French History @ the IHR

French History @IHR: Rod Kedward and Richard Vinen discuss Daniel Lee’s ‘Petain’s Jewish Children’

Date & Place: Monday 3 November, at the IHR, London.

Speakers: Daniel Lee, author (Oxford); Rod Kedward, discussant (University of Sussex); Richard Vinen, discussant (KCL)

Paper Title:  Book Launch for Petain’s Jewish Children by Daniel Lee with comments from Rod Kedward and Richard Vinen

Chair: Ludivine Broch (Westminster)

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The Wolfson Room was bursting on Monday night, with over 40 people who came to hear Daniel Lee discuss his latest book,  Petain’s Jewish Children: French Jewish Youth and the Vichy Regime, 1940-1942 (OUP, 2014), with two eminent Professors of Modern France, Rod Kedward and Richard Vinen. As anyone who has written a thesis and then turned it into a book can imagine, it is very difficult to summarise one’s entire research project in 15 minutes. But Lee followed the advice of his former supervisor, Professor Robert Gildea : ‘Pretend you’re explaining it to your grandmother.’ And so began a highly engaging session.

Jewish history under Vichy is mainly told through the lens of resistance, rescue and persecution, Lee argued, but there remains another story of Jews living in France during the Second World War: one of accommodation, of co-existence. By combining a rich variety of departmental archives and oral testimony, Lee showed that, before 1942, (French) Jews did have a place within Vichy’s plans for a National Revolution. Alongside its anti-Semitic statutes, Vichy simultaneously made a space for Jewish youth, not list amongst the scouts or the Chantiers de la Jeunesse. The case studies Lee used were eye-opening, and we highly recommend you read the book to find out more.

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Rod Kedward offered a series of enthusiastic and glowing remarks on Lee’s book: ‘You could safely set Daniel’s book as a model of historical scholarship and drama combined,’ he said. ‘Read every line, every footnote.’ For this is not an alternative history of Jews under Vichy: it is a sub-history of Vichy, of Jewish history, of occupation. Richard Vinen followed on from these comments with insightful questions, not least about the significance of transnational memory in Lee’s work. Indeed, oral history is central to the book: Lee interviewed over 40 people, and used at least 40 other interviews. But were the responses of those Jews who had stayed in France different to those who had left for Israel after the war? How did these transnational memories shape individual narratives? To answer Vinen, Lee quoted the response of one of his Israeli interviewees: when asked how his memories of the war, the interviewee responded, ‘which war?’

The book’s argument is, undoubtedly, highly sensitive. But as it was underlined in the seminar, in no way does this book try to rehabilitate Vichy. Rather, as Kedward stated, ‘it reinforces the importance of acknowledging (its) ambiguities.’ To buy your own copy, follow this link: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780198707158.do

Thanks again to Rod, Richard and Daniel for their interventions, and to all those who came. We look forward to seeing you on 17 November for our next session featuring WILL POOLEY, talking about werewolves. http://www.history.ac.uk/events/seminars/136

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