In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Holocaust in France

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Collected Studies
  • Published Primary Sources
  • Underground Press
  • Diaries by Jews
  • Diaries by Non-Jews
  • Collection of Letters
  • Postwar Memoirs and Testimonies
  • Anti-Semitism in France
  • The Vichy Regime
  • The French Population and the Vichy Regime
  • The German Occupying Authorities
  • Anti-Semitic Legislation and Deportations to the Death Camps
  • Exclusion
  • Looting
  • Concentration Camps
  • The French Population and the Persecution of the Jews
  • Jewish Organizations
  • Resistance and Rescue Activity
  • Regional Studies
  • The Memory of the Holocaust

Jewish Studies The Holocaust in France
Renée Poznanski
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 July 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0089


Since the screening in 1985 of Claude Lanzmann’s monumental documentary film Shoah, this term—Shoah—has, in France, come to replace the term Holocaust when referring to the destruction of the Jews by the Nazis during World War II, in popular culture as well as in scholarly literature. 80,000 Jews—25 percent of the Jewish population present in the country—perished between 1940 and 1944. The vast majority of the victims had immigrated to France since the beginning of the century; some had acquired French citizenship during the 1920s and the 1930s; others had not. The persecution of the Jews in France (anti-Semitic legislation followed by internment in French camps and deportations to the death camps in the East) is closely intertwined with the evolution of the Vichy regime, the National Revolution that its leader (the Marechal Pétain) implemented, and the regime’s policy of collaboration with the Nazis. After an early postwar phase during which historiography on the fate of the Jews in France during the war seemed to be the concern of a handful of Jewish historians, working in the Centre de documentation juive contemporaine (CDJC), it began to develop considerably following the publication of Robert Paxton’s book on Vichy France (Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, New York: Knopf, 1972; 1973 in its French version), and the book he wrote in collaboration with Michael Marrus, Vichy and the Jews (New York: Basic Books, 1981). The growing interest in the history of French policy under the occupation, combined with a rising focus on the Holocaust throughout the Western world, explain the multiplication of studies on diverse aspects of the Vichy persecution of the Jews that were published in the 1990s. The differences and the evolution of these differences between the geographical “zones” of occupation (the occupied zone, including Paris; the so-called Free Zone, unoccupied until November 1942; the Italian zone between November 1942 and September 1943, etc.) led to a number of regional studies, reflecting an interesting disparity between those regions. Based on the fact that 75 percent of the Jewish population escaped deportation, the most recent historiography seems to focus on trying to find an explanation to this relatively high percentage rate of rescue as compared to other West European countries, attributing it mostly to rescue actions by French citizens (the “civil society”) embodied in the figure of the “Righteous of France.”

General Overviews

The first comprehensive book on the persecution of the Jews by the Vichy regime (Marrus and Paxton 1981) set the tone for most of the works to follow. The policy of the French government toward the Jews, rather than the persecution measures by the occupying powers, became the main focus. Klarsfeld 1983–1985 argues with some details of Marrus and Paxton’s book as the author published a large amount of documents in his two volumes. In the 1990s, general overviews integrated the history of the persecution and the history of the victims into one narrative, moving the focus on the reaction of Jews themselves to the persecution. Kaspi 1991 offers a relative short synthesis, while Zuccotti 1993 elaborates on the role of Jewish organizations and Poznanski 2001 (first published in French in 1994) underlines the interaction between the Jews and the French population.

  • Kaspi, André. Les juifs en France pendant l’Occupation. Paris: Seuil, 1991.

    This is a narrative survey, based on secondary sources, that provides a reliable synthesis suitable for general readers and undergraduates.

  • Klarsfeld, Serge. Vichy-Auschwitz. 2 vols. Paris: Fayard, 1983–1985.

    These two volumes contain a good collection of administrative documents (French and German; in French translation) illustrating Vichy’s policy and its articulation in line with German objectives.

  • Marrus, Michael R., and Robert O. Paxton. Vichy France and the Jews. New York: Basic Books, 1981.

    The first monograph drawing on Paxton’s book on Vichy France, it presents a thorough analysis of the Vichy regime policy toward the Jews, showing its singularity, its articulation in line with the German policy, and its implementation by different governmental agencies. It remains the seminal book on the anti-Semitic policy of the French government during World War II. Some historians, though, are challenging the author’s depiction of the French population and its anti-Semitism. Reprinted by Schocken Books, 1983.

  • Poznanski, Renee. Jews in France during World War Two. Translated by Nathan Bracher. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2001.

    A comprehensive general overview (first published in French in 1994), with a special focus on the daily life of the Jews and their strategy of survival, as they relied on their connections to the French population, or on the Jewish organizations. Translated from French. Published for Brandeis University Press in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

  • Zuccotti, Susan. The Holocaust, the French, and the Jews. New York: Basic Books, 1993.

    Synthetic history based on memoirs and primary sources that describes the fate of the Jews in France during the war.

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