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Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist, Tireless Champion, Proud Jew

An excerpt from Pierre Birnbaum’s new biography of the French titan

Jewish Lives (Sponsored)
May 26, 2015
Léon Blum.(Library of Congress )
Léon Blum.(Library of Congress )

This is a sponsored post on behalf of Yale University Press and their Jewish Lives series.

The fall of France and invasion by Germany left the country in disarray. When the Germans broke through, Blum was in London consulting with British allies. What he heard worried him: “I do not understand English. I confess this infirmity. What is called the gift of tongues is common among Jews. I have the opposite gift: an inability to learn any foreign language.” On returning to France, he found the political class in a panic owing to the rapid advance of German armor. As the government withdrew from Paris to Tours, Blum traveled by automobile to Montluçon, where his friend Marx Dormoy was mayor. Then, as the debacle continued to unfold, he threw caution to the winds and decided to return to Paris on June 11, 1940. He made his way across the forest of Fontainebleau, which he knew well from having toured it frequently by bicycle, only to find the capital deserted. The Chamber of Deputies was as “empty” as a “tomb,” utterly abandoned. After one last visit to his apartment, where he stood a moment among his books and other familiar possessions, he again departed for the provinces, joining the steady stream of bicycles, automobiles laden with suitcases and mattresses, and horse-drawn wagons and carts of every description, all of which the Germans regularly strafed. Blum rejoined the government, which had meanwhile taken refuge in Bordeaux, as during World War I.

Chaos and anxiety were ubiquitous, and rumors ran wild. Proponents of an immediate armistice gained the upper hand. Paul Reynaud, who favored a continuation of the war, resigned, and President Albert Lebrun named Marshal Philippe Pétain the new head of government. Deputies such as Pierre Mendès-France, shocked by the idea of an armistice, decided to continue the fight in North Africa, which they planned to reach by taking passage on a ship named the Massilia. Blum himself thought of leaving but was prevented from doing so by a series of mishaps. The Massilia turned out to be a trap. The deputies who sailed were accused of cowardice and desertion, when in fact they had chosen to reject defeat and fight the enemy. As the new government negotiated an armistice with Germany, Blum sought refuge near Toulouse with the children of his friend Eugène Montel.

The question of his departure became urgent. Friends urged him to leave the country quickly because he was in danger not only as a Socialist but also as a Jew. On June 16, 1940, Admiral François Darlan himself ordered “French naval authorities to facilitate if need be the embarkation of [former] Prime Minister Léon Blum aboard any naval ship or aircraft headed to North Africa.” Meanwhile, Édouard Herriot offered urgent advice to Georges Mandel and Léon Blum: “You two should leave no matter what happens. Do not remain in the clutches of our present masters. I know how much they hate you.” Blum’s old comrade Vincent Auriol offered similar counsel: “They will hunt down Socialists. They will humiliate Jews. And you are both a Socialist and a Jew, to say nothing of being you.” Blum refused.

If I were to leave now, it would only be to take up my post as a civilian soldier in the battle that Great Britain today and perhaps the United States tomorrow will wage against the enemy. … No, you see, now that the Government has capitulated, there is for me only one party and one duty: to stay in France, where I am, calmly awaiting danger if indeed there is danger, ready to answer for my past actions in any public debate, at the podium in the Chamber if I can or at the bar in a court of justice if I must. My duty is calmly to defy the injustice and hatred that have been set loose in the land. … I feel that I cannot on my own, especially in this hour, break the tie of solidarity that binds me to my country.

… I believe that France has dishonored itself, but I do not think I have the right to save myself. I must share the common fate not only in misfortune, which is relatively easy, but also in shame.

Blum fought the new regime and did not hesitate to visit Vichy, the seat of Marshal Pétain’s government. He went there on July 4. Dumbfounded by the proposed constitutional reform granting all power to Pétain, he maintained that such a “coup was unprecedented in our history; it surpasses the 18th Brumaire and the 2nd of December [i.e., the coups of Napoleon and Napoleon III].” He tried to rally Socialist representatives in Vichy against the plan. At first, they seemed willing to go along with him, but “the venom visibly spread. … Within a few hours, thoughts, words, and faces had become almost unrecognizable. … The poison whose effects were plain to see was quite simply fear, panicky fear. … People were carried away by collective currents of terror and cowardice, like a frightened mob. … They listened with bowed heads and submitted. Most had succumbed to the poison and accepted their fate.”

On July 10, 1940, Blum was thunderstruck when a majority of his Socialist comrades rallied behind the new government of Pierre Laval. Irony of ironies, the assembly that voted to grant full powers to Marshal Pétain overlapped to a large extent with the Popular Front assembly elected in 1936, minus the twenty-seven deputies who had sailed for North Africa on the Massilia and of course the Communist deputies who had been excluded on September 27, 1939, after the Nazi-Soviet pact was signed. Danger was everywhere, and there was reason to fear the worst: among the eighty courageous deputies who opposed Laval’s new constitution granting full powers to Pétain, only thirty-six were Socialists, ninety other Socialists having chosen to join Laval. In this dramatic moment, with his own life at stake, Blum, the former leader of the party, found himself abandoned by most of his troops. “Moses became Lear,” one of his later biographers wrote. He slipped out a back door to avoid the insults of the mob and returned to the home of Montel’s children, “L’Armurier.” On August 17, the Prefecture of Haute-Garonne issued him a new identification card, which indicated that his hair and mustache were grey, his nose “straight,” and his complexion “clear.” The madness of Vichy seemed far away. At L’Armurier, he met with collaborators and friends from the Popular Front such as Jules Moch and André Blumel, who argued against his optimism and warned him that Vichy’s leaders “would promulgate their racist laws, made in Germany, and organize their own Gestapo.” Blum nevertheless remained confident. In broad strokes he outlined how Germany would be defeated and Britain, the United States, and the USSR would win the war. In no uncertain terms he pledged his support to General Charles de Gaulle: “During those days and weeks of patriotic incubation, it became clear that the leader of ‘Free France’ was not just a soldier. Only a soldier could have commanded such trust, such talent, such obedience. … Official France might have capitulated, but ‘Free France’ carried on the fight.”

On September 15, at six in the morning (respectful of the law against nighttime arrests), the police surrounded the house. Blum was arrested and incarcerated, along with Georges Mandel, Édouard Daladier, Paul Reynaud, and General Maurice Gamelin, in a medieval castle at Chazeron in the Massif Central. Conditions were harsh: the cells were cold and lacked running water. This was only the beginning of a long ordeal, which Blum faced simply, without complaint. The surveillance was strict:

Surveillance must be constant and vigilant. … The police officer in charge and guards shall remain in the guard room, whose door shall remain open in order to maintain a close watch on the door of room number ___ … The guard post will remain illuminated at all times. The officer in charge shall be armed with an automatic pistol. … Mr. Léon Blum may leave his apartment only to go to the toilet, in which case he shall be followed by a civilian official to the door and accompanied back to his room in the same manner.

Blum returned to his beloved Stendhal and devoured the works of Virginia Woolf and others that he found in the castle library. In his misfortune he took comfort from the frequent visits of Renée Blum, a Protestant-born Geneva woman married to his son Robert, who was a prisoner of war in Germany. Renée became close to Janot, Blum’s mistress, who was not allowed to visit the castle. Both did all they could to assist him. Blum wrote many affectionate letters to Janot: “Could you see me behind the bars? I waved my handkerchief at you.” He and Janot maintained their intense relationship by way of letters and notes carried back and forth by Renée. Within a few months, Janot obtained permission to visit Blum herself.

On November 16 he was transferred to the Château de Bourrassol in the Massif Central near Riom, where he was to be tried. The castle was in ruins and bitterly cold. Living conditions were even worse than in Chazeron: Blum’s only toilet was a filthy chamber pot, and water froze in his room. Daladier described the scene in his diary: “Rainy, awful weather. But in the afternoon, Blum, during his exercise period, sat in the sun on a roadside marker. Basque béret, long, thin body, almost white drooping mustache. Prophet of Israel.” Janot was able to contact the justice minister, Joseph Barthélemy, who made no secret of his anti-Semitic feelings but granted her the right, as Blum’s secretary, to visit him for the purpose of writing “a work of history.” Blum was also allowed to receive a few faithful friends. A living symbol of the reviled Popular Front as well as a Jew, he became the target of vicious attacks by the collaborationist press, which blamed the Jews in general and Blum in particular for France’s defeat. After his friend Marx Dormoy was assassinated on July 25, 1941, Blum knew that anything could happen to him.

In a way, Vichy represented the nationalist right’s revenge for the Dreyfus Affair. Only thirty-four years separated the end of the Affair from the birth of Vichy, and any number of frustrated anti-Semites from the Dreyfus years, including Charles Maurras, were still active. They had not changed one bit. They still called for Jews to be expelled from government and the public arena, as well as excluded from most professions and stripped of civil rights. All state Jews—be they deputies or senators, state councilors, judges, prefects, military officers, or teachers—were dismissed from public service. Vichy answered the prayers of the most zealous anti-Dreyfusards: the Jewish statute of October 4, 1940, one of the very first measures taken by Vichy, made the government of France judenrein. Blum and many of his closest friends from the Council of State, such as Paul Grunebaum-Ballin, were affected. A small number protested vehemently, insisting that their families had been French for generations, that their parents had made sacrifices in France’s wars, that they themselves had been decorated in World War I and had always served France loyally. They wrote to Marshal Pétain, whom many had met in the course of their careers, asking that he intervene to prevent the Jewish statute from being applied to them and later asking him to block their deportation—all in vain. Blum, certain of his rights and his legitimacy and unafraid of reprisals, refrained from protesting his arrest or requesting special treatment. He courageously defended his actions as prime minister as well as his Jewish identity, which he never tried to hide.

On October 16, 1941, after Blum had been in prison for a year, Marshal Pétain announced in a radio speech that a special Political Justice Council had decided that Blum, Daladier, Cot, and Gamelin would be transferred to a fortified installation. Pétain expressed his wish that the trial would proceed quickly and concluded his speech by anticipating its outcome: “I assure you that although you were betrayed, you will not be disappointed.” The accused were taken to the Fort de Portalet, a castle in Urdos in the Pyrenees—a sinister mountainside fortress surrounded by barbed wire and virtually inaccessible. In his solitude, Blum wrote À l’échelle humaine (On the Human Scale), which begins with this memorable passage: “The lock on my door and the bars on my window have not separated me from France. … I feel my heart at every moment beating in unison with the heart of France.” Janot found a place to live nearby and resumed their correspondence. Blum wrote: “On waking I rushed to my window. My first impression was somber. The window opens directly on a vertical wall of rock. … I saw you on the road, I saw you speak with the guard at the sentry box and start across the bridge, but I have little hope. … A ray of sunshine just made its way into my room, which had seemed impossible. Is that a good sign?” Janot was able to visit again, but soon thereafter, on December 30, 1941, Blum was abruptly removed from Portalet and returned to Bourrassol.

Vichy had planned a show trial to lend legitimacy to the new regime. On October 8, the prosecutor, Gaston Cassagneau, handed Blum an “additional indictment” that included a lengthy critique of the Popular Front and ended with these words: “Because the unjustifiable weakness of M. Léon Blum’s government compromised both production in the short run and the moral state of the producers, he betrayed the duties of his office.” By failing to rearm France and tolerating a series of debilitating strikes, he was responsible for the defeat. Blum, a shrewd lawyer, planned a vigorous defense against the charges. Like Dreyfus on his island, he prepared in solitude to confront a regime that had repudiated all his values. He objected to the very brief time he was given to prepare his defense: “In short, you are inviting an already condemned man to respond to the indictment your office has prepared. What is that if not a cruel mockery of justice? … Hasn’t the case already been decided?” He nevertheless prepared his defense carefully, studied the documents, and analyzed the record. A first phase of interrogation took place in November and December 1941, followed by a second phase in February 1942. Blum showed that as prime minister he had prevented civil war, forestalled bloody clashes, and implemented social legislation that improved the physical condition of the working class and thus created conditions favorable to rearmament. His interrogators did not let up, however. The Popular Front as a whole, including the forty-hour week, paid vacations for workers, and tolerance of strikes, was held responsible for the military defeat. Blum’s answer was straightforward and logical:

When one imputes criminal responsibility to a man, a leader of government, without proving or even alleging any personal fault, without articulating a single fact against his honesty, honor, or professional duty or alleging a single failure of effort, application, or conscience, when his only crime is to have implemented the policy prescribed by sovereign universal suffrage monitored and approved by the Parliament to which sovereignty has been delegated by the people, then one is no longer trying a man or a head of government but the republican regime and the republican principle itself.

This would become the central thread of his defense. The trial began on February 20, 1942. Standing before his judges, surrounded by enemies determined to destroy him, and accompanied by his attorneys, Blum courageously began his summation of the defense case on March 10. He spoke for several hours and offered nothing less than an indictment of the Vichy regime. Denouncing Vichy for putting the Republic on trial, he turned the tables on the court. In his view, it was the reactionary right and the plots hatched by La Cagoule that had provoked the masses and brought the Popular Front to power. It was the right that had aggravated the crisis and mobilized the working class, leading to factory occupations that Blum was able to limit by negotiating the Matignon Accords, putting France back to work and thus facilitating rearmament. As he saw it, social reform had not hindered production but increased it. Blum doggedly defended his policies and repeatedly interrupted the judge, corrected his pronouncements, commented ironically on the proceedings, introduced highly technical arguments about weaponry, and throughout stood his ground with aplomb. He also defended his decisions with regard to Nazi Germany as well as his social policies. To prevent war, France had not only to rearm rapidly but also to maintain a dialogue with other countries. In his widely heard summation, he admitted that he had agreed to receive Hjalmar Schacht, Hitler’s representative, at Matignon:

Had I been the man I have been portrayed as, I might have told him: “I am a Marxist. I am a Jew. I will not talk to a state in which all socialist organizations have been outlawed and Jews are persecuted.” But instead I said: “I am a Marxist. I am a Jew. That is why I am so eager for this conversation between us to produce results.” … I had only the interests of our country in mind. At the same time, I carried out the largest rearmament plan of all time. I fulfilled the duties of my office. I fulfilled my duties as a Frenchman.

Blum’s confession drove Le Petit Parisien wild: “ ‘I am a Marxist and I am a Jew! With the impudence of his race he made this declaration to the court. … His only chance of re-gaining power, of once again raising his Jewish and Marxist fist over France, is a Bolshevik victory. That is what he wants. That is what he is hoping for.” Le Cri du Peuple reiterated the words of Xavier Vallat, who was present in the courtroom: “The first Jew to have governed our old Gallo-Roman country.” It ran headlines such as “The Jew Dodges,” “The Jew Wants It All,” and “The Impudent Jew Accuses Our Marshal.” Au Pilori did not mince words: “This accursed race has a lot of nerve.” Jeunesse was not surprised that Blum “in his Jew skin failed to muster any energy, patriotism, or pride,” while L’Appel attacked the “leader of the Popujew Front” and Paris-Soir mocked those of Blum’s friends who “formed a circle around the wailing wall where Blum has been sobbing for the past few days.” For Gringoire, finally, when Blum spoke, “he looked like an offspring of his ancestors. He represented the persistence of the Jewish idea. … He persisted in being what he is. A Jew! Nothing but a Jew! But a whole Jew!”

Two Jewish statutes had been in force in France for more than a year. French Jews had been rounded up. Anti-Semitic persecution grew worse with each passing day. And close friends of Blum’s such as Marx Dormoy had been assassinated. Yet Blum did not fear to proclaim his Jewish identity or his adherence to Marxism (which was in fact quite debatable). Facing down enemies who were after his head, he made it perfectly clear that a French citizen could also be a Jew and that a Jew could unhesitatingly fulfill “his duties as a Frenchman.”

He made it clear that the pact between France and its Jews, a part of the revolutionary and republican heritage, remained in force despite the ideology of Vichy and the Nazi occupation. In a magniloquent conclusion to his summation, Blum again invoked the names of Marx and Jaurès:

Gentlemen, I am done. You can of course condemn us. But I do not think that your judgment can undo our efforts. I do not think—this may seem boastful—that you can eliminate us from the history of this country. … We are not some monstrous excrescence in this country’s history, because we were a government of the people. We stand in what has been this country’s tradition since the French Revolution. We did not disrupt the legacy, we did not break the chain, we welded it back together and made it more secure.

The chain that linked Léon Blum to the French Revolution symbolized both the dream of a liberated people and the utopia of emancipated Jews at last become citizens. It was a chain that linked all citizens regardless of social class or religious identity, establishing a solidarity based on the idea of justice. It was more than Vichy’s leadership could comprehend and more than the Germans could tolerate. Blum managed to cast doubt on their legitimacy. He openly questioned their authority and mocked them publicly.

The press did not conceal its anger at the audacity of Blum and Daladier, who transformed themselves from accused into accusers. L’Action Française proposed “a bonfire to burn the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the works of Rousseau, Kant, and Blum.” Je Suis Partout complained that “instead of killing these bastards, we gave them a platform,” while Les Nouveaux Temps stated flatly that “the accused at Riom should have been hanged a year and a half ago. The authorities allowed them to transform the courtroom into a branch of the Radical and Socialist conclave. Can this be tolerated?” Shocked by the sight of Blum defending himself, Au Pilori blasted the “Jew Léon Blum-Suss”: “We want heads!” For La Gerbe, “Blum was still a Karfulkenstein [a name invented by anti-Semites to mean foreign Jews] whose ancestors scratched their lice in the shadow of the Carpathians.” L’Appel made no secret of its admiration: “You are a magisterial Jew. The imbecilic Vichyites you so diabolically deceived don’t come up to your cloven hoof.” Le Cri du Peuple wrote that “for Blum and Daladier, the court became the ideal place to denigrate the Marshal’s work.” Le Petit Parisien insisted that the trial was “an immense fraud … a platform for agitation against the Marshal.” Jules Blacas addressed the working class: “French worker … shake off all the Blums hanging on your shoulders and sucking your blood like a tick or louse. They’re not French! They stink of the ghetto and hate you.”

Any number of abusive letters reached Blum in his prison cell: he was called a “hypocrite and wailing manure,” a “kike saboteur of the nation,” and a “sinister bandit guilty of bringing France down.” Marcel Déat wrote that “what I hold Léon Blum responsible for is de-virilizing French Socialism and turning it toward Talmudism. … Blum’s central crime … is to have submitted to the tyranny of his race, to have passionately propelled France toward massacre.” He did nevertheless receive a few letters of encouragement from “French workers [who] have not forgotten what they owe him,” from “shop floor comrades” in Grenoble who “extend their sympathy and encouragement,” from workers in “the Renault artillery plant” who sent their “proletarian salute.” Other correspondents were convinced that “history will bring justice to the accused.”

Unable to cope with such an unyielding defendant, Vichy threw in the towel on April 11, suddenly calling a halt to a trial that was undermining its legitimacy, especially when international correspondents covering the case expressed “admiration” for the defendant, eliciting an indignant response from the collaborationist press. Blum returned to his cell at Bourrassol. The Germans were furious. Hitler personally ordered an end to the trial. Joseph Barthélemy remarked that “the Germans were shocked to see a Jew attacking a marshal. … In Germany, no Jew would dare to speak out against Hitler.”

Blum quietly returned to his work. He received letters of encouragement from Édouard Herriot, who spoke of his “loyal friendship … [and] unwavering devotion,” Jules Moch, André Philip, Vincent Auriol, Pietro Nenni, and Roger Martin du Gard. “If the sympathy of those whose thoughts have been with you for the past twenty years can be of any comfort in this strange ordeal,” Martin du Gard wrote, “my wife and I wish to be counted among them. … With a heavy heart and esteem that remains with you in misfortune.” Blum resumed his correspondence with General de Gaulle via messengers who traveled clandestinely between France and England. He assured de Gaulle that when France was liberated, “he [de Gaulle] will be the necessary man, or, rather, the only possible man when the idea of resistance and the fact of liberation form a bond among the French.” Therefore, “the government can have only one leader: the man who awakened and who embodies the spirit of Resistance in France.” On several occasions he warned de Gaulle that if it proved necessary “to wipe the slate clean” of Vichy institutions and swiftly seize power, he should nevertheless respect the will of the people and the essential role of political parties, “since France will become a democracy again, won’t it? And there is no democratic government without political parties.” De Gaulle did not fail to respond: “We here are aware of your admirable firmness. We are not ignorant of your struggles and trials. … Liberation is coming. … Rest assured that we know what role the Socialist Party played in the Resistance, in its front ranks.” After seeking Blum’s “accord and cooperation” on various projects, de Gaulle added: “I beg you, Mr. Prime Minister, to accept this assurance of my deep and devoted respect.” Later, de Gaulle assured Blum that he could not “imagine how a government could be established or govern” in liberated France without Blum’s cooperation.

Ignoring his own vulnerable position, Blum patiently worked to rebuild and reorganize the Socialist Party with the help of Daniel Mayer, who worked underground to integrate Socialist resistance networks with the National Resistance Committee. Blum protested when de Gaulle seemed to favor the Communist resistance network over the Socialist one, although he was also committed to bringing the Communist Party back into French politics after the war, provided that the USSR returned to the international community and the French Communist Party rejoined the French community. Blum insisted on this because “French Communists are risking their lives. They are in the front ranks of the victims of repression as well as in the Resistance. Hitler has singled them out along with the Jews as hostages and victims.” From his prison cell Blum thus tirelessly carried on the fight against Vichy and its German allies.

After Allied troops landed in North Africa, the Germans reacted rapidly. On November 11, 1942, they invaded the Southern Zone and occupied all of France. From his prison, Blum could see German troops moving south. He worried not only for himself but also for Janot, who was also Jewish. He had been horrified by the roundup of Paris Jews by French police in July 1942 and was fully aware of another roundup near Riom of foreign Jews, who had been sent to the transit camp at Drancy. He wrote:

A steady stream of German cars and trucks moved down the highway. … It was the first time I had seen anything like it.

Janot, my love, writing to you calms me down. I should have done it sooner. … What I want to say at once is that I admire you. I admire your courage, your firmness, and the calm you bring to the inevitable inner turmoil, my beloved. I admire your existence. I admire your love. And when I think of the state of nervous exhaustion, physical overwork, and chronic insomnia you must have been in when these stunning events took place. … Janot, my love, I hope you don’t have to pay for all this.

The only way he could think of protecting her was to marry her. Blum wrote to his attorney: “If she were my regular and lawful wife, she might have a little less difficulty. In my eyes, this is the decisive reason. It is the reason I have been able to overcome the private doubts I’ve confided to you.” Overtures were made to Vichy. Joseph Barthélemy, the minister of justice, was contacted once again, and he facilitated the marriage. A ceremony was arranged, but last-minute administrative difficulties intervened. Life went on. Blum learned that his only possession, a small plot of land near Narbonne, had been seized. The “property of the Jew Léon Blum” was put up for public auction.

Nothing derailed him. On February 3, 1943, he wrote to a friend, one Madame Camel: “I received your package from Noch. The ham hock was wonderful. I haven’t yet eaten the prunes, but I know the species and look forward to eating them. … The household routine remains the same, except that occasionally new guards appear from outside.” Suddenly, however, on March 31, 1943, things changed. After visits from René Bousquet, the secretary-general of the Vichy police and the man responsible for the July 1942 roundup of French Jews, and the no less redoubtable Colonel Helmut Knochen of the SS, representing Himmler, Blum was removed from Bourrassol by German troops. Thus began the much-feared journey into the unknown. He had just enough time to send a few last letters to Janot: “Tonight all my thoughts are with you. … I dare not hope I will see you again. … My heart is broken, but do not doubt my courage or endurance. What will become of you? … I think of you constantly.” And this: “I have no hope of seeing you today. I think of you constantly. You are everywhere, and especially in my thoughts. … Know with certainty, absolute certainty, that I am holding up well and will continue to do so. … I worry for you. … I will write you every day as if certain that my letters are reaching you. My heart belongs to you.” And finally: “I will momentarily be leaving this place, which has been ours. My thoughts are and will remain with you. I promise you I will return intact. I hug you. Léon.” Le Populaire, now being published clandestinely and passed “from hand to hand,” protested and issued fanciful threats:

Léon Blum deported!! He is the leader of French Socialism. He was the head of the Popular Front government. In addition —since this point has been raised by the bloody butchers from across the Rhine—he was born a Jew. All these qualities place him in grave danger. The Socialist Party, which has taken steps in response to the situation, has drawn up a list of hostages who will answer for anything that happens to him. They are Philippe Pétain, Pierre Laval, Bousquet, and Barthélemy.

Taken to Germany as a valuable prize potentially useful in some future prisoner exchange, Blum was held in Buchenwald, where he was guarded by the SS. He was confined some distance away from the camp where so many deportees died, in a small hunting lodge that Himmler had built. In a cruel twist of fate, the lodge was situated on the very hill where Goethe had once liked to meditate. Blum shared quarters but not ideas with Georges Mandel, a strict proponent of law and order, a patriot and adversary of the Popular Front, and a Jew detested, as Blum was, by the extreme right, with which he nevertheless maintained cordial relations in the face of common threats. “I was in the hands of Nazis,” Blum wrote. “For them I represented something more than a French politician. I also embodied what they hated most in the world, since I was a democratic socialist and a Jew.”

Excerpted from Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist, by Pierre Birnbaum, published by Yale University Press. Copyright 2015 by Pierre Birnbaum. Reprinted by Permission.


Pierre Birnbaum is professor emeritus at the Sorbonne. He is the author or co-author of 17 books, including Anti-Semitism in France, The Jews of the Republic, and Geography of Hope.

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