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May 06, 1966 - Image 2

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1966-05-06

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Purely Commentary

Leon Blum's role as a Socialist leader, as
the first Jew to have become Premier of
France, as a Zionist whose name is indelibly
written in Israel's history — in a colony
named in his honor — and as a statesman
whose acts were motivated by a great sense
of justice, will remain among the most
fascinating chapters in world history. Many
books have been written about him, num-
erous essays reviewed his career, and he has
been a subject for heated discussions for
many years. A new biography, "Leon Blum
—Humanist in
Politics" by
Joel Colton,
published by
Knopf, may
well be con-
sidered as one
of the ablest
works about
the French
leader. The
facts about the
holocaust, the
Vichy regime
and especially
the anti -Jew-
ish actions
that marked
t h e activities
of the anti-
Leon Blum
Blum forces in
France are especially well described in this
excellent compilation about a very great
man and his leadership in his country dur-
ing periods of great challenges.
The biographer is very well qual-
ified for the task he had undertaken in this
Blum account. Dr. Colton is the author of
other works about France and the modern
world. Professor of history since 1947 at
Duke University, he has held fellowships
from Rockefeller and Guggenheim Founda-
tions. His present work is replete with data
about French events in relation to Euro-
pean and world history. It is splendidly
annotated and the depth of research is evi-
dent in the more than 500 pages of this
work. The wealth of material referred to
in the lengthy bibliography is an added
indication of the amount of study that went
into the preparation of this biography.
The extent of anti-Semitic acts that
marked the career of Leon Blum is well
known, yet, nowhere else is the data so well
presented as in the Colton book. Readers
will marvel at Blum — that he was able to
withstand so many attacks, that he could
face bigotry with as much courage as had
marked his rich career before Nazism, dur-
ing the Nazi era when he was imprisoned
in concentration camps, in his battle against
Marshal Philippe Petain and Pierre Laval
during Nazi rule in France, and in the years
that followed that period when he chal-
lenged Charles de Gaulle's policies.
He was not an observant Jew. He was
first a Frenchman and he emphasized it and
lived in that spirit. Yet he displayed a sense
of honor in his role as a Jew, he was among
the leading factors in the battle against the
bigots in l'Affaire Dreyfus, and he supported
the Zionist idea when it was so necessary
to give encouragement to Jewry's struggle
for freedom and justice.
Blum's family background was thorough.
ly Jewish, and he despised anti-Semitism
"in all its forms." He was an assimilated
Frenchman, but he "always retained a re-
spect for the faith of his fathers." Anti-
Semites charged that he was a foreigner,
but he was a Parisian by birth. His father
was of Alsatian Jewish background, his
mother, the pious Jewess, who "observed
the Orthodox ritual and the dietary laws in
the household and lit candles and said
prayers on the Sabbath," also was born in
His first wife, Lise Bloch, to whom he
was married for 35 years and with whom
he had a happy and a loyal life until her
death in 1931, "belonged to a Jewish fam-
ily of considerable standing." ("He sub-
sequently was married twice again: in 1932
to Therese Pereyra, an old family friend and
Socialist comrade-in-arms, who died in Feb-
ruary 1938; and during the Second World
War, in 1943, to Jeanne Levilliers Humbert,
who survived him." His third wife joined
him in Buchenwald, where they were mar-
Blum had an important role in the Drey-
fus affair. Many volumes have been written
about the Dreyfus case, yet, in Colton's
biography, there is new interest in the fa-
mous scandal that ripped France asunder.
Blum was among those who believed
Dreyfus guilty. "French Jewish circles in

2—Friday, May 6, 1966

particular were eager to forget the episode
and they viewed with apprehension the be-
ginnings of the campaign in 1896 to reopen
the case. Even when evidence of Dreyfus'
innocence mounted, they were reluctant to
provide possible ammunition for anti-
Semites like Edouard Driunont, who charged
that the defense of Dreyfus was based on a
sense of 'race' and group solidarity. 'As-
similated' Jews of Dreyfus' age who, like
him, had made their way in the private
professions or in government service, were
filled with despair that passions aroused by
the case might blight their own irreproach-
able careers. Blum, who knew these circles
well, described this attitude in scathing
terms; yet he confessed that to some extent
he at first shared in it. Only a few men kept
the case alive . . ."
His close friends, Lucien Herr, whom
he admired greatly, and Jean Jaures, whom
he succeedes to socialist leadership, brought
Blum into the ,Dreyfussard camp and he
became one of the major champions of jus-
tice in his country. In the brief review of
the Dreyfus case, Colton introduces all of
its factors. It is one of the very perfect
accomplishments of an able author as part
of his total picture of France and of Blum.
There are scores of references to Blum's
Jewishness, to the attacks upon him, and to
the friendly treatments as well. Hubert Bour-
gin, for example, observing Blum in the early
years of his political career, wrote about
him: "It seemed to me that I was watching
the opening up, the unfolding of this super-
ior and strange person, this admixture of
messianism and Jewish prophetism adapted
to the modern age, of Oriental passion, of
Asiatic frenzy, of an intelligence European,
French and Cartesian, of a refined esthetic-
ism . . . Having seen that apparition rise one
evening in the winter of 1916, I was in a
position to understand Leon Blum and noth-
ing could henceforth atonish me in his polit-
ical fortunes."
Such views were expressed ad infinitum
and the admiration for the man who ex-
erted great influence in his country, and in
world affairs, brought him leadership in
diplomacy and in Socialism unparalleled
in history.
The Colton biography is a superb study
of Socialist ideology, of the struggles en-
countered, of the trials and tribulations out
of which Blum emerged the genius in ideol-
ogical dedication. Students of Socialism will
find in this -work a great textbook on the
Of interest in the author's description of
Blum's rise to Socialist leadership, when
Edouard Herriot addressed him as "Mon
cher Blum," the comment is that "the saluta-
tion itself thoroughly provoked the Right,
which was already incensed by the prospect
of the country's destinies in the hands of
an anticlerical Radical and a Jewish Social-
Thus, to the Rightists, Blum "was, in a
sense, an outsider, an intellectual, a bour-
geois, a Jew."
When -Blurn became Premier of France
in June of 1936, anti-Semitic outbursts com-
menced anew. There were many accusations,
and they are disputed in the Colton bio-
graphy as follows:
"There was not the shadow of justifica-
tion for chargeS that the cabinet was pre-
dominantly Jewish. (Andre) Blumel and
(Jules) Moch were the only Jews associated
with the top levels of the cabinet and they
were assistants to Blum rather than minis-
ters or undersecretaries. Jean Zay, Minis-
ter of Education, born of a Jewish father
and Protestant mother, styled himself a
Protestant. A number of other Jews were
associated with the cabinet but only as
administrative assistants (chefs de cabinet)
to the ministers or undersecretaries. The
facts, however, did not deter the anti-Semites
then or later. 'There were at least five Jew-
ish ministers or undersecretaries in the first
Popular Front cabinet,' the journalist-his-
torian Raymond Recouly wrote in 1941 with
complete inaccuracy. 'Given the tiny pro-
portion of Jews in our total population, was
this not truly a violation of propriety and
"The Jewish issue flared up at the open-
ing session of the new Chamber when the
Rightist Deputy Xavier Vallat, just defeated
by Herriot for the presidency of the Cham-
ber, announced: 'Your arrival in office, M.
le President du Conseil, is incontestably a
historic date. For the first time this old
Gallic-Roman country will be governed by a
Jew.' Herriot interrupted at once and called
him firmly to order, but Vallat went on:
`I have the special duty here . . . of saying
aloud what everyone is thinking to himself:
that to govern this peasant nation of France
it is better to have someone whose origins,

Leon Blum, Man of Great Courage Who
Awakened the Conscience of the French

no matter how modest, spring from our
soil than to have a subtle Talmudist.' The
important decisions of the government, he
warned, would henceforth be made by a
`small Jewish coterie' consisting of Blum,
Blumel, Moch, and (Oreste) Rosenfeld.
Blum, livid with rage, wished to respond,
but Herriot insisted on censuring the speak-
er himself and closing the episode. 'Anti-
Semitism,' one French historian could write
of the Popular Front years, 'attained a
virulence forgotten since the Dreyfus af-
"The reaction in Jewish circles to the
fact that a Jew had become Premier for
the first time was mixed. There was a swell
of pride in these groups even if one dis-
misses Recouly's wild account of wealthy
and fashionable Jewish circles so gratified
at having a co-religionist elevated to high
office that they toasted Blum in champagne
and then sang the 'Internationale.' On the
other hand, in May 1936 one of the leading
rabbis of Paris tried to dissuade Blum from
taking office so that he would not expose
his fellow Jews to criticism and attack.
Blum listened politely and respectfully dur-
ihg the conversation, and closed the inter-
view. He was aware that he was the first
French Jew ever elevated to the premier-
ship, but shrugged it off as unimportant.
Primarily he was a Frenchman, and his
religion was of no relevance."
The latter episode is reminiscent of
fright in other quarters—in this country
when Jews were named as ambassadors, as
members of the U. S. Cabinet, as Supreme
Court justices. Fortunately such panic is
diminishing. It was a panic that was in evi-
dence even in pre-Nazi Germany when
Walther Rathenau was named to an import-
ant government post, and later was as-
sassinated by anti-Semites.
A bit later, the fright re-emerged, the
passions and anti-Semitic utterances were
heard anew. Blum's biographer reports:
"Political hatreds grew more impas-
sioned as the months went by. A whole
literature of calumny was directed against
Blum; the hatreds evoked by Franklin D.
Roosevelt fade to nothingness in compari-
son. Charles Maurras led the attack; Henri
Massis and Henri Beraud followed. L'Action
Francaise, Gringoire, Je Suis Partout were
filled with vitriolic attacks. `It is as a Jew
that one must see, conceive, hear, fight and
destroy this Blum,' wrote Maurras. 'This
man is anything butFrance.' His private
correspondence was filled with similar at-
tacks. Even fellow Jews wrote him: 'Alas,
three times you furnish irrefutable
arguments to the all-too-many anti-Semites
who hold the Jews responsible for the dis-
order and disintegration that is going on in
France and elsewhere . . . You are a bad
Frenchman and a traitor to your race.' Blum,
who could weep over the bloodshed at
Clichy or over the events in Spain, remained
impervious to such personal attacks and
He did what he could to bring about
peace. He was ready to negotiate even with
Hitler. He conferred with Hjalmar Schacht
whom he met again later at Buchenwald
where Hitler had sent the industrialist and
When Munich was hailed as "the victory
of peace," another anti-Semitic note was
struck and a leader in the pacifist wing
of the Confederation Generale du Travail,
Ludovic Zoretti, insinuated that Blum's ini-
tial firmness had been prompted by sym-

44, •

The Vichy Nazis who betrayed France
and who were excoriated by Blum: Pierre
Laval and Marshal Henri Petain. Laval did
not receive the mercy he pleaded for from
Bhmi. He may have helped save Blum's life
by delaying tactics when Mandel was brought
to Paris to be shot, but Blum knew his deeds
and was silent. Petain also was given the
death sentence but because of his age the
89-year-old collaborationist with Hitlerism
was permitted to end his days in exile.

By Philip

pathy for his fellow Jews. The charge was
made that there was the aim to see civiliza-
tion destroyed "to make life more agreeable
to the 100,000 Jews of the Sudetenland" and
Blum refused to comment on the "wild
The anti-Semitic attacks on Blum con-
tinued. Colton writes in thiS biography:
"The fact that Blum and (Georges)
Mandel (the vigorous, patriotic Minister of
Colonies, once a protege of Clemenceau)
were Jewish was suggested as the prim,
reason for their anti-Nazism. A private;.
printed brochure alleged that Blum, bore
Karfunkelstein, traitor to his adopted coun-
try, had been born in `Vidin, Bulgaria.'
There was not a shred of truth in the ac-
cusation but Blum felt himself impelled to
protest the vicious pamphlet in an editorial
(in Le Populaire, Nov. 19, 1938). He re-
ceived letters filled with invective and
abuse from people in all walks of life. Many
were outright calls for his assassination.
`The hour for the settlement of accounts is
approaching, Leon Blum,' said one. Another,
addressed to 'President du conseil, Mon-
sieur le Juif,' stated: Personally I hold you
responsible for all the present misfortunes
of which our country is victim,' and con-
cluded: 'One ought to do away with individ-
uals as dangerous as you are.' He was told
to 'go back to Vidin.' "
Sumner Welles reported at that time
that there were 3,000 letters addressed to
him by Frenchmen protesting against his
visit with Blum. He wrote that he was
shocked by the penetration of Nazi ideas
and reported: "The vast majority of these
letters were written in the most violent
and insulting terms. A few of them were
couched in moderate words of reproach.
They were all written, however, solely be-
cause, as a representative of the President
of the United States, I had dared to call
upon a Jew."
These are just a few of the many indica-
tions of a spreading anti-Semitism and of
the hatred of Blum the Jew. But it was this
Jew Leon Blum who saved France's honor
with his courageous stand against the Vichy
government in the case he presented at the
Vichy trial during which he exposed the
vile Laval-Petain rule under Nazism.
It was at the Vichy trial that Blum
emerged as the great Frenchman, the cour-
ageous exposer of the Nazi crimes, the
man who, acting as his own counsel, held
forth to light the events as they had devel-
oped, the justice of his own and his party's
position, the crime of the Laval-Petain-
Spinasse-Vallat-et-al regime. Colton's ac-
count of the trial and of Blum's presenta-
tion of the case is brilliant writing. It forms
a significant historic chapter describing the
occurrences during Nazi rule.
As "Witness for the Republic," as the
chapter describing Blum's speech is titled,
the French Jewish statesman emerged the
`astonishing dialectician. The American cor-
respondents hailed his genius, the "remark-
able performance" during which, his bio-
grapher states, "he had held the court under
his sway for hours on end."
Marshal Petain later tried to explain
that he could not remember the details that
had led to his becoming a tool of the Nazis.
He was 91 and, as Colton comments, 4_,
such an age "human memories fade, an
men have more than human tribunals t
* * *
There are interesting accounts in this
biography of Blum's stay in the concentra-
tion camps, how he miraculously escaped
death, Mandel, who was with him as a Nazi
prisoner, having been taken out only a
short time before liberation and murdered
by the Nazis in Paris.
Many were the rumors about Blum. He
was reported dead in the New York Times
which credited him with great achievements
and an extreme sense of justice. lit was a
false report. It also was wrongly reported
that he had embraced Catholicism. He em-
erged instead as a strong support of the
Zionist cause and Kfar Blum was estab-
lished in his honor in Israel.
He returned to his homeland with great
honor. Twice again he was Prime Minister.
He was not only the French but also the
Jewish and the world hero.
He spoke of independent Israel as "a
fatherland of dignity, equality and freedom
for all Jews who have not had, like myself,
the good fortune to find one in their native
In two matters Blum played a vital role
—French attitudes towards Communist Rus-
sia and Communists and Charles de Gaulle.
He was strongly opposed to Communism
but he insisted on drawing Communists• into
his Cabinets and on their being represented
in other Cabinets. He opposed Communism

(Continued on Page 48)

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