The unstated French connection

The unstated French conn

By ELAINE MARGOLIN
January 7, 2010 13:56
cadaverland book cover 248.88

cadaverland book cover 248.88. (photo credit: )

 
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Cadaverland By Michael Dorland | Brandeis University Press | 300 pages | $45 When recently interviewed about his well-researched scholarly book which deals extensively with the physical and emotional scars of returning Holocaust survivors, particularly those who returned to France after the war, Michael Dorland said, "So few came out of the catastrophe alive - somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 of the five million to six million murdered Jews of Europe - and no one really cared much about them, anywhere, not even in newly created Israel. Those who survived the camps were in pretty bad shape, and though many wanted to talk about what they had been through, no one wanted to listen." Dorland, a professor of communications at Carleton University in Ottawa, grew up confused about his Jewish identity, which he describes as feeling "French in some sense of the word, and Jewish in some negative sense with no religious connection to the rituals of Judaism, yet with a lifelong identification with 'being Jewish.'" His mother had been forced to wear the yellow star when she was only 18 in France during the Nazi occupation. But Dorland's life and upbringing seemed far away from all of that, or so he thought, until he found himself choking back bitter tears while standing in front of an exhibit at the Holocaust Museum in Washington. This particular display listed the horrendous laws inflicted upon France's Jews under the Nazi occupation. The regulations were written in his mother's native French, and the reality of what she and others had endured prompted Dorland to begin years of research that resulted in this groundbreaking work. Some 80,000 French Jews were deported to various concentration camps; only 3,500 returned and most of them were ignored and mistreated by the medical professional community, which for decades denied the uniqueness of their experiences. In 2005, Dorland reviewed Jewish Parisian psychoanalyst Anne-Lise Stern's moving book, Psychoanalysis after Auschwitz? The Deported Knowledge, in which she attempts to reveal the inner psyche of a Jew who has survived Buchenwald and Auschwitz as she had. Stern writes: "Who are we who returned? What am I? Tattooed, already a form of walking document? But paper documents are made of rags - schmattes - or in French - loque - rags, refuse, bits of stuff, or what the Nazi administrative called stucke or pieces." Stern describes her memories as visual, not auditory, and although she finds it difficult to speak in front of others, she forced herself to enter the public arena during the 1970s, enraged at the outrageous lies regarding the nonexistence of the concentration camps Richard Faurisson was spewing in Le Monde. Dorland's thesis is that the collective French consciousness, which included the medical practitioners who treated concentration camp survivors, was and still is pervasively tainted by anti-Semitism and an inability to come to terms with the collaboration of so many of their countrymen under the Vichy regime. Most of the medical experts focused on the physiological effects of deportation and imprisonment on bodily systems and ignored the massive psychological trauma many endured. Many survivors, Jews and non-Jews, reported sleep disturbances, fears of loud noises and uncertainty, depression, premature aging and a general apathy about the future. Leo Eitinger wrote, "Looking back to the immediate aftermath of the liberation of the camps, it is almost impossible to overstate the emotional devastation of the Jewish survivor especially: The newly released prisoners had no one left, there was no place for them to go, they were completely through with their old lives and they hadn't the faintest idea what they could do with the new life so unexpectedly granted them." Dorland laments how the particularity of the Jewish experience was erased from the equation. He points out that most of the returning prisoners who were questioned directly after the war by somatologists were political deportees, and there was not a Jew among them. He describes France after the war as a country locked in denial and a willed ignorance about the Holocaust's primordial Jewishness that was set in motion by Charles de Gaulle's declaring the collaborationist Vichy regime null and void. Instead, he insisted all focus be on those who resisted, whom he hailed as France's salvation. But as recently as 2008, Bernard-Henri Levy confessed that although France is now home to half a million Jews, seeds of tyranny still lie just beneath the surface. He wrote: "We Frenchmen know that such a tradition can be vibrant as long as it is not acknowledged, criticized or mourned. As long as we did not acknowledge the depth of our fascist temptation, it was living in our unconscious. It's a long process. It's painful. It's difficult. A people, a nation has to do it. I was shot down, morally speaking, when I wrote The French Ideology, the thesis of which was that France's problem was not that it was occupied by a foreign army, but that it held homemade fascism, which was our specialty." Dorland makes clear that as time passed after the war, the shift in treating Holocaust survivors went from a focus on physical maladies to psychological ones. He cites the impressive work of several Jewish doctors. He applauds the work of Mark Dworzecki, who studied the effects of famine in the Nazi concentration camps. He reviews the work of French psychiatrist Henri Baruk, who was not Jewish, but began reading the Talmud and applying talmudic concepts to psychological testing. He discusses Eugene Minkowski's approach, which was encouraging his patients to talk candidly with him about their suffering. He studied the work of Elie A. Cohen, who survived Auschwitz and spent the remainder of his life using his own emotional response to the catastrophe as a springboard for his research on repression and depersonalization. One of the surprising discoveries Dorland makes is the realization that some survivors were able to go on and lead productive and fulfilling lives, particularly if they were guided by some sense of mission that transcended their own life. There is a massive amount of data that chronicles various stories by survivors, but this one resonated. Jennie Goldenberg wrote about Atalia, who was on a cattle car to Auschwitz when a young man next to her, a physician named Emanuel, noticed an opening at the top of the car and convinced her and two other men to jump. The three men were shot, but Atalia only sprained her ankle, and as Emanuel lay dying on the ground next to her, he pleaded with her "'Run, run - we are close to a town. They must have alerted the SS. Please, please, run and live. Live! How else will anybody remember me? Everybody else is dead.' I keep up his yahrzeit anniversary and Yizkor every year, just like for my parents and brother, on the ninth of Av. Because I never knew the name of his father, I say Emanuel ben Yisrael. If there ever was a true son of Israel, it sure was him."

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