Epistolary Hate: Letters of Denunciation against Jews in Vichy France (1940-1944)
AdvisorLe Hir, Marie-Pierre
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis dissertation explores a collection of letters of denunciation against Jews during Vichy France 1940-1944 which is housed at the Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris. In order to situate this epistolary corpus in its historical context, the opening chapter recounts the ambivalent relationship of France with its Jewish population, i.e., the continuity of French anti-Semitic images and tropes during the German Occupation, and the centrality of anti-Semitism as an organizing principle of Vichy's project of National Revolution. Methodological and theoretical considerations are presented in a chapter informed by the work of Derrida, Foucault, and Schwab that deals with the politics of commemoration and memorialization of the Shoah in France. The Mémorial de la Shoah itself is theorized as a fortress and crypt where repressed memories are confined, the archive housing artifacts of trauma, which are the letters themselves. One hundred and twenty six were examined through a literary lens shaped by the reading of critical theorists so as to identify the rhetorical devices and the various types of discourse that organize them. Based on this taxonomy, the second part of the dissertation provides a detailed analysis of twenty-five letters of denunciation that illustrate the representative types of discourse that inform this corpus of epistolary hatred: the discourses of otherness, illegality, propaganda and civic engagement, and the affective discourses of vengeance, envy, and inverted victimhood. Each of these letters is also read in relation to the anti-Jewish legislation of the time (Statuts des Juifs and German Ordinances) and the work of historians who specialize in Vichy France, thereby unearthing the voice of the everyday perpetrators of the regime, who, in their small mindedness felt a certain agency and power that could turn lethal. But because perpetrators and victims are inextricably entwined in these texts, one can also infer the silent presence, the testimony of the victims they denounced. With this insight in mind, we conclude by revisiting the issue of memorialization, the preservation or erasure of sites of memory of the Shoah in France.
Degree ProgramGraduate College