The City of Light in Yiddish: Interwar Immigrant Jewish Space and “Life in Paris”

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 3:50 PM
Thurgood Marshall Ballroom West (Marriott Wardman Park)
Nick Underwood, University of Colorado Boulder
It is impossible not to think about Jewish space and culture in interwar European history, especially in Paris. During the 1930s, Paris became the center of the fight against fascism and among the cultures and communities that emerged in 1930s Paris, none was more visible or is in more need of study than Jewish immigrants, who shaped that culture through their prolific use of newspapers and theater groups to communicate ideology and community.  Their political culture was characterized by antifascism and republicanism and had a lasting impact on the ways in which Jewish immigrants placed themselves within the larger French political and cultural framework.  In order to adapt to their new homes, neighborhoods, city, and surroundings, Yiddish speaking Jewish immigrants needed to define their new spaces in ways that would help modernize and internalize the current political and cultural lived experience.

This paper will focus on how the Yiddish-speaking immigrant Jewish community attempted to situate their new city and country of residence within a Yiddish framework and how, through the use of regular newspaper columns, they turned Paris into a Yiddish "word city."[1]  Each major Yiddish-language newspaper in interwar Paris (Naye prese, Parizer haynt, and Ilustrite yidishe prese) had regular columns titled "Life in Paris" or "Parisian Life," and Naye prese, the Yiddish-language publishing arm of the French Communist Party, even published a guidebook to Paris.  Through a close read of these publications, I will reconstruct the interwar Yiddish-speaking Parisian experience arguing that this urban construction was part of the larger modernizing mission put forth by Yiddish culturalists during the interwar period in Paris as they sought to merge both "Frenchness" and "Jewishness."     

[1] Peter Fritzsche, Reading Berlin 1900 (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1998).