- Pétain’s Jewish Children: French Jewish Youth and the Vichy Regime, 1940–1942 by Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee’s book encourages us to step beyond — but not forget — some of the paradigms which have for many years shaped our understanding of the Vichy era. Firstly, he shows us a different side to Jewish responses to, and interaction with, the regime, and, secondly, he nuances our understanding of Vichy. As a study of Jewish youth in its relationship with the Vichy regime during the years 1940–42, this book makes an important contribution to scholarship in French and Jewish history. Lee has gone beyond traditional archival sources, exploring private archives, memoirs, letters, and oral histories to construct a story full of interest and character. He initially takes the broad view: a first chapter gives an overview of the position of Jews in France prior to 1940. In Chapter 2 we learn about the ‘Jewish Question’ within the context of Vichy’s National Revolution, and Lee focuses on Georges Lamirand and Pierre Caziot whose attitudes towards Jews within their respective ministries of youth and agriculture alert us to the heterogeneity of Vichy attitudes. The action then shifts to Jewish youth movements’ responses to Vichy. Lee compares the rather positive response of the scouting Éclaireurs israélites de France (EIF), which saw in Vichy’s Révolution nationale the opportunity to enact its own pre-war ideas for renewal, with the more passive response of the Orthodox Jewish youth of the Yechouroun movement, and with the Zionist youth, who moved rapidly into resistance. In Chapter 4, Lee explores the ‘points of intersection’ between Vichy and [End Page 432] Jewish youth groups (p. 114). Jews were not expelled immediately from youth organizations, and some participated very willingly. The final three chapters are case studies of Jewish participation in rural projects. Chapters 5 and 6 examine the agricultural project in Lautrec in the Tarn, run by the EIF, which ‘intended to instil in Jewish youth a love for the land, Zionism, and Jewish spirituality’ (p. 122). Lee’s research takes us beyond this: we see young people as young people, living communally, having adventures and fun, and not always sold on the moral or Zionist dimensions of the enterprise. The final chapter analyses the participation of Jews in Vichy’s Chantiers de la jeunesse. While there was persecution, the ‘familiar story of omnipresent Jewish discrimination […] was alien to large swathes of Jews taking part in this Vichy organisation’ (p. 226). The tragedy, of course, is that this ambivalent, even accommodating relationship masked the dangers that 1942 was to bring. Lee has written an excellent book. It by no means seeks to rehabilitate Vichy; indeed, we are further inside the regime’s muddle — the dangerous muddle that opened the door to mass murder. Importantly, Lee brings victimhood into question: Jews certainly were victims of Vichy’s anti-Semitism, but they were more than that. They were actors, thinkers, players. They made choices, they made mistakes; they dreamed, planned, and tried things out. In this book Lee has challenged the ‘nation’s collective remembering of Jewish life’ (p. 4) during this period.