Annette Wieviorka, born in Paris on January 10, 1948, is undoubtedly the best-known of French historians of the Holocaust born after World War II. Not only is she the author of a significant number of scholarly books and articles; she is often quoted in and has contributed to the Parisian dailies Le Monde and Libération as well as the weekly L’Express. She belongs to an illustrious Jewish family. Her grandfather Wolf Wieviorka, born in 1898 in ?yrardów, Poland (44 km WSW of Warsaw), was a Yiddish writer active in Paris from the time of his settling there in 1923; he published short stories and literary criticism in Der parizer haynt (Paris Today) and Di parizer bleter (Paris Pages) in the French capital; Di folkstsaytung (The People’s Newspaper) of Warsaw; Der Forverts (The Jewish Daily Forward) in New York and Di prese (The Press) in Buenos Aires. During the German occupation, he fled to Nice with his companion Gitele, Annette’s grandmother, and two of Gitele’s daughters by her husband in Poland. They were ultimately arrested by the French militia in 1943 and deported by the Germans to Auschwitz. Wolf died in January 1945 on the death march from Auschwitz. Annette’s father Abraham (better known as Aby, 1921–1991) and her uncle Menarrem (i.e., Menahem, better known as Méni, b. 1923) survived in a Swiss camp for aliens.
Family notables also include Wolf Wieviorka’s brother Avrom (1887–1935), who had emigrated to Russia where he fought on the side of the Bolsheviks and became a Yiddish writer close to the régime. Annette’s brothers Michel (b. 1946) and Olivier (b. 1960) are also historians whose names and articles often appear in many scholarly publications and French press organs: Michel is best-known for his work on racism and minorities generally in France; Olivier achieved repute for having interviewed President François Mitterrand at a time when his connections with the Vichy regime underwent renewed scrutiny. Annette’s other sibling, Sylvie—now married to Alain Geismar, a Jew who, like Dany Cohn-Bendit, was a leader of the French student movement of 1968—is the author of a study on drug addiction.
Annette Wieviorka’s original commitment was also to leftist politics, as she recounts in her first work, a memoir of her troubled years during her first marriage when she went to teach French in China out of a desire to immerse herself in the Maoist universe. Her disillusionment, which went as far as a significant suicide attempt, is recounted in L’Écureuil de Chine or The Squirrel of China—a title that plays upon the meaning of the word wiewiorka (sic) in Polish as “squirrel.” Returning to France and completing her education as an historian, Annette Wieviorka made a great impact through her works, which analyze and combat a widespread tendency in French society and even among its intelligentsia: the inability to face the full extent of antisemitic persecutions in occupied France. French patriotism and forgetfulness of collaborationism initially led many writers—including Jews—to focus on the heroism and repression of the French Resistance generally, with short shrift given to the far greater percentage of fatalities among Jews deported to German camps than among French political (e.g. Communist and Gaullist) adversaries of Nazism in the same situation. Jewish suffering in occupied France was further relativized by two contradictory attitudes: an insensitivity, born of hostility, to the murder of Jews; and a generous universalistic desire not to singularize Jews as victims but to see them primarily as human casualties of German terror and Vichy perfidy in France.
These points are made with exceptional force in Annette’s Wieviorka’s doctoral dissertation Déportation et génocide (Deportation and Genocide), now in its third printing. In an article that translates part of her thesis into English, we may read her analysis of some of the first accounts of the death camps published in France:
In Julien Unger’s work, Le Sang et l’or (Blood and Gold), the word “Jew” is virtually absent. Throughout Unger’s account, the reader does not know whether the author is a Jew or not. … In the account by Unger, who was a Jew deported from Drancy, the process and the extent of extermination are described in full, but the fact that the victims were Jews is completely erased.
Louise Alcan’s work reflects a clear awareness that Jews were being exterminated, yet her preface, written in 1947 at the time of publication, stresses that thirty thousand have returned from the camps. She makes no distinction there between concentration camps, to which the Resistance and hostages were deported, and the extermination camps, to which Jews were sent. Yet of some sixty-three thousand Resistants and hostages deported, thirty-seven thousand survived; of the seventy-five thousand Jews deported from France, only two thousand and five hundred returned. (“Jewish Identity in the First Accounts by Extermination Camp Survivors from France” 139)
This passage points to the other major focus of Annette Wieviorka’s work, evident in her L’ère du témoin. This book analyzes how survivors’ testimony has become, as it were, the preferred mode of discourse concerning the Holocaust, over and beyond historical research, with its careful cross-checking of written and oral documentation.
Annette Wieviorka’s focus on testimony goes back to her first historical work, Les Livres du souvenir (Memorial Books), written in collaboration with Yitskhok Niborski (b. 1947), who after Rachel Ertel is the most significant scholar of Yiddish in France. Les Livres du souvenir, which studied the yizker-bikher produced by survivors of Eastern European Jewish communities destroyed by the Germans, is the French counterpart to Jack Kugelmass’s and Jonathan Boyarin’s From a Ruined Garden: The Memorial Books of Polish Jewry (New York: 1983).
Annette Wieviorka’s institutional affiliations have included teaching history at lycées in Paris (1976–1990), appointment as a research fellow (1990–1992) and research director (starting 1992) at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique; membership (starting 1993) on the Conseil scientifique (scholarly council) of the Mémorial de Caen (a World War II museum in Normandy) and (starting 1997) on the Mission Mattéoli, officially the Mission auprès du Premier Ministre sur la spoliation des biens des Juifs (the Prime Minister’s Study Group on the Spoliation of Jewish Property). That most recent appointment led her in 2000 to publish two detailed studies of the seizing of Jewish belongings under the German occupation: Les Biens des internés des camps de Drancy, Pithiviers et Beaune-la-Rolande and Le Pillage des appartements et son indemnisation (in collaboration with Florence Azoulay).
Annette Wieviorka has married and divorced twice. She has a son, Nicolas Trotignant, from her first marriage, to Jean-Luc Trotignant; and a daugher, Mathilde Raczymow, from her second marriage, to French Jewish writer Henri Raczymow (b. 1948).
Auschwitz expliqué à ma fille (Auschwitz Explained to My Daughter) Paris: 1999; Les Biens des internés des camps de Drancy, Pithiviers et Beaune-la-Rolande (The Belongings of Internees in the Drancy, Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande Camps). Paris: 2000; Déportation et génocide: Entre la mémoire et l’oubli (Deportation and Genocide: Between Memory and Forgetting). Paris: 1992. 2d ed., 1995. 3d ed., 2003; L’Écureuil de Chine (The Chinese Squirrel). Paris: 1979; L’Ère du témoin (The Age of Testimony). Paris: 1998. 2d ed., 2002; and Stéphane Courtois, eds. L’État du monde en 1945 (The State of the World in 1945). Paris: 1994; Ils étaient juifs, résistants, communistes (There Were Jews, Members of the Resistance, Communists). Paris: 1986; “Jewish Identity in the First Accounts by Extermination Camp Survivors from France.” Trans. Françoise Rosset. Yale French Studies 94 (1985): 135–151; with Jean-Jacques Becker. Les Juifs de France: de la Révolution française à nos jours (The Jews of France : From the French Revolution to Our Time). Paris: 1998; with Yitskhok Niborski. Les Livres du souvenir: Mémoriaux juifs de Pologne (a) (Memorial Books: Memorials of Polish Jews). Paris: 1983; with Serge Barcellini. Passant, souviens-toi! Les Lieux du souvenir de la Seconde Guerre mondiale en France (Passerby, Remember! World War II Places of Memory in France). Paris: 1995. 2d ed., 1999; with Claude Andrieu et al. La Persécution des juifs de France 1940-1944 et le rétablissement de la légalité républicaine: Recueil des textes officiels 1940–1999 (The Persecution of French Jews 1940–1944 and the re-establishment of Republican Law: A record of official documents 1940–1999). Paris: 2000; with Floriane Azoulay. Le Pillage des appartements et son indemnisation (Spoliation and Compensation of Jewish-Inhabited Apartments). Paris: 2000; Le Procès de Nuremberg (The Nuremberg Trial). Rennes and Caen: 1995; ed. Les Procès de Nuremberg et de Tokyo (The Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials). Paris: 1996; Le Procès Eichmann: 1961 (The Eichmann Trial: 1961). Brussels: 1989; Rapport de synthèse de la mission Mattéoli (Final Report of the Mattéoli Study Group). Paris: 2000; with Claude Mouchard, eds. La Shoah: Témoignages, savoirs, oeuvres (The Shoah: Testimony, Scholarly Approaches, Publications) Orléans: 1999.