- Propagandes et persécutions: La Résistance et le "problème juif" 1940–1944
Renée Poznanski's latest book offers a thorough and wide-ranging examination of the "Jewish Problem" in France from the perspective of the organized Resistance. The author focuses on clandestine publications and French-language BBC transmissions to evaluate the significance of words (and silences) as windows into politics and society during the war. Poznanski challenges the reductionist view that one was either antisemitic and therefore a collaborator, or philosemitic and a résistant. Instead, she offers a nuanced study of the ambiguities of résistants' stances and the limits of their actions in defense of Jews in France.
Poznanski captures contemporary French understandings that distinguished "antisemitism"—seen as violent, racial, and German—from what many had in mind when they considered the "Jewish Problem." Propagandes et persécutions records numerous examples of French rejection of German-style antisemitism while documenting at the same time a deeply-rooted social belief in fundamental differences between Jews and non-Jews, as well as the widespread belief that something "needed to be done" about them. The book is about more than just the war years, for instance tracing anti-Jewish sentiment from the 1930s into the postwar period; this sheds light on the historiographical discussion of Vichy's continuities and discontinuities with French history. Poznanski's thorough survey of the clandestine press shows that belief in a Jewish Problem was nearly universal. People complained about the influx of foreigners, the overrepresentation of Jews in certain professions, and Jewish "solidarity"—while expressing distaste at Nazi actions against the Jews. Their attitudes nonetheless did make it easier for the Vichy regime to institute its own anti-Jewish measures, and they did make the French public more susceptible to Nazi propaganda. The author contends that résistants too imagined a postwar situation with reduced Jewish "influence" in politics and other realms.
Poznanski argues that for most resisters the key principle guiding what to say about persecution of the Jews was discretion. It was both easier and politically expedient to avoid debate related to the controversial "problem." Jews themselves tended to avoid drawing attention to their plight specifically as Jews. Poznanski asserts that this policy was largely derived from a sense that French public opinion would respond negatively to anything they perceived to be putting Jewish interests ahead of collective national concerns. The Resistance had to prove that it was not fighting for "the Jews," but rather to save France. The underground press reflected such principles, for example, by couching the deportation of Jews as the first step in a policy that could potentially touch all the French. Poznanski draws on sources such as letters sent to the BBC, official assessments of public opinion, and Free French internal documents in support of these conclusions. [End Page 305]
Poznanski finds notable exceptions to this silent discretion in the Communist press, in some religion-based publications (both Christian and Jewish), and in one journal aimed explicitly at the intellectual elite. The author is careful to nuance her treatment, as popular attitudes and what was reported in the press depended upon the evolution of the war and on the intended audience. Confirming the findings of several previous scholars she finds little overt mention of the Jews before the summer of 1942; but the imposition of the yellow star in the Occupied Zone, followed by the first major round-ups—in both the Occupied and Unoccupied Zones—broke the silence of most Resistance papers. Still, most did not focus on German and collaborator actions aimed specifically at Jews. Compassion towards Jews could be used as a tool to indict the Germans and their Vichy collaborators, and to warn the French of the potential application of analogous measures against non-Jews. Discussions of the extermination of the Jews in occupied Poland made their way into the pages of the clandestine press as the war progressed, but after the summer of 1942 Jews in France virtually disappeared from the...