In This Review

Uneasy Asylum: France and the Jewish Refugee Crisis, 1933-1942
Uneasy Asylum: France and the Jewish Refugee Crisis, 1933-1942
By Vicki Caron
Stanford University Press, 1999, 730 pp

This massive work recounts one of the most distressing stories in twentieth-century French history -- the treatment of Jewish refugees from 1933 to 1942. Caron shows how their fate was not a linear descent into ignominy but a winding one: the right ordered restrictions on refugee flows from 1934 to 1935, mainly for economic reasons, whereas the subsequent Popular Front pursued a far more liberal course. The centrist Daladier government of 1938-40 then lurched back to impose severely repressive policies for fear that refugees from Germany and central Europe would push for war against Hitler. It was under Daladier that camps were first established for the internment of foreigners, especially central Europeans, as "enemy aliens" when World War II began. Public opinion became increasingly hostile to refugees but remained torn between liberal and restrictive forces, middle-class professional organizations being among the most virulent of the latter. Meanwhile, the French Jewish community was not as indifferent as has sometimes been charged. Although Caron underscores the continuity between prewar and Vichy antisemitism, she also points out that Vichy represented a sharp break from French liberalism and the complex policies of the Third Republic in the 1930s -- and that Vichy's ideological antisemitism was not at first "exterminationist." It later turned murderous only under the influence of French fascist elements, German pressure, and the amoral and supine behavior of Vichy official Pierre Laval.