on extensive research into previously unpublished sources, including the archives of the military, the Central Consistory of French Jewry, police prefectures, and Philippe Pétain, Rayski clearly demonstrates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.
Published in Association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
“The publication of an English translation of Adam Rayski’s book . . . is a welcome addition. . . . Rayski’s book remains valuable largely for the valuable primary source material it brings to the fore. . . . [T]he University of Notre Dame Press with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum should be commended for having made this work available in an excellent English translation.” — American Historical Review
“Originally published in 1992, new research conducted by the author updates the previous edition and includes previously unpublished archival source material. . . . An overarching element of the text reviews why three-fourths of French Jews survived. . . . This highly recommended book is suitable for anyone concerned with resistance, the Holocaust, Jewish studies, or the history of the Jews under Vichy.” — History: Reviews of New Books
“Well researched and forcefully argued, . . . Adam Rayski’s book describes not only what the Jews did, but makes a case for what they should have done. As such, whatever the viewpoint of the reader, this is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the mentalities of the time, and also a testament to some activists’ faith in human solidarity.” — Times Literary Supplement
“Rayski, who served as an official of an important Jewish resistance organization under Vichy, examines Jewish responses to Vichy policy as a series of choices. . . . Rayski’s approach effectively portrays French Jews as much more than passive victims of an oppression imposed on them from above; rather, through oral and written testimonies and extensive archival research, he conveys the Jews’ involvement in their own collective destiny. . . . Recommended.” — Choice
“[A] rich and detailed description of the challenges faced by French Jewry during World War II. . . . This complex . . . important book is recommended for scholars of French history and Jewish and Holocaust studies. . . .” — Library Journal
“One of the most informed memoirs of the Occupation, the book is also a shrewd and detailed analysis. It is nuanced in its approach and yet ready to be decisive and provocative in its judgments. Anyone searching for context as well as narrative will be richly rewarded by a thematic concentration on the multiple constraints which faced the Jews in Vichy France. . . . This is both witness and history of exceptional provenance and quality.” — The English Historical Review
“Reading the excellent English-language version of Rayski’s original study is unsettling. Rayski is concerned first and foremost with erecting a pantheon for heroes of the war— Jewish activists on the Left in the Resistance—and condemning those elements in the French Jewish community who, in his estimation, blindly acceded to Vichy pressure and irresponsibly maintained the officially mandated stance throughout most of the war. If read as a testament by a significant representative of Eastern European Jewry to try to make sense of the world in which he lived and the decisions which he took, Rayski’s book provides a viewpoint that will enrich the future historian’s analysis of the ways that many survivors of the Holocaust in France interpreted their past.” — Journal of Modern History
“Adam Rayski’s . . . book is arguably the most detailed and comprehensive account of the history of the Jews and the Jewish resistance in Vichy France. The study incorporates multiple, previously inaccessible, unpublished primary sources, written as well as oral. Yet the book is also itself a first-hand testimony, an engaged biographic narrative presented by a participant and witness. Overall, Rayski skillfully manages this difficult double role. Rayski’s study of the fate of the Jews in Vichy France is not only a moving document but a major scholarly contribution to the resistance of the Jewish ‘combatants of an unequal combat.’” — Journal of Contemporary History
“The strength of the book, particularly taking its original publication date into consideration, lies in its ability to portray Jews not as passive victims but as active resisters and to emphasize a collective consciousness of self-affirmation.” — H-Net Reviews
Reviews of the French edition:
“[Rayski’s] testimony is priceless, the writing beautiful. If you open [this book], you read it in one stretch, breathlessly, with chills.” — Le Figaro
“Rayski renders justice to the numerous French Jews who joined the resistance. . . . [He] gives us for the first time a comprehensive picture of the collective attitudes of the Jews of France from 1939 to 1944.” — L’Arche