This extraordinary wartime diary provides a rare glimpse into the daily life of French and foreign-born Jewish refugees under the Vichy regime during World War II. Long hidden, the diary was written by Lucien Dreyfus, a native of Alsacewho was a teacher at the most prestigious high school in Strasbourg, an editor of the leading Jewish newspaper of Alsace and Lorraine, the devoted father of an only daughter, and the doting grandfather of an only granddaughter. In 1939, after the French declaration of war on Hitler's Germany, Lucien and his wife, Marthe, were forced by the French state to leave Strasbourg along with thousands of other Jewish and non-Jewish residents of the city. The couple found refuge in Nice, on the Mediterranean coast in the south of France. Anti-Jewish laws prevented Lucien from resuming his teaching career and his work as a newspaper editor. But he continued to write, recording his trenchant reflections on the situation of France and French Jews under the Vichy regime. American visas allowed his daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter to escape France in the spring of 1942 and establish new lives in the United States, but Lucien and Marthe were not so lucky. Rounded up during an SS raid in September 1943, they were deported and murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau two months later. As the only diary by an observant Jew raised bi-culturally in French and German, Dreyfus's writing offers a unique philosophical and moral reflection on the Holocaust as it was unfolding in France.
Alexandra Garbarini is professor of history and Jewish studies at Williams College.
Jean-Marc Dreyfus is a reader at the University of Manchester and associate researcher at the Centre of History, Sciences-Po Paris.
A riveting document. This intellectual, a refugee in Nice, lived and kept his diary as an observer on a volcano that he believed dormant. As a Frenchman, he was not threatened in the free zone by the Vichy police; nor did he have to fear the Italian military, protectors of the Jews, who would occupy the southeast of France. But we who know that the Germans will drive out the Italians know the outcome of this suspenseful story, which makes the reading of each page of this diary anguishing: Lucien Dreyfus, so representative of a culturally refined elite, will perish in a gas chamber.
Lucien Dreyfus’s remarkable memoir of Jewish life in wartime France belongs on every bookshelf. Through the keen observations and sharp intellect of an insightful, acerbic Alsatian Jew taking refuge in southern France, we see the growing embrace of antisemitism in France on the one hand, and the courage and kindness of helpful neighbors on the other. Out of a deep knowledge of European culture and traditional Jewish texts, Dreyfus struggles to understand and give meaning to the events of his time. His memoir and the unusual story of the diary’s survival engages French history, Jewish culture, and the European tradition.
‘There is talk of 700,000 Jews killed in and around Poland. This number is not necessarily exaggerated,’ wrote Lucien Dreyfus on July 4, 1942. In this extraordinary diary, Dreyfus, an Alsatian Jew who found refuge in Nice, reported about his daily life in Vichy France, commented the BBC broadcasts, the rumors or the political and military developments as recorded in the official local press, and noted many of his thoughts. The publication of this diary provides a unique testimony on the life of the Jewish community as well as on the Alsatian refugees in a French city during World War II.