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How Jewish Organizations Fought the Holocaust in France

by Lucien Lazare

Pub Date: June 6th, 1996
ISBN: 0-231-10124-4
Publisher: Columbia Univ.

 A challenge to traditional views of Jewish passivity in the face of the Holocaust. One of the most contentious aspects of that tragedy concerns the disputed role of the Jews themselves during WW II. Introduced into the postwar debate about the Holocaust with Hannah Arendt's accusations against Jewish leaders in her landmark work Eichmann in Jerusalem, the Jews have since been accused of accepting extermination with resignation and docility. That scenario is effectively contested by Lazare, a Holocaust survivor himself, a member of the French Jewish underground during WW II, and scientific editor at the International Center for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. He presents overwhelming evidence that French Jews were active in the Resistance. And he demonstrates in compelling detail how Jewish resistance took many more forms than just armed insurgency. He traces how the myriad array of small actions undertaken by French Jews--from the establishment of underground networks to the smuggling of children across borders- -eventually coalesced into a concerted and collective effort to survive the Nazi program of extermination. Besides the study's value in gathering this material, Lazare offers an important theoretical reconsideration. French Jews were acutely conscious of an inevitable fact: French gentiles could obey the laws of Vichy and occupied France and survive. Jews had no such option. Therefore, the Jewish Resistance in France, according to Lazare, was qualitatively different from the French Resistance. Christian French were fighting for their country's independence, while Jews were fighting for the survival of their people. This distinction generated much controversy when the book was published in France. Perhaps the formulation is overly rigid: The Resistance also saw itself as fighting for survival, both its own and that of civilization itself. The controversy, however, does nothing to diminish Lazare's accomplishment in bringing to light an important episode in the history of the 20th century. (Author tour)