Subtitled “The Rescue of Jews in France during the Holocaust”, Henry’s book was not at all what I expected and really is four books in one — part examination of the role religion played in a particular region of France’s decision to rescue Jews, part biography of two people who rescued Jews, part condemnation of Yad Vashem’s decision to exclude Jews who rescued Jews from the list of ‘Righteous Among the Nations’, part literary investigation into Albert Camus’ The Plague. That’s quite a bit to cover in 200 pages!
The first part was certainly Henry’s strongest and most interesting. People who subscribed to a specific religion, a specific god stood by while those committed no crime were rounded-up, deported, and murdered, and in many cases they actually benefited from this. However, Henry discusses a certain plateau in France — Vivarais-Lignon — comprised mostly of French Protestants hiding Jews in plain sight because not doing should be compromising their religious principles. His argument was strengthened by the attention he paid to why French Protestants and not German Protestants would rescue Jews.
Of the two people discussed in the book, Madeleine Dreyfus’ story was the bridge between the first and second arguments of the book. That is, like Vivette Samuel, Dreyfus worked tirelessly with a Jewish organization to save Jewish children on the particular plateau mentioned in the first part of the book. Because she was a Jew working to save other Jews, Dreyfus has not been recognized as ‘Righteous Among the Nations’, which Henry sees as an erroneous decision. For him, there should be no expectation that Jews would rescue other Jews and to refuse to recognize the efforts of Jews trivializes the pain suffered by their families upon their discovery, deportation, separation, and, often times, death. For him, there is also the problem that children around the world know the names of those who committed the atrocities of the Holocaust but not those who worked against the machinery of death through rescue and resistance.
“How ironic that our children and we ourselves know the names of Klaus Barbie, Goebbels, Goering, Eichmann, Himmler, and Hitler but not the names of those who risked their lives to hide and protect the Frank family. Are not he names of Victor Kugler and Jan Kleinman and Miep Giess and Elizabeth Van Vosquijl to be remembered in remembering the Holocaust?” (pg. 145)
My least favorite and the most boring section of this book was when Henry addressed The Plague by Albert Camus. Camus was actually living on the Vivarais-Lignon plateau at the time of the book’s writing and the Holocaust. Published in 1947, the Nobel Prize winning book tells the story of the townspeople of Oran in the grip of a deadly plague, which condemns its victims to a swift and horrifying death. Although the book is set in Algeria, which is also the place where Camus first imagined the book, Henry connects several of the books’ horrors to those happening right outside Camus’ front door. But having never read the book, I was upset to have the book so thoroughly spoiled for me. I’m sure I would have enjoyed and appreciated this section much more had I read Camus’ book previously, but it will take some time to forget all the details of that book spilled in this book.
Overall, I found this well-written book to be a fairly thought-provoking read, especially in relation to the recognition of rescuers after the war. Henry imparted upon me some information I did not previously know. I’m just not sure if the book will gain a space on my bookshelf as it’s awfully expensive — $57.09 for 200 pages! I am still suffering from sticker shock!
- Henry, Patrick. We Only Know Men: The Rescue of Jews in France during the Holocaust. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2007. Print. 192 pgs. ISBN: 9780813214931. Source: Purchased.
Book Cover © CUA Press. Retrieved: February 6, 2011.