Refugees and Immigrants after War in the French Republic

AHA Session 181
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Room 501 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Carole K. Fink, Ohio State University
Jewish Refugees and the French Internment Camp System
Meredith Scott, York College of Pennsylvania
Yiddish Culture in Paris after Liberation and the Holocaust, 1944–46
Nick Underwood, University of Colorado at Boulder
Carole K. Fink, Ohio State University

Session Abstract

Long considered a global terre d'asile by those seeking refuge, it is only recently that historians have begun to interrogate modern France's status as a land of refugees and immigrants. The scholarship that originally laid the groundwork for work on refugees and immigrants in modern France implicitly understood the “French melting pot” to follow an assimilatory model. With new analytical frameworks available, we are now able to think more broadly about the ways in which refugees and immigrants have connected to France. As an example, Mary Dewhurst Lewis’ work on migrants in Lyon and Marseille and Clifford Rosenberg’s study on foreigners in Paris shed light on the complexities of state processes. The recent transnational turn in French (and global) history complements these trends in French immigrant and refugee studies to highlight the complex and multi-layered national identities that made up what could be considered French. These approaches remind us that the history of France is a history that includes histories of refugees and immigrants. To paraphrase Leslie Page Moch, French history is one that includes many "moving Europeans."

This panel proposes thinking about "Temporalities of War" as a way of reflecting on the ways historiographical conventions of times of conflict shape how historical narratives are constructed within modern France. As each paper demonstrates, war has played a tremendous role in how both historical actors and historians shape their understandings and analytics of a period. All three papers interrogate the relationships among national identity, war, refugees and immigrants, and notions of belonging during three key "post-war" moments in French history. Scott-Weaver's paper furthers our understanding of refugees and the French internment camp system. Focusing on recently discovered letters, Scott-Weaver examines testimonies, which date from 1939 into the early months of 1940, for what they reveal about experiences of those detained in the camps and what they tell us about French the limits of French republicanism. Underwood's biography of Yiddish culture in Paris after Liberation, and then post-World War II and post-Holocaust, demonstrates the urgency with which Yiddish-speaking Jews in Paris tried to reconstruct their pre-war cultural existence and presence in Paris. Underwood also argues that the post-Liberation/post-war contexts alter how we understand and define "refugee" and "immigrant" among the multitude of Jewish communities who sought to revive their lives in the French capital. Finally, Sanos explores how the close of the Algerian War in 1962 coincided with an emerging canon of “Holocaust literature” in France. French Jewish publications such as the magazine L’Arche founded by one of the largest French Jewish organization, reflected and commented upon the nature of the “refugee” within a postwar nation-state in the throes of decolonization. This paper examines how L’Arche imagined transnational "refugee" connections among Jews in France who had survived the Holocaust and Jews in Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria in order to craft a French-Jewish identity in the wake of war.

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