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Charlotte Wardi

b. 1928

by Alan Astro

Charlotte Wardi, professor of French and comparative literature at the University of Haifa—and for a time general inspector of French-language instruction in Israel—was born in Cologne on September 21, 1928 and brought to France at the age of five months. Her father, Herman Henri Fass (1894–1956), was born in Strgyzow, Poland. Her mother, Fanny (née Silbiger-Messinger), was born in 1894 in Vizhnits (a town in Austria-Hungary before World War I; today in Ukraine). Both parents reached Cologne as children and attended high school. They married in 1923 and immigrated to France in 1929. Their first child, Leopold (1924–1985), studied in Paris at the École des Hautes Études Commerciales and also studied law.

Until the outbreak of World War II Charlotte Fass attended the École Sophie Germain in Lille. From the beginning of the German occupation in 1940 until 1942 she was a pupil in the towns of Dinard and Suresnes-Cité Jardins. From 1942 to 1944 she studied in the south of France at the Collège de Jeunes Filles in Montélimar.

Wardi, who stems from a religious family, is a committed Zionist. When World War II broke out, her family fled from their home in Lille, seeking refuge in the so-called “non-occupied” or Vichy zone in the south. Wardi and her mother were arrested on June 21, 1944, and on August 11, 1944, shortly before the Allies liberated the region of Lyon, Klaus Barbie sent the two women—as well as an uncle of Wardi’s—to Auschwitz, as part of a convoy of six hundred and fifty prisoners. Her mother and uncle were murdered. Her father and brother escaped this fate because they were in hiding. Selected to work in a munitions factory in Bohemia, Wardi was liberated by the Red Army. She testified at Barbie’s trial, held in Lyon in 1987.

After the war Wardi studied at the Lycée Fénelon in Lille and received her M. A. in comparative literature at the Université de Paris VIII and her doctorate in 1970 at the Sorbonne. In 1948 she married Zvi (Herman) Wolf, a technician born in 1925, by whom she had a son, Meir (b. 1951). They divorced in 1958. Her second marriage, in 1959, was to Reuven Wardi, a research chemist (b. 1920) who died in 1996. The couple had two children: Eli (b. 1960) and Noémie (b. 1962).

Wardi’s 1970 doctoral thesis at the Sorbonne, published three years later as a book (Le Juif dans le roman français, 1933–1948 [The Jew in the French Novel, 1933–1948])—is one of the most thorough studies of the subject and a veritable precursor of what is nowadays called “cultural studies.” Its first section surveys French novelists who portrayed Jews in their works, dividing them into four categories based on their treatment of Jews: humanists (such as Georges Duhamel [1884–1966], Roger Martin du Gard [1881–1958] and Jules Romains [1885–1972]), existentialists (exemplified by Jean-Paul Sartre), antisemites (such as Louis-Ferdinand Céline [1894–1961] and Pierre Drieu La Rochelle [1893–1945]), and one category of Wardi’s own invention—“a-semites” (typified by André Gide [1869–1951], Paul Morand [1888–1976] or the Tharaud Brothers: Jérôme [1874–1953] and Jean [1877–1952].

In the period studied by Wardi, those she calls the “humanists” among the French writers laud Jews for their universalism or progressivism, supposedly typical traits that for the antisemite became negative: rootlessness or sabotage of traditional French values. The Sartrean uses the Jew simply as grist for his dialectical mill (the Jew does not exist in his own right but achieves authenticity by redefining positively the negative image that the antisemite projects on him). Unlike the antisemite, the “a-semite” does not deny humanity to the Jew or call for hatred of him, but presents him as an Other, sometimes exotically enticing, sometimes uncannily repugnant, who is not entirely assimilable to France. Thus the Tharaud Brothers could write an ethnographically-accurate and even sympathetic novel on the Belzer Hasidim, with a title that subverts any solidarity by stressing the characters’ difference from Christianity (À l’ombre de la croix [In the Shadow of the Cross]); and André Gide could comment on the instinctive mistrust or physical revulsion that Jews aroused in him—though most contemporary readers would probably not follow Wardi in her suggestion that Gide’s homosexuality could explain this inability to accept the Other.

What is most interesting about Wardi’s work is not theoretical insight but her encyclopedic capacity to track down Judeophobia in places both likely and unlikely. For example, Wardi presents the following quotation from a novel by Duhamel, a writer considered sympathetic to Jews: “[Sternovitch] was persuaded that one day, he and his fellows, all more or less merchants and usurers, would organize the world…”

The second part of Le Juif dans le roman français offers a typology of Jewish characters in French fiction, with the sad conclusion that the Jew almost never figures as an individual, but simply as the representative of a race, either a martyr or a scapegoat. The French novel of the period provides the usual Jewish suspects: Marxist intellectuals, capitalists, wanderers, patriots, all variously estranged or alienated, some at home neither among the French nor with their co-religionists. Perhaps most interesting for our purposes is what Wardi has to say on the figure of the Jewish woman, whom French writers “employed to express their dreams of flight, thirst for exoticism, and transgression of sexual taboo.” Here we may draw upon another example of Wardi’s precise analysis, when she dissects the portrayal by Jacques Audiberti (1899–1965) of the Jewish actress after World War I. The female Jewish star, supposedly all too common, dictates the lifestyle choices of the petit-bourgeois Frenchwoman and causes the latter’s alienation.

Wardi’s second book, though less encyclopedic than the first, is equally meticulous. Entitled Histoire et représentation: Le génocide dans la fiction romanesque (1956), it questions the portrayal of the Shoah (with an all-too-often attendant kitschiness) by such world-renowned writers as William Styron and Heinrich Böll.

Wardi emigrated to Israel in 1949. Since 1964 she has taught at the University of Haifa where, between 1970 and 1996, she served successively as the head of the Department of Foreign Languages and the Department of General Literature, which later became the Department of Hebrew and Comparative Literature. Actively engaged in various university activities, she developed new teaching methods for French, German and Latin. From 1965 to 1975 she was an inspector (later Chief Inspector) for French studies in Israeli schools. She represented the State of Israel at the bilateral cultural accords with France. For her contribution to the development of French culture in Israel the French government awarded her the title of Officier des Palmes Académiques in 1974. Currently, she is working on a book to be entitled Réticence, répugnance et haine: la représentation antisémite du Juif (Reticence, Repugnance and Hatred: The Antisemitic Representation of the Jew).

SELECTED WORKS BY CHARLOTTE WARDI

Le Juif dans le roman français. Paris: 1973; Histoire et représentation: Le génocide dans la fiction romanesque. Paris: 1986.

How to cite this page

Astro, Alan. "Charlotte Wardi." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 21, 2014) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/wardi-charlotte>.

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