World War II Brought a French Writer to Terms with His Jewishness

July 31 2018

The French Jewish writer Léon Werth may be best known as the person to whom Antoine de Saint-Exupéry dedicated The Little Prince, describing Werth as his best friend. More importantly, Werth was the author of two chronicles of his experiences during World War II, which he spent in France hiding from the Nazis: 33 Days, which was lost and unpublished until the 1990s, and Deposition 1940-1944, which appeared in 1946. A complete translation of the first book, and an abridged translation of the second, have recently been published in English. In the latter, Catherine Bock-Weiss writes, Werth leaves a record of how the war changed his sense of himself as a Jew:

Werth had been largely indifferent to his Jewish heritage for most of his life, but his existential situation [during the war] was permeated with the fact of his Jewishness: he was in virtual solitary confinement in a remote village, forbidden to publish, . . . cut off from his friends and his intellectual milieu, a hostage to anti-Semitism. Though southeastern France, [where he had found shelter], did not have a heavy German troop presence, Werth’s safety depended on whether or not his neighbors denounced him. . . .

Werth’s first journal entry about Jews is a response to the issuing of the [Vichy anti-Jewish law] on October 3, 1940, the day of its promulgation. . . . Here, we see Werth holding Jews at arm’s length. Five days later, he describes two kinds of Jews he seems to know, the . . . materialistic assimilated Jew and the pious observant Jew. He has only contempt for the former. . . .

These distanced observations [about these two categories of Jews] seem to have been a kind of preparation for acknowledging himself as a Jew. But even as France disavowed him, he clung to his French identity. . . . It is not until the entry of December 9, 1940, that we find Werth clearly identifying as a Jew, though he worried about a narrowing of his worldview. . . .

“I feel humiliated,” [wrote Werth in 1941]. “It’s the first time society has humiliated me. I feel humiliated not because I’m Jewish, but because I am presumed to be of inferior quality because I’m Jewish. It’s absurd; it may be the fault of my pride, but that’s the way it is.”

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More about: Anti-Semitism, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Vichy France, World War II

 

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times