The Holocaust in France: A Book List of Memoirs & More

During the very time period in which Vichy France attempted to build a colonial empire on the backs of Algerians in French Algeria and Vietnamese in French Indochina (now Vietnam), they were systematically persecuting Jewish people who lived in France. While using youth corps and integrationalist policies in Indochina to foster obedient and Franco-patriotic colonial subjects, they enacted laws in France that began with mandating registration of all Jewish people in France to their eventual roundup and deportation in 1942 to Auschwitz.

The contradictions of this can be seen in French Indochinese policies that exalted nationality through a soulful connection rather than division by race, class, or soil. At the same time, Vichy France removed Jews from various positions in French Indochina and restricted attendance of Jews at public schools established for French colonial children in French Indochina.

In 1940, about 350,000 Jews lived in metropolitan France. By the end of 1942, 76,000 were deported and died in concentration and extermination camps. Only a tiny fraction, 2, 566, of those deported survived. Even given this, the survival rate of Jews in France was 75%, more than in any other European country, due in part to the efforts of non-Jews who risked their lives to protect Jews.

Towards the end of the war, occupied France, relying upon age old state secrecy rules aimed at protecting the French government and the state from embarrassing revelations, destroyed nearly all of the massive archive of Jewish arrests and deportations. There were attempts early on to save the historical record of the Holocaust. For example Drancy internment camp records were carefully preserved and turned over to the new National Office for Veterans and Victims of War; however, the bureau held them in secret, refusing to release copies to the Center of Contemporary Jewish Documentation.

One of the most heart-wrenching things that I came across was this online interactive map that shows the origin of every child deported from France between July 1942 and August 1944. The map was created by French historian Jean-Luc Pinol, and uses data collected by former Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld.

The following is my attempt to compile a comprehensive book list for memoirs and biographies that detail the Holocaust in France:

Background

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  1. The Holocaust, The French And The Jews by Susan Zuccotti – Zuccotti uses memoirs, government documents, and personal interviews with survivors to chronicle some of the stories of ambiguity and betrayal, as well as those of courageous protection during Nazi occupation of Germany.
  2. Vichy France and the Jews: with a new Foreword by Stanley Hoffmann by Michael Marrus, Robert Paxton – “Marrus and Paxton provide a graphic and often heartrending account of official cruelty, administrative callousness, public prejudices, and popular indifference; the section on Vichy’s concentration camps is particularly eloquent. Their exhaustive research and the sobriety of their prose make this indictment far more powerful than previous works on the subject.” (New York Times Book Review)
  3. Jews in France During World War II by Renée Poznanski – Renée Poznanski presents an extraordinary panorama of Jewish daily life in France during World War II. The book provides a detailed and nuanced account of Jews in both occupied and Vichy France as well as of Jewish life in French camps.
  4. French Children of the Holocaust: A Memorial by Serge Klarsfeld – Drawing together archival evidence pried with difficulty from the French government, family testimony and photographs solicited by advertisements in Jewish publications in Europe, Israel, and the United States, and the Nazi’s own lists of deportees–which were discovered, fading and crumbling, this book represents the culmination of many volunteers’ painstaking efforts to give testimony to the short lives of these Jewish children.
  5. Operation Yellow Star / Black Thursday by Maurice Rajsfus – In this two-part book, French investigative journalist, Maurice Rajsfus, who survived the 1942 “Black Thursday” roundup at Vel d’Hiv of 13,000 Jews, recollects events that point to Vichy/police collaboration and culpability in the Holocaust, and the influence of right-wing media.
  6. The Vél d’Hiv Raid: The French Police at the Service of the Gestapo by Maurice Rajsfus – Beginning in the early morning hours of July 16, 1942, and lasting for two days, the French police went beyond Nazi ordinances and imprisoned more than 13,000 Jews at a Paris sporting arena, the Vélodrome d’Hiver. For most of the Jews, this detention without water, food, or sleep was the first horrific step toward death in the concentration camps. This is the companion piece to Rajsfus’s Operation Yellow Star / Black Thursday.

Resources

  • Mémorial de la Shoah is the Holocaust museum in Paris, France.
  • The Holocaust in France is a website hosted by the Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center which provides an excellent historical breakdown of the persecution of Jewish people in France.
  • The Holocaust Survivor’s Program otherwise known as the “The Azrieli Series of Holocaust Survivor Memoirs” is an excellent program that is guided by the conviction that each survivor of the Holocaust has a remarkable story to tell, and that such stories play an important role in education about tolerance and diversity. The program preserves survivors’ stories and makes them widely available to a broad audience. Their website has listings of memoirs and references to the age appropriateness of each book. Their website also features “Collection” which utilizes interactive storytelling and innovative design to provide a truly unique journey through Holocaust history.
  • The Holocaust in France – A Resource Guide – This is an online resource guide that has a a selection of books and on-line resources presenting the fate of the Jews in France during the Second World War. They enable people to trace specific victims and/or survivors of the Holocaust.

Memoirs

  1. Hiding in Plain Sight: Eluding the Nazis in Occupied France by Sarah Lew Miller and Joyce B. Lazarus – an unusual memoir about the childhood and young adulthood of Sarah Lew Miller, a young Jewish girl living in Paris at the time of the Nazi occupation.
  2. You’ve Got to Tell Them: A French Girl’s Experience of Auschwitz and After by Ida Grinspan, Bertrand Poirot-Delpech – On a quiet winter night in 1944, as part of their support of the Third Reich’s pogrom of European Jews, French authorities arrested Ida Grinspan, a young Jewish girl hiding in a neighbor’s home in Nazi-occupied France. She spends the next year and a half at Auschwitz.
  3. The Journal of Hélène Berr by Hélène Berr – On April 7, 1942, Hélène Berr, a 21-year-old Jewish student of English literature at the Sorbonne, took up her pen and started to keep a journal, writing with verve and style about her everyday life in Paris — about her studies, her friends, her growing affection for the “boy with the grey eyes,” about the sun in the dewdrops, and about the effect of the growing restrictions imposed by France’s Nazi occupiers.
  4. But You Did Not Come Back: A Memoir by Marceline Loridan-Ivens – This is a profoundly moving and poetic memoir about the author who was arrested by the Vichy government’s militia, along with her father. At the internment camp of Drancy, France, her father told her that he would not come back, preparing her for the worst. On their arrival at the camps, they were separated—her father sent to Auschwitz, she to the neighboring camp of Birkenau.
  5. Hunting the Truth: Memoirs of Beate and Serge Klarsfeld by Beate and Serge Klarsfeld – In this dual autobiography, the Klarsfelds tell the dramatic story of fifty years devoted to bringing Nazis to justice. They have tracked them down in places as far-flung as South America and the Middle East. They both have a reputation as world-famous Nazi hunters and as meticulous documenters of the fate of the innocent French Jewish children who were killed in the death camps.
  6. Rue Ordener, Rue Labat by Sarah Kofman – this memoir opens with the horrifying moment in July 1942 when the author’s father, the rabbi of a small synagogue, was dragged by police from the family home on Rue Ordener in Paris, then transported to Auschwitz. Not long after her father’s disappearance, Kofman and her mother took refuge in the apartment of a Christian woman on Rue Labat, where they remained until the Liberation.
  7. Playing For Time by Fania Fenelon – In 1943, Fania Fenelon was a Paris cabaret singer, a secret member of the Resistance, and a Jew. Captured by the Nazis, she was sent to Auschwitz where she became one of the legendary orchestra girls who used music to survive the Holocaust.
  8. Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany by Marthe Cohn – Marthe was a beautiful young Jewish woman living just across the German border in France when Hitler rose to power. Her family sheltered Jews fleeing the Nazis. When France fell under Nazi rule, her sister was sent to Auschwitz and the rest of her family fled. Marthe joined the French Army and used her perfect German accent and blond hair to pose as a young German nurse to spy on the Nazis.
  9. Confronting Memories of Nazi-Occupied France – this photojournalism article chronicles the author’s journey to review French released police documents from the Vichy era with his grandmother.
  10. A Stone for Benjamin by Fiona Gold Kroll – Since childhood, author Fiona Gold Kroll has been drawn to a photograph of her great-uncle, Benjamin Albaum, a Jewish man who disappeared from Paris at the beginning of World War II. Determined to uncover the truth about Benjamin’s life and death and France’s betrayal of its Jewish population, Fiona pieces together her great-uncle’s life, elevating Benjamin’s legacy from a number tattooed on his arm at Auschwitz to a more complete memory of the vibrant man he was.
  11. None of Us Will Return & Days and Memory & Auschwitz and After by Charlotte Delbo – Though Delbo is not Jewish, her memoirs, which detail her time in concentration camps as a member of the French resistance, provide insight to the plight of Jewish women in the camp. Delbo was arrested in 1942 with her husband, Georges Dudach, who was executed almost immediately. Delbo was interned first in a French prison, then in Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Ravensbrück.
  12. Dangerous Measures by Joseph Schwarzberg – Joseph Schwarzberg is sixteen years old and living a dangerous double life—as a German Jew carrying false identity papers in France, he must constantly lie, constantly evade capture. Under threat since fleeing with his mother and sister from Germany after the violent attacks during Kristallnacht in 1938, Joseph and his family resolve to get as far from the Nazis as possible. They flee to France where their safety is short-lived when the Germans occupy the country in June 1940.
  13. Where Courage Lives by Muguette Szapjzer-Myers – In 1942, in the village of Champlost, France, ten-year-old Muguette Szpajzer finds solace from the war. As her mother risks living in a Paris swarming with Nazis, the mayor of Champlost rips up letters of denunciation and the priest gives Muguette a new Catholic name, Marie. Sheltered by the kindness of the townspeople, Muguette delights in her new surroundings, filling her days by learning to ride a bike, recite catechism and adapt to rural life. Where Courage Lives provides rich insight into life in a small village against the backdrop of the war, paying tribute to both Muguette’s indomitable mother and the courage of the people of Champlost.
  14. One Step Ahead of Hitler: A Jew­ish Child’s Jour­ney Through France by Fred Gross – Told in words and photographs, this memoir chronicles the journey of Fred Gross and his family beginning in Antwerp and ending with his freedom in America. Most of the Grosses’ flight takes place in France where they were assisted by the brave men and women of other faiths, reverently referred to as The Righteous Among the Nations, who risked their lives standing up to their collaborationist government.
  15. A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War, and a Ruined House in France by Miran­da Rich­mond Mouillot – A young woman moves across an ocean to uncover the truth about her grandparents’ mysterious estrangement and pieces together the extraordinary story of their wartime experiences as Holocaust survivors.
  16. Asy­lum: A Survivor’s Flight from Nazi-Occu­pied Vien­na Through Wartime France by Moriz Schey­er – Moriz Schey­er was a promi­nent jour­nal­ist in Vien­na until he was forced to flee after the Anschluss in 1938. While hid­den by the Resis­tance in a French con­vent after his release from a con­cen­tra­tion camp, he secret­ly wrote down the details of his strug­gle to stay alive.
  17. Of No Inter­est to the Nation: A Jew­ish Fam­i­ly in France, 1925 – 1945: A Memoir by Gilbert Mich­lin – This memoir traces the efforts of Michlin’s parents as they emigrated to France prior to the war where they sought to total­ly inte­grate into French life, retain­ing very lit­tle, if any­thing, of their Jew­ish iden­ti­ty or reli­gion. Despite this, Michlin’s moth­er was denied cit­i­zen­ship because she did not fit into the var­i­ous cat­e­gories of accep­tance; she was of ​‘no inter­est to the nation.’ Michlin’s skill in engi­neer­ing enabled him to belong to a spe­cial priv­i­leged cadre of pris­on­ers who worked for the Siemens plant.
  18. Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944: Collaboration, Resistance, and Daily Life in Occupied Paris by Jean Guéhenno – Guéhenno was a well-known political and cultural critic, left-wing but not communist, and uncompromisingly anti-fascist. Unlike most French writers during the Occupation, he refused to pen a word for a publishing industry under Nazi control. He expressed his intellectual, moral, and emotional resistance in this diary: his shame at the Vichy government’s collaboration with Nazi Germany, his contempt for its falsely patriotic reactionary ideology, his outrage at its anti-Semitism and its vilification of the Republic it had abolished, his horror at its increasingly savage repression and his disgust with his fellow intellectuals who kept on blithely writing about art and culture as if the Occupation did not exist.

Tales of Extreme Tragedy & Biographies

  • Your Name Is Renée: Ruth Kapp Hartz’s Story as a Hidden Child in Nazi-Occupied France by Stacy Cretzmeyer – In Nazi-occupied France in 1941, four-year-old Ruth Kapp learns that it is dangerous to use her own name. “Remember,” her older cousin Jeannette warns her, “your name is Renee and you are French!” A deeply personal book, this true story recounts the chilling experiences of a young Jewish girl who was helped by French people who risked their lives to protect her.
  • The Children of Izieu: A Human Tragedy by Serge Klarsfeld – In 1944 the Nazis from Lyon sent three vehicles to the tiny French village to exterminate the children of the orphanage known as La Maison d’Izieu. Here 44 Jewish children in age from 3 to 18 were hidden away from the Nazi terror that surrounded them. All of the children were deported to Auschwitz and murdered immediately upon arrival. Of the supervisors there was one sole survivor, twenty-seven year old Lea Feldblum. [See also The Children of Izieu]
  • Hell’s Traces: One Murder, Two Families, Thirty-Five Holocaust Memorials by Victor Ripp – Hell’s Traces tells the story of the two families’ divergent paths. In July 1942, the French police in Paris, acting for the German military government, arrested Victor Ripp’s three-year-old cousin, Alexandre. Two months later, the boy was killed in Auschwitz. In addition to Alexandre, ten members of Ripp’s family on his father’s side died in the Holocaust. His mother’s side of the family, numbering thirty people, was in Berlin and survived.
  • Holocaust Odysseys: The Jews of Saint-Martin-Vésubie and Their Flight through France and Italy by Susan Zuccotti – The terrifying tale of nine families as they fled hostile Vichy France to the Alpine village of Saint-Martin-Vésubie and on to Italy, where German soldiers rather than hoped-for Allied troops awaited. Those who crossed over to Italy were either deported to Auschwitz or forced to scatter in desperate flight.
  • Dora Bruder by Patrick Modiano (2014 Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature) – Dora Bruder is the story of a teen aged Jewish girl in Paris during the German occupation, who ran away from a Catholic school where she might have been safe. Only a few records and photographs of Dora and her parents survive, all with no reason for her escape, her return to her parents, her subsequent return to the school and her second escape. Shortly afterwards Dora and then her parents were arrested and sent to Auschwitz.
  • Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family, Fatherland and Vichy France by Carmen Callil – Bad Faith tells the story of one of history’s most despicable villains and con men—Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, Nazi collaborator and “Commissioner for Jewish Affairs” in France’s Vichy government. Darquier set about to eliminate Jews in France with brutal efficiency, delivering 75,000 men, women, and children to the Nazis and confiscating Jewish property, which he used for his own gain.
  • Hunting Down the Jews: Vichy, the Nazis and Mafia Collaborators in Provence, 1942-1944 by Isaac Levendel and Bernard Weisz – Hunt­ing Down the Jews is about the French Mafia of Mar­seille who were paid by the Nazis to round up the Jews and deliv­er them to Nazi SS Com­man­der Rolf Müh­ler. Evi­dent­ly, the French police in this zone were too lax in arrest­ing Jews and so the Ger­mans turned to French crim­i­nals to do the job. The impe­tus for the book is the arrest of a Pol­ish Jew­ish woman, Sarah Lewen­del, who had tak­en refuge in the south and slashed her wrists as she was being arrest­ed. They missed her lit­tle son who grew up to inves­ti­gate the crime and to write this book.

French Saviors

  • A Girl Called Renee by Ruth Uzrad – This is the unbelievable autobiographical story of Ruth Uzrad, a Jewish teenager whose father was arrested from their Berlin apartment by the Gestapo. Ruth is sent into hiding to Belgium but when Belgium falls under the Nazis, Ruth goes into the French Jewish underground movement where she takes on a false identity and a new name, Renee, and participates in special operations aimed at rescuing Jews in danger.
  • The Survival of the Jews in France, 1940-44 by Jacques Semelin -Between the French defeat in 1940 and liberation in 1944, the Nazis killed almost 80,000 of France’s Jews, both French and foreign. 75% of France’s Jews escaped the extermination, while 45% of the Jews of Belgium perished, and in the Netherlands only 20% survived. This book sheds light on how this came about.
  • Heroines of Vichy France: Rescuing French Jews during the Holocaust by Paul R. Bartrop and Samantha J. Lakin – the largely unknown story behind the rescue activities of several remarkable young Jewish women in Vichy France.
  • Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany by Marthe Cohn and Wendy Holden – Memoir by Jewish woman who sheltered Jews fleeing the Nazis before using her perfect German accent and blond hair to pose as a young German nurse who would slip behind enemy lines to retrieve inside information about Nazi troop movements.
  • The Marcel Network: How One French Couple Saved 527 Children from the Holocaust by Fred Coleman – Syrian immigrant Moussa Abadi was only 33, and his future wife, Odette Rosenstock, 28, was a young Jewish couple that was trapped in Nazi-occupied France. Risking their own lives and relying on false papers, the Abadis hid Jewish children in Catholic schools and convents and with Protestant families with their clandestine organization—the Marcel Network. By the end of the war, 527 children owed their survival to the Abadis.
  • A Good Place to Hide: How One French Community Saved Thousands of Lives in World War II by Peter Grose – The story of an isolated community in the upper reaches of the Loire Valley that conspired to save the lives of 3,500 Jews under the noses of the Germans and the soldiers of Vichy France. Nobody asked questions, nobody demanded money. Villagers lied, covered up, procrastinated and concealed, but most importantly they welcomed.
  • The Archive Thief: The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust by Lisa Moses Leff – Jewish historian Zosa Szajkowski stole tens of thousands of archival documents related to French Jewish history from public archives and collections in France and moved them, illicitly, to New York.
  • Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France by Caroline Moorehead (Author) – Le Chambon-sur-Lignon is a small village of scattered houses high in the mountains of the Ardèche, one of the most remote and inaccessible parts of Eastern France. During the Second World War, the inhabitants of this tiny mountain village and its parishes saved thousands wanted by the Gestapo: resisters, freemasons, communists, OSS and SOE agents, and Jews. Many of those they protected were orphaned children and babies whose parents had been deported to concentration camps.
  • Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There by Philip P. Hallie – in a small Protestant town in southern France called Le Chambon, villagers and their clergy organized to save thousands of Jewish children and adults from certain death.
  • Hidden on the Mountain: Stories of Children Sheltered from the Nazis in Le Chambon by Karen Gray Ruelle & Deborah Durland Desaix – another book about Le Chambon.
  • Rescue as Resistance: How Jewish Organization Fought the Holocaust in France by Lucien Lazare, Jeffrey Green – A survivor of the Holocaust and a distinguished scholar of Jewish history, Lucien Lazare presents a compelling defense of the Jewish resistance movement in France during World War II, arguing that rescue was a genuine and significant way of fighting back.
  • Life in Shadows: Hidden Children and the Holocaust – When World War II began in September 1939, there were approximately 1.6 million Jewish children living in the territories that the German armies or their allies would occupy. When the war in Europe ended in May 1945, more than 1 million and perhaps as many as 1.5 million Jewish children were dead. Thousands of Jewish children survived this brutal carnage, however, many because they were hidden. This amazing exhibit captures their stories.
  • Père Marie-Benoît and Jewish Rescue: How a French Priest Together with Jewish Friends Saved Thousands during the Holocaust by Susan Zuccott – Zuccotti narrates the life and work of Père Marie-Benoît, a courageous French Capuchin priest who risked everything to hide Jews in France and Italy during the Holocaust. Acting independently without Vatican support but with help from some priests, nuns, and local citizens, he and his friends persisted in their clandestine work until the Allies liberated Rome.
  • Diary of a Witness, 1940-1943 by Raymond-Raoul Lambert – Lambert, a leader of the Union of French Jews, reveals in this book his efforts to save the Jews in France, particularly the children.
  • The Plateau by Maggie Paxson – During World War II, French villagers offered safe harbor to countless strangers – mostly children – as they fled for their lives. Anthropologist Maggie Paxson poses the question: What are the traits that make a group choose selflessness?
  • My Maman Grete by Michel Stermann – This is the true story of Rémy and Grète, a couple of educators at orphanages in which, after WW II, children of Jewish Holocaust victims were taken care of in France.
  • Sud­den Courage: Youth in France Con­front the Ger­mans, 1940 – 1945 by Ronald Ros­bot­tom – Tells the incredible story of the youngest members of the French Resistance—many only teenagers—who waged a hidden war against the Nazi occupiers and their collaborators in Paris and across France. Though many French citizens adapted and many even allied themselves with the new fascist leadership, a resistance arose among Jews, immigrants, communists, workers, writers, police officers, shop owners, including many young people in their teens and twenties.
  • A Portrait of Pacifists: Le Chambon, the Holocaust, and the Lives of André and Magda Trocmé by Richard Unsworth – Explores the lives of heralded Holocaust rescuers Andre and Magda Trocme, and the people of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon France who saved thousands of Jews from the Nazis.

America – Where were you???

I could not resist leaving this book out. Land of the “free”, home of the “brave…” – the U.S. finally entered the war and was present to liberate Jews from concentration camps at the end of the war. However, there was a period of lethargy before that…

  • The Unwanted: America, Auschwitz, and a Village Caught In Between by Michael Dobbs – In 1938, on the eve of World War II, the American journalist Dorothy Thompson wrote that “a piece of paper with a stamp on it” was “the difference between life and death.” The Unwanted is the intimate account of a small village on the edge of the Black Forest whose Jewish families desperately pursued American visas to flee the Nazis. Battling formidable bureaucratic obstacles, some make it to the United States while others are unable to obtain the necessary documents. Some are murdered in Auschwitz, their applications for American visas still “pending.”

Historical Fiction

For those of us for whom non-fiction is to difficult to read, there are a few novels that I came across. Most are meant for younger children.

  • Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky – published posthumously, this novel was written by a famous Jewish novelist who was denied French citizenship due to her Jewish heritage despite her recognition as an author. Sometimes criticized as a “self-hating” Jew, she, nevertheless, suffered as a result of her ethnicity. She died in Auschwitz of typhus. This novel is unique in that it reflects experiences of Jews in France during the era (as opposed to by reflection/memories). Suite Française tells the remarkable story of men and women thrown together in circumstances beyond their control. As Parisians flee the city, human folly surfaces in every imaginable way: a wealthy mother searches for sweets in a town without food; a couple is terrified at the thought of losing their jobs, even as their world begins to fall apart. The novel remained hidden for 64 years until its discovery.
  • Greater Than Angels by Carol Mata – based on the true story of a French village, Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, that banded together to protect the Jews during WWII. In the autumn of 1940, Anna Hirsch and her friends and family are rounded up by Nazis and deported to Gurs, a refugee camp in the south of France. Food is scarce, and the living conditions inhumane. Anna and the other children are moved not to the death camps, Auschwitz or Buchenwald, but Le Chambon-sur-Lignon: a tiny village whose citizens have agreed to care for deported Jewish children.
  • A Pocket Full of Seeds by Marilyn Sachs (Author), Ben Stahl (Illustrator) – Nicole, who is 8, and her family feel safe in France during the German occupation since they are non-religious Jews. They soon realize that non-religious Jews are in as much danger as religious ones.
  • Twenty And Ten by Claire H. Bishop (Author), William Pene Du Bois (Illustrator) – Meant for young readers, this is a story about twenty school children hide ten Jewish children from the Nazis occupying France during World War II.
  • Black Radishes by Susan Lynn Meyer – Sydney Taylor Honor Award Winner Black Radishes is a suspenseful WWII/Holocaust story in which Gustave flees Paris during Nazi occupation for the countryside. When Paris is captured by the Nazis, Gustave knows that Marcel, Jean-Paul, and their families must make it out of the occupied zone. He works with his new friend, Nicole, who works for the French Resistance, to come up with a plan.

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