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of his experiences during World War II, which he spent in France hiding from the Nazis: 33 Days, which was lost and unpublished until the 1990s, and Deposition 1940-1944, which appeared in 1946.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

At the UN, Nikki Haley Told the Truth about Israel—and the World Didn’t Burn Down

April 22 2019

Although Nikki Haley had never been to Israel when she took the position of American ambassador to the UN, and had no prior foreign-policy experience, she distinguished herself as one of the most capable and vigorous defenders of the Jewish state ever to hold the position. Jon Lerner, who served as Haley’s deputy during her ambassadorship, sees the key to her success—regarding both Israel and many other matters—in her refusal to abide by the polite fictions that the institution holds sacred:

Myths are sometimes assets in international relations. The fiction that Taiwan is not an independent country, for example, allows [the U.S.] to sustain [its] relationship with China. In other cases, however, myths can create serious problems. On Israel–Palestinian issues, the Trump administration was determined to test some mythical propositions that many had come to take for granted, and, in some cases, to refute them. Haley’s prominence at the UN arose in large part from a conscious choice to reject myths that had pervaded diplomacy on Israel–Palestinian issues for decades. . . .

[For instance], U.S. presidents were intimidated by the argument that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would trigger violent explosions throughout the Muslim world. President Trump and key colleagues doubted this, and they turned out to be right. Violent reaction in the Palestinian territories was limited, and there was virtually none elsewhere in Arab and Islamic countries. . . .

It turns out that the United States can support Israel strongly and still work closely with Arab states to promote common interests like opposing Iranian threats. The Arab street is not narrowly Israel-minded and is not as volatile as long believed. The sky won’t fall if the U.S. stops funding UN sacred cows like the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). Even if future U.S. administrations revert to the policies of the past, these old assumptions will remain disproved. That is a valuable accomplishment that will last long after Nikki Haley’s UN tenure.

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More about: Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, United Nations, US-Israel relations