For years, the Diary of Raymond-Raoul Lambert has been among the most important untranslated records of the experience of the Jews of France during the Holocaust. It covers three years of the war, terminating on the day before Lambert’s arrest in August 1943 and his shipment to Drancy. Four months later he and his wife and their four children were deported to Auschwitz, where they all perished.
Lambert’s Diary provides an intimate encounter with one of French Jewry’s important leaders from the 1930s into the war years. From the end of 1941 until his arrest, he served as general director of the General Union of the Jews of France (UGIF), established by the Vichy government in the unoccupied zone. Although written with the circumspection necessary under stressful and dangerous conditions, Lambert’s Diary reveals his efforts to aid and protect the Jews of France. His actions and those of the UGIF provoked fierce debate and controversy, which find authentic expression in the Diary.
The Diary also transmits Lambert’s agonizing conflict and struggle to understand how his loyalties as a Frenchman could withstand the Vichy government’s efforts to turn the Jews into pariahs of the society he so cherished.
Because of his attention to bureaucratic detail and his careful relationships with his French and German overseers, Lambert may seem a less than heroic figure. But his actions may have helped save many lives. His Diary is a major source in understanding the terrible dilemmas faced by the Jews of France during the Holocaust.
“Few are the surviving diaries of Jews who were leaders of their communities during the Holocaust. Raymond-Raoul Lambert of France, ‘a man of action,’ left such a record, filled with notes of his incessant struggle. A veteran of the French army in both world wars, who could have emigrated after the fall of France in 1940, he had chosen to stay. As the losses of French Jewry mounted under German occupation, he himself became a victim. On December 7, 1943, he was sent to Auschwitz with his family, never to return. He was forty-nine years old.”
— Raul Hilberg
“The remarkable wartime dairy of Raymond-Raoul Lambert, who was arguably the most important Jewish official in contact with the Vichy government and the Germans...a Jew who was certainly neither obedient nor ingenuous in his dealings with the oppressors. He may indeed have been wrong...but he certainly had good reason for believing that he was right.”
— Michael R. Marrus
Lambert’s Diary of a Witness has been translated from the French by Isabel Best and edited, with notes and an introduction, by Richard I. Cohen, who holds the Paulette and Claude Kelman Chair in French Jewry Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Dr. Cohen also is the author of The Burden of Conscience: French Jewish Leadership During the Holocaust and Jewish Icons: Art and Society in Modern Europe. He also was the editor of the French-language edition of Lambert’s Diary.