Friday, September 28, 2012

Jewish Resistance Collection

The Jewish Resistance collection at the Brandeis University Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department contains 1.5 linear feet of propaganda material, individual testimonies, newsletters, and other documents pertaining to Jewish resistance movements in Europe during World War II. This unprocessed collection contains documents in English, French, German, Polish, Dutch, Spanish, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Italian. Documents include postwar reports on Nazi atrocities and assorted Nazi paraphernalia. Clandestine publications included in the collection deal with a range of issues, from major wartime events to the activities of Jewish resistance organizations. One such publication, a German antifascist pamphlet from 1933, is cleverly disguised as an owner’s manual for an Electrolux vacuum cleaner.

Outside: Vacuum Cleaner- the best is Electrolux!  
Inside: From Arson to Lynching- The Rise and Fall of the National Socialist Bell
The collection also includes a sizeable collection of French Jewish resistance newspapers and propaganda distributed in Nice during the last year or so of the war. Somewhat out of step with its overall theme, the collection also includes several full-color magazines put out by the Bulgarian Communist Party in the 1970s.
As one of the central events of Jewish resistance under Nazi domination, the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising features prominently in a number of these publications. Differing interpretations of this event shed light on the experience of the war for Europe’s Jews in general, as well as the ideological differences within the Jewish resistance.
During the war, French Jewish resisters produced a range of documents that publicized and interpreted the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Collecting what information they could, they attempted to piece together the experiences of European Jews in the East and used those experiences to reflect on the meaning and value of Jewish resistance in Europe as a whole. This Spotlight focuses on two accounts. The first account is contained in the April 1944 issue of the Jewish communist resistance newspaper Notre Voix. The collection contains several issues of this paper as well as issues of several similar typewritten underground newspapers corresponding to different resistance organizations. Notre Voix provides an ideologically specific interpretation of the uprising and its consequences. In July 1944, a resistance group calling itself the Jewish Committee of Unity and Defense produced a longer, typewritten account of the uprising that places that event within the broader context of Nazi atrocities in Europe. The Jewish Committee’s interpretation of the event contains a very different interpretation of its meaning and importance. These two accounts reflect differing attempts to reconcile two contradictory images of the wartime Jew, as passive victim and as courageous resister. 
Communist groups, perhaps unsurprisingly, tended to emphasize the role of (or fabricate a role for) the Soviet Union in the event. The April 1944 issue of Notre Voix contains an account of how, “inspired by the glorious example of their Soviet brothers, 35,000 Jews of Warsaw raised themselves, weapons in hand, against the ferocious enemy.”  
 The account is characterized by rather blatant factual inaccuracies, though this not especially surprising in a piece of propaganda. Most likely, 600-800 Jewish fighters engaged in the uprising, causing relatively minor material damage to the German army before being wiped out.The article also tells how, although 30,000 were killed, “some thousands of Jews” managed to escape with their lives and join the Polish partisans. While some of the ghetto residents and fighters did manage to escape into the forest, this newsletter uses that fact to imply that acts of apparently hopeless armed resistance could have positive strategic value.

In addition to converting a small and hopeless rebellion into a major battle, Communist propaganda converted a ghetto population that might otherwise have appeared passive into a community of heroes. According to Notre Voix, the ghetto fighters died “not as fattened beasts but as heroic combatants. The Jews of Warsaw chose the glorious path of struggle […] it was not the hope of defeating that ferocious enemy that animated the heroic combatants of the Warsaw ghetto, but to make the Nazi bandits pay dearly for their lives, to defend their honor, to use all chances to save from extermination a part at least of the Jewish population.”2
It seems plausible that, in order to make armed resistance appear more hopeful and practical, these propagandists might have inflated both the casualties suffered by the Jewish resisters and the degree of military success they achieved. The rhetoric of this article reflects its multiple functions: as a recruitment tool for armed resistance, as a publicity broadside for international communism, and as a tribute to the experience of the ghetto fighters.
Another document in the collection, put out by the “Jewish Committee of Unity and Defense” in July of 1944, contains a differing account of the same event that nonetheless reflects the essential tension between images of the Jew as resister and as victim. The document consists of a short description of Nazi war crimes in France, followed by a much longer appendix that describes the events of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in detail.  
To begin with, its author interprets the causes of the uprising very differently from his communist counterpart. “In effect, the success of the Allies in North Africa reanimated their hope that life and liberty matter when we fight for them. They were also encouraged to revolt by the example of the Polish clandestine movement.”3 The influence of the heroic Red Army is nowhere in sight in this account, while the often rabidly anticommunist Polish underground and the armed forces of the western allies takes its place. Unlike in the Notre Voix account, the sources for the information are clearly stated. In large part, the account is drawn from documents distributed by the Polish government in exile in London as well as information disseminated over the radio by the Polish underground radio operator “Swit.” Among other things, Swit reported that there were “300 dead and over 1000 injured” on the German side during the fighting, a much more plausible figure.4
"Adama Czerniakowa dziennik getta warszawskiego"
wyd. Marian Fuks, PWN, Warszawa 1983, public domain.
Of particular interest is this document’s handling of a controversial individual: the head of Warsaw’s Jewish Council, Adam Czerniakow. 
Here no attempt is made to deal with the implications of Jewish collaboration, and instead Czerniakow is treated as purely a victim of the Germans. The document tells of his death as follows: “In the evening of July 23, two functionaries of the German police visited again with Czerniakoff, who committed suicide a few moments after their departure. No one knew what had happened but it seems from the notes found after his death and a letter destined for his wife that he had decided to give his life when he realized that the Germans intended to change the first contingent of transfers to 10,000 and the daily contingent to 7,000. It is thus that the heroic mayor of the ghetto of Warsaw demonstrated in an indelible manner the horror and the indignation that he felt before the mass deportation of his people.” The document’s author then claims that Czerniakow likely knew what would happen when his constituents arrived at Treblinka, but opines that his sacrifice was useless and largely overlooked at the time.5
In addition to the peculiarity of an interpretation of Czerniakow as a “heroic mayor” rather than a complex, tragic figure and a leading collaborator, the emphasis on his “useless” sacrifice serves as a preface to the description of the fighting in the ghetto that occurs soon after. After describing the fighting rather vaguely based on spotty information, the document concludes: “thus the Jewish population of Warsaw paid even more dearly than the Poles for its resistance to the Germans... but resistance was achieved in the silent protest of death with the extermination of the last Jew and the complete destruction of the ghetto itself.”6 This rather hopeless note contrasts sharply with the nearly fanatical dynamism of the communist account of the battle.
The piece finds a subtle and nuanced synthesis between the very real victimization experienced by the Jews of the ghetto and their equally real and courageous resistance activities. “The atrocious persecutions of which they have been victims have demoralized and depressed the Jews of France. Others have had a more virile reaction. They are not resigned, they have not wanted to submit themselves to an implacable death, they have passed to the camp of men who are free and fighting, weapons in hand…”7 What at first appears to be a story of fruitless sacrifice is here revalorized as evidence of the “virility” and quality of Polish Jewry, and an example to French Jews of how they ought to behave.

In these two examples, it can be seen how different opinions of the Jewish role in armed resistance to the Germans influenced two separate retellings of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising roughly one year after its occurrence. The communist interpretation of the events, aside from being manipulated to suit a narrative that emphasized the heroism of the Red Army, also presents a view of Jewish resistance that conveniently reconciles the Jew as victim and the Jew as resister. A small, hopeless symbolic uprising is presented as a mass uprising of the entire ghetto in which every resident died fighting, thus disguising the fact that many of the ghetto’s Jews did not or could not fight. Meanwhile, the version of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising told by the Jewish Committee of Unity and Defense is more factually accurate and provides a more positive impression of the moral strength of the Jewish people, presenting even the head of Warsaw’s Jewish Council as a hero of the resistance. This telling privileges the symbolic value of acts of resistance, awarding Czerniakow and the ghetto fighters alike the title of hero for protesting with “the silence of death,” even while admitting the strategic uselessness of their gestures. In each case, through reflecting on the resistance of Jews both in France and in Poland, French Jewish resistance organizations began to work toward retrospective visions of the Jewish experience of World War II that would be politically useful and emotionally acceptable for their members—retrospective visions that could take into account both the worst humiliations of the Holocaust and the greatest acts of heroism undertaken by Jewish resistance fighters.

description by Drew Flanagan, Archives & Special Collections Assistant and PhD candidate in History
1 Alfred Katz, Poland’s Ghettos at War (New York: Twayne Publishers, inc., 1970), 80.
2 Francois Billoux, “Notre Voix #71”, April 1944, Jewish Resistance Collection, unprocessed, Robert D. Farber University Archives, Brandeis University.
3 Jewish Committee of Unity and Defense, Northern Zone, “Nazi Atrocities: The Massacre of Jews (with appendix on the Warsaw ghetto)”, July 1944, 11, Jewish Resistance Collection, unprocessed, Robert D. Farber University Archives, Brandeis University.
Ibid., 12.
Ibid., 5.
Ibid., appendix 12.
Ibid., 7.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Marcel Proust letters

In search of letters by Marcel Proust at Brandeis University? Mais oui!

Among the gems of literary history that are housed in the Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department are twenty-three original letters penned between 1913 and 1916 by Marcel Proust, the writer many consider the greatest French novelist of the twentieth century. Although the letters in the Brandeis collection represent only a fraction of those that Proust wrote during this pivotal period, they are among some of the most important documents in the publication history of his 3,000-page tome, À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time). The letters articulate fundamental concerns that he had about the editing process, and, in turn, they serve to illuminate larger dimensions of Proust’s novel and his literary aesthetics. Unlike the manuscript pages for Proust grand novel, which are located in the Bibliothèque Nationale (Richelieu) in Paris, these letters are readily accessible to all readers. No need to prove the relevance of this correspondence to a research project or provide academic credentials. Interest in these intriguing letters will suffice.

The Proust letters at Brandeis date from February 1913, the year that saw the publication of Du côté de chez Swann (Swann’s Way), the first volume of the Search. They include key negotiations with his first editor and publisher, Bernard Grasset, and they reveal Proust’s preoccupations with the shape and format of his novel, the reception that he envisioned for his book, and the truths that he hoped readers would discover within its pages. In addition, the letters bear witness to ups and downs in the personal and professional relationship between Proust and Grasset. The opening and closing formulas that Proust uses in his written exchanges with Grasset from 1913 to 1916 reflect the evolution of their partnership: we see the happy beginnings of their collaboration and subsequently the gradual slide toward distanced politeness that precedes the dissolution of their business dealings. The last letter in the Brandeis collection dates from 1916, the year that Proust leaves Éditions Grasset for Gaston Gallimard's NRF (Nouvelle Revue Française). The correspondence between Proust and Grasset is of particular interest now, given that 2013 marks the centennial of the publication of Swann.

Of the twenty-three letters that Brandeis possesses, all are handwritten by Proust on cream-colored laid paper, except for one, which is typed on stationery bearing the letterhead of the French newspaper Le Figaro. Twenty-two are addressed to Grasset, and one letter, dating from April 1914, is addressed to Louis Brun, Grasset’s friend and business partner. Although twenty of the letters are undated, they appear—with dates—in the writer’s correspondence that was published (in French) between 1971 and 1992 by the renowned Proust scholar Philip Kolb. Three of the letters at Brandeis are accompanied by typed transcriptions in French, and one of those also includes a typed English translation. Moreover, seven letters in the Brandeis collection appear in translation in Kolb’s Selected Letters. These English versions are a testimony to the challenges of reconstructing the chronology of Proust's communications; the dates for two of the French transcriptions differ from those of Kolb's corresponding translations.

Because the provenance of these letters is unclear, this collection has a certain air of mystery about it. Kolb’s bibliographic citations do not provide clues, and the records at Brandeis are a bit murky regarding their acquisition, although a 1966 Brandeis University Bulletin announces the acquisition of the letters and quotes Milton Hindus, the Peter and Elizabeth Wolkenstein Professor of English, on their scholarly value. Readers interested in details about the publication process of In Search of Lost Time as it documented in these letters and its role in shaping the ultimate form of Proust's novel can turn to Proust’s Deadline by Christine Cano. The historical, social, and literary context that she provides is a useful guide to the people and events mentioned in these letters, and it fleshes out Proust's thoughts about the effects of the editing process on the overall structure and message of his book.

For both scholars and general readers of In Search of Lost Time, physical contact with this correspondence serves to join turn-of-the-century Paris to the present. Poring over Proust’s notoriously difficult handwriting, examining the stationery that he himself touched, and sensing the rhythms of his thoughts are interpretive acts that may rival those necessary for reading Proust’s magnum opus. The tactile reality of these letters fosters at once an emotional intimacy and an intellectual bond between the reader and this French writer who died in 1922.

The challenge of dealing with Proust’s manuscripts, above and beyond his infamously poor handwriting, are well known to students of his work, and many of his peculiar graphic habits show up in his letters. Like his manuscripts that devolve into a maze of paragraphs sprouting in divergent directions on a single page, Proust’s letters tend to unfurl in unusual ways. Typically, on a horizontal sheet of stationery folded into halves, the right-hand side is covered with words flowing from top to bottom; page two continues in the same manner on a separate sheet of paper, also folded into two sections. For page three, Proust turns page two vertically and writes along the fold, continuing to the bottom of the sheet of paper; and page 4 begins at the halfway fold of page one and continues to the bottom of that page. To take full advantage of the writing space he has, Proust often adds notes in the blank areas at the beginning and end of his letters. These meticulous efforts to fill the space available to him anticipate Proust’s suggestions, spelled out in later letters (1.2, for example), for extending into the margin the text of his too-lengthy first volume in an attempt to squeeze his manuscript into the number of pages prescribed by Grasset.

One of the most moving aspects of these letters is their representation in metaphorical terms of the substantial obstacles that Proust had to overcome in order to publish Swann and the rest of his novel. As Proust’s thoughts unfold on paper and his sinuous sentences deplete the ink in his fountain pen, the fading words are a physical reminder of his struggles against poor health, dwindling financial reserves, and, of course, the passage of time. When, after a stretch of fading text, suddenly dark, bold words reappear, reinforced and strengthened from a fresh dip of the pen, the reader senses that Proust, having taken a deep breath, is ready to continue observing, assessing, reflecting, and, above all, writing.

A closer look at the earliest letter (1.7) in the Brandeis collection gives a good idea of the dense layers of information for which many of these pages of correspondence can be mined. In this initial letter, written on February 24, 1913, Proust has clearly concluded a deal that makes Grasset the publisher of what will eventually become Du côté de chez Swann. By this time, Proust had already met with rejection from five other editors, so it is not surprising that he seems thrilled finally to be working with Grasset. The author expresses concerns about the editing and publication process, especially the negative effect that they may have on the format of his novel. Particularly worrisome to him is the problem posed by its excessive length, more than 700 pages. Determined to squeeze more words into the limited number of pages of the first volume, Proust suggests a smaller font size. (Nevertheless, despite his efforts in future letters to invent more ways to reduce the book's heft, Swann eventually will appear in bookstores with no fewer than 523 pages [Cano 49].)

In order to avoid becoming a financial drain (“une mauvaise affaire”) on Grasset and to retain some control over the eventual configuration of his book, Proust states his clear intention to pay the full cost of advertising and publishing the novel (“tous les frais de l’édition ainsi que la publicité"). Above all, the author wishes to preserve the intrinsic coherence of his work, whether or not it is immediately obvious to his readers. He is confident that the second volume—at this point, there are only two on the immediate horizon--will sell more easily ("fera peut'être une meilleure vente") because it is a more traditional narrative and contains a scandalous scene ("il est infiniment plus narratif et peut'être aussi car il est fort indécent"), but he hopes that its element of licentiousness does not prove to be the only reason for its financial success ("mais je regretterai que ce fut là la cause de son succès").

Similar efforts to safeguard the structure and format of his book emerge in this same letter during Proust's discussion with Grasset about the title of his novel. At this point, the author has given his work the provisional title Lost Time (1st part) and Lost Time (2nd part) [Le Temps Perdu (1ère partie) et l'autre Le Temps Perdu (2e partie)], which he justifies "because in truth it is a single work" ("[p]uisque en réalité c'est un seul ouvrage").

Proust mentions three excerpts from his manuscript, "Épines blanches, épines roses"; "Rayon de soleil sur le balcon"; and "L’Église de village," that had previously appeared in Le Figaro, and he suggests that Grasset read them in order to get "an idea (rather inexact at that) of the configuration" (“une idée [assez inexacte d’ailleurs] de la forme”) of the book that he will be publishing. Between March and September 1912, Le Figaro had published these short texts ("prépublications") from the first volume in order to build readers' interest in the novel. Proust tells Grasset that he plans to furnish more excerpts to Le Figaro or to another newspaper, Le Temps, before the appearance of the book in bookstores. At the end of this letter in a post scriptum, Proust indicates his hope that Swann can be published in May 1913, although he admits that this might not be possible. As an alternative, he proposes the beginning of October 1913 for the first volume and June 1914 for the second.

Du côté de chez Swann (Swann’s Way) is finally published in November of 1913, but world events delay the balance of Proust’s plans. By August 1914, Europe is engulfed in war, Grasset has been drafted, and the publication of Proust’s novel is suspended indefinitely. The second volume of In Search of Lost Time eventually finds its way into print in 1918, published by Gallimard's Nouvelle Revue Française instead of Éditions Grasset, which Proust leaves in 1916. The letters in the rest of this collection offer readers insights into the artistic differences and pragmatic disagreements that will lead to the rupture. This invaluable collection of letters enables the reader to retrace key moments in the publication history of In Search of Lost Time, to relive Proust's anxieties about and aspirations for his book, and to gain a new level of understanding about how the production process ultimately shaped the first volume of this groundbreaking French novel.

description by Hollie Harder, Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies, and Director of the Language Programs, Romance Studies

I want to express my heartfelt thanks to Archives & Special Collections Director Sarah Shoemaker, Professor Stephen Whitfield (AMST), and Professor Martine Voiret (ROMS) for alerting me to these letters and helping me explore their contents.
Works Cited

Cano, Christine. Proust’s Deadline. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.

Kolb, Phillip, ed. Correspondance de Marcel Proust. Paris: Plon, 1970.

-----. Marcel Proust: Selected Letters. Trans. Terence Kilmartin. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992.

Proust, Marcel. A la recherche du temps perdu. Paris: Gallimard, 1987-89.

-----. In Search of Lost Time. Trans. C.K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, and D.J. Enright. New York: Modern Library, 2003.