“It is France that, along with Germany, has persecuted the most Jews.” Spoken at the beginning of 1943, this phrase was not a denunciation, but an unashamed assertion by André Lavagne, the chief of Marshal Pétain’s civil cabinet. Indeed, France’s leadership stood prominently among the governments of occupied Europe in its initiative and zeal in collaborating with the Nazis. Yet nearly three-quarters of the Jews living in France at the beginning of the war survived the “Final Solution.” How was this possible?
And what considerations motivated many prominent representatives of French Jewry, at least initially, to submit to the antisemitic measures of Vichy? Adam Rayski addresses these and other important questions in The Choice of the Jews under Vichy. He writes from the joint perspective of a historian and a participant in the events he describes. An organizer of the communist faction of the Jewish resistance in France, Rayski buttresses his analysis of war-era archival materials with his own personal testimony.
Based on extensive research into previously unpublished sources, including the archives of the military, the Central Consistory of the Jews of France, police prefectures, and Philippe Pétain, Rayski clearly demonstrates the Vichy government’s role as an accomplice in the Nazi program of genocide. He also explores the sizeable prewar divide between French-born and immigrant Jews. This manifested itself in cultural conflicts and mutual antagonism as well as in varied initial responses to the antisemitic edicts and actions of the Vichy government. Rayski reveals how these communities eventually set aside their differences and united to resist the Vichy-supported Nazi threat.
“[Rayski] pieces together the ‘hidden face’ of daily Jewish life under the Occupation and relates the experiences of those who went underground—an especially rich and valuable discussion as this phenomenon has rarely been studied.”
— Library Journal
“Review of the French edition:
[Rayski’s] testimony is priceless, the writing beautiful. If you open [this book], you read it in one stretch, breathlessly, with chills.”
— Le Figaro
With an informed account of the formation and actions of the French Jewish resistance, Adam Rayski combats the clichéd image of Jews as victims. He also documents and describes the efforts and the absence of efforts of French Protestant and Catholic groups on behalf of their Jewish countrymen. Written for general readers and scholars alike, this book provides compelling insight into the story of French Jews during World War II.
Adam Rayski left Poland in 1932 for Paris, where he became a full-time journalist working for the Neie Presse, a leftist Yiddish-language daily newspaper. From July 1941 until the end of World War II he served as national secretary of the Jewish Section of the French Communist Party and was the head of the most important French Jewish organization, the Union des Juifs pour la Résistance et l’entraide, in which he played a major part in Jewish survival in France.