- Introduction: The Holocaust in French and Francophone Literature (1997–2017)1
In 1995, during the commemorative ceremony marking the fifty-third anniversary of the rafle du Vél’hiv’, the newly elected French president, Jacques Chirac, implicated the broadly understood French state in the deportation of some 76,000 Jews to the Nazi concentration and death camps. Prior to that, French authorities blamed the Jewish tragedy largely on the Germans and in any case abstained from singularizing it, instead preferring to subsume it within the broader phenomenon of la déportation. In contrast to subsequent postwar administrations, including that of his immediate predecessor, François Mitterrand, Chirac broke with the Gaullist myth of the French as uniquely heroic resisters. Then, with Lionel Jospin’s 1997 speech, the Left itself took distance from Mitterrand’s position. Finally, the leading politicians’ iconoclastic pronouncements were followed by other acknowledgements of institutional responsibility: in 1997 the Catholic church asked for forgiveness for its wartime silence, and a police officers’ union offered an apology for the actions of their predecessors (Clifford 206–07).
The recent intensification of French and Francophone writers’ interest in the Jewish tragedy, which is the subject of the present special issue, can certainly be attributed to the encroaching absence of survivors, the influence of thriving Anglophone Holocaust fiction, or the growing threat of negationist tendencies as well as, more broadly, of racism and populism. However, the afore-described breakthrough in French memory politics must be regarded as an important factor in—if not as the trigger of—the recent surge of French-language Holocaust literature. Customarily connected with Jonathan Littell’s hugely successful albeit controversial novel, Les Bienveillantes (2006),2 this surge can be traced back to Patrick Modiano’s Dora Bruder published nine years earlier. It can hardly be a coincidence [End Page 1] that Modiano, who had been chiefly interested in the ambiguities of the Occupation (Morris 22), wrote his only Holocaust-themed novel so far in the immediate aftermath of Chirac’s momentous speech. Moreover, as the narrator’s search for information about the eponymous Paris-born Jewish teenager develops, his tone becomes increasingly critical of the French state that he overtly blames for the arrest, internment, and deportation to Auschwitz of Dora and her parents. Since the publication of Modiano’s Dora Bruder many other French-language writers have taken up the subject of World War II and the massacre of Europe’s Jews; apart from Littell’s already-mentioned monumental novel, recent French-language narratives about the Holocaust include Pierre Assouline’s La Cliente (1998), Soazig Aaron’s Le Non de Klara (2002), Philippe Claudel’s Le Rapport de Brodeck (2007), Fabrice Humbert’s L’Origine de la violence (2009), Yannick Haenel’s Jan Karski (2009), Laurent Binet’s HHhH (2010), Arnaud Rykner’s Le Wagon (2010), or David Foenkinos’s Charlotte (2014).
The present issue of French Forum takes stock of some of the developments in French and Francophone Holocaust literature published over the last twenty years. Without being able to deal with all the texts that appeared between 1997 and 2017, the articles gathered here manage nevertheless to explore writings by all three generations of Holocaust authors. The twelve articles also address a variety of genres, including the graphic novel and poetry, and, looking beyond the borders of the Hexagon, focus on texts produced by European and non-European Francophone writers. The analyses undertaken in this special issue have been contextualized by a wide range of theoretical and methodological approaches, such as Marianne Hirsch’s elaboration of postmemory as transgenerational transmission of trauma through objects, stories and photographic images in the context of Holocaust survival. While Hirsch’s theory has proven useful in the examination of the work of second- and third-generation novelists, Michael Rothberg’s study of multidirectional memory as a space where traumatic memories of violence can enter into dialogue with each other, has been helpful in reading Haitian and Mauritian literature. Raul Hilberg’s problematization of the bipolar opposition between victim and perpetrator with the category of bystander has in turn been deployed to interrogate our own position in relation to both Holocaust memory and the crises in...