The Survival of the Jews in France, 1940-1944.



Interview with Jacques Semelin, author of The Survival of the Jews in France, 1940-1944 (translated by Cynthia Schoch and Nathasha Lehrer, London, Hurst, and New York, Oxford University Press).



When did the idea for this book come to you?



It was very precisely in 2006, during an international conference on the rescue practices during a genocide (“Les pratiques de sauvetage en situation génocidaire”, organized by CERI and Sciences Po’s Center for History), which was followed by the publication of a volume coedited with Claire Andrieu and Sarah Gensburger (Resisting Genocide: The Multiple Forms of Rescue, Hurst and Oxford University Press, 2011). I had already learned from Serge Klarsfeld that 75% of Jews in France had escaped the Holocaust, but this rate remained abstract in my mind. During the conference, I realized that there had been no thorough scientific research on this historical fact. What explains that a large majority of the Jewish population survived in France despite the Nazis’ plan to exterminate them and the Vichy regime’s collaboration? This seemed all the more surprising as, in the Netherlands, only 25 % Jews survived and in Belgium, 45% survived. 



After having conducted comparative studies on mass violence, I was encouraged by Simone Veil to try and understand this French enigma. There was no question of forgetting all those who had perished in Auschwitz, but I also wanted to know why and how so many had survived in France.



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