#38 / Editorial


This week K. tells you the story of books that made history. The first and most recent, ‘Vichy and the Jews’, shook up the historiography of the 1980s and gradually made its mark on French national memory. The falsifiers of history like Zemmour, who are trying to erase Vichy’s complicity in the Nazi extermination policy, never lose an opportunity to recall, as if there were grounds for illegitimacy, the North American origin of its authors, the historians Robert Paxton and Michaël R. Marrus. But what is less well known is that the impetus of this important work came from a French editor: Roger Errera. A State Councillor, Roger Errera was also the founder and director, at Calmann-Lévy, of the important collection ‘Diaspora’. In a retrospective, Bruno Karsenti uncovers the tension in his life and draws a portrait of Roger Errera that shows the model of an exemplary political attitude for the Jews of the Diaspora after the Holocaust. In the second text of the week, Robert Paxton himself recounts his meeting with Roger Errera, the stakes involved in the commissioning of what became ‘Vichy and the Jews’, and the difficulties he faced during the ten years of hard work that enabled its publication.

The second book, which is being discussed this week, is older, but also marks a break with the past. With Daniel Deronda, the famous George Eliot, author of ‘Middlemarch’, wrote in 1876 a novel which became a crown jewel of British literature. The book stands out in Victorian literature for its empathy with the Jews and its pro-Zionist sentiments. Journalist Josh Glancy sheds light through Daniel Deronda on the modern history of Jewish integration in England and on one of the European routes for the spread of the Zionist ideal.

The “Diaspora” collection, founded by Roger Errera in 1971 at the French publishing house Éditions Calman-Levy, has been decisive in more than one way for the French public in general, and for French Jews in particular. For non-Jewish French people, it opened the best possible access to Judaism. For the Jews themselves, it represented an invaluable aid for re-understanding their diasporic situation after the Holocaust. By sketching a portrait of Roger Errera, Bruno Karsenti endeavors to bring out the new meaning of this diasporic position in post-Holocaust Europe. If persevering in exile is the characteristic of the Jewish people, and if this condition is modified without being vitiated by the existence of the State of Israel, then it is a singular political position that emerges.

Thirty years ago, the great historical account “Vichy France and the Jews,” by Michael R. Marrus and Robert O. Paxton, was published simultaneously in French and English. Released in a new edition in 2015, the book is now experiencing increased interest in France, where some are questioning the responsibility of France in the persecution of Jews under the German occupation. In 2015, on the occasion of a tribute to the man – Roger Errera – who was at the origin of the work’s inception, Robert Paxton revisited the difficult process of researching and writing this book, which so fundamentally challenged France’s ‘resistance myth.’

Published in 1876, Daniel Deronda is a unique novel in the history of 19th century English literature. Raised in an aristocratic household, Deronda longs to discover his true origins. Who are his real parents? A chance meeting draws him into Whitechapel and the world of British Jews, with whom he has a growing affinity, before eventually discovering the remarkable story of his own birth. Set at the zenith of Victorian England, George Eliot’s last novel displays a deep empathy towards British Jews, while also laying out the author’s firm proto-Zionist sympathies. How did she pull off this singular feat? And why?

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