French and Francophone Studies
Peace, Justice, and Human Rights
"The French Disconnection: Tracing the Expression of French Jewish Identity from Emancipation to Vichy"
My interest in this project began while researching the commemoration of the Holocaust in post-war Poland. I wanted to know exactly what defined Jewish individuals at the time—beyond National Socialist legislation. In other words, I was curious to examine what changed within assimilated Jewish communities that altered how they were perceived by their non-Jewish peers.
In this paper I argue that the militant expression of Jewish identity among youth in Vichy France was not dependent on changes internal to the Jewish community, but rather on political and social constraints imposed by Vichy legislation. I present an analysis of Jewish identity development from the time of Jewish emancipation in France through the height of Vichy oppression to illuminate the extent to which French Jews altered their perception and performance of Jewishness in accordance with their social world. I rely on an adaptation of Weber’s theory of the ideal type to provide a framework through which I can form an initial typification of post-emancipation Jewish identity. Once this characterization is established, I examine how changes in the constraints faced by the Jewish youth community altered their participation in popular youth movements of the interwar and Vichy eras. I find that although post-emancipation Jewish identity expression was constituted through the abandonment of Jewish particularistic practice and adherence to French egalitarian values, interwar and Vichy French Jewish youth viewed their French and Jewish identities as compatible, and, furthermore, actively sought avenues through which they could defend their belonging as Jews in France.