This week in the War, 24 Feb–2 March 1941: Diary of a Witness

Diary of a Witness, 1940--1943 --- by Raymond-Raoul Lambert [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

Diary of a Witness, 1940–1943 — by Raymond-Raoul Lambert [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

Raymond-Raoul Lambert was one of the most prominent leaders of the Jewish community in France during the 1930s and the early years of the war.

From 1941 to 1943, he headed the Union Générale des Israélites de France (UGIF), which was established in the ‘free zone’ by the Vichy government. Between 12 July 1940 and 5 November 1943 he kept a diary, which has been translated into English and published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: Diary of a Witness 1940–1943 (Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 2007).

This week in the war, Lambert made two entries in his diary.

The first was on Monday 24 February 1941. He wrote about the infamous Statut des Juifs, that the Vichy government had enacted in October. He mentioned how a Vichy spokesman had told an American journalist: “The Statut was neither demanded nor imposed on us by the occupying authorities [i.e. the Germans]. The [Vichy] government takes full responsibility for it.”

No surprise. Vichy and particularly the (fired) vice-president, Pierre Laval, had been proactive in their persecution of the Jews.

Lambert lists some causes, including the influence of German propaganda, and the activities of the decades-old and anti-Jewish Action française.

The next day, Tuesday 25 February 1941, Lambert’s attention turns to food shortages.

Gendarmes handle identity check and registration of Jews, France 1941 [Attr: Bundesarchiv Bild 183-B10921, wikimedia commons]

Gendarmes handle identity check and registration of Jews, France 1941 [Attr: Bundesarchiv Bild 183-B10921, wikimedia commons]

He says that the Boche had requisitioned most of France’s food, and comments on the British naval blockade. (There would be no more cheap coal from the south of Wales!).

His wife, Simone, must queue up at the butcher’s by 7.00am. A turkey cost him 200 francs.

A miscellany of prices can be found in Robert Gildea’s marvellous Marianne in Chains—Daily Life in the Heart of France during the German Occupation (Metropolitan Books, 2002): 80 francs for a chicken, and about the same for a litre of wine—although the cost could be much more in Paris. To this in perspective, the minimum wage in Nantes, for example, was 1,000 francs per month.

Back to Raymond-Raoul Lambert:

On 21 August 1943, he was arrested and sent to the French concentration camp at Drancy. A few months later, he and his wife, Simone, and their four children were shipped to Auschwitz. All perished.

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