A pointed academic study of the important work of a French-led organization of political survivors of Nazi concentration camps that worked to reveal largely hidden internment camps in the Soviet Union, Spain, China, and elsewhere.
Kuby (History/Northern Illinois Univ.) explores the pioneering work of David Rousset (1912-1997), a survivor of Buchenwald and other concentration camps who organized the International Commission against the Concentration Camp Regime (known by its French abbreviation CICRC), which “targeted not only the gulag but also political internment systems around the globe, from Francoist Spain to the People’s Republic of China to Greece, French Tunisia, and even, in 1957, war-torn French Algeria.” In his writings, Rousset used the phrase “concentrationary universe” to describe a “sphere of suffering” absolutely unknown in other parts of human history, without precedent and without parallel—“a new procedure of dehumanization.” Moreover, he asserted that the Nazi camp survivor was an “expert witness” and used the model of the Nuremburg trials in organizing the CICRC’s “mock trial” of the Soviet Union’s “crimes against humanity” at the International Military Tribunal in Brussels in May 1951. While Rousset’s work was instrumental in establishing “witnessing” as essential in conveying the “universal significance and generalizable import” of the experiences of those who suffered in internment camps, Kuby also shows how the organization enshrined the political survivor (particularly of the Resistance) at the expense of the Jewish victim, which was partly the cause of the organization’s unraveling in the late 1950s. Reviled by the darlings of the French left, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, who still supported the Soviet Union and Red China during this time, the group also lost financial support, much of which had come from New Yorker John O’Shea and “friends,” who did not countenance Rousset’s targeting of French political prisons during the Algerian War.
A meticulous, nuanced look inside the deeply fraught postwar political theater in France and Europe.