Hertha Pauli’s “Journal of an Escape” from France
From October to November 1940, writer Hertha Pauli published a three-part account of her escape through German-occupied France via Spain and Portugal to the…
“Excusez, monsieur, pourquoi not to Paris? I’m kicked out of Russia, locked up in Poland, I don’t get a visa for Germany. Pourquoi not come to Paris?” 11Joseph Roth, Jews on the Road: Essay (Vienna: Der Drehbuchverlag, 2014) [kindle version], pos. 820.
In the mid-1920s, when Mr. Weingrod answered the latter question “How did you come to Paris?” by the Austrian-Jewish writer, journalist, and since 1925 Paris correspondent of the Frankfurter Zeitung Joseph Roth (1894-1939) 22Moses Joseph Roth (1894-1939) was an Austrian writer and journalist. Born in the Galician shtetl Brody, he came from a Jewish merchant family on his mother’s side and from the Hasidic milieu on his father’s. His first writings were written during his German studies in Vienna. The First World War, during which he volunteered for military service, and the subsequent collapse of the Habsburg Empire became groundbreaking events for him, which he addressed several times in his novels such as The Radetzky March or The Capuchin Crypt. And while Roth does not allow himself to be clearly classified politically, in relation to the Habsburg Empire it can be said that he changed more and more from a left-wing critic of the monarchy into a conservative Habsburg nostalgist and idealist, as research has diagnosed for many Galicians. Even during his military service, Roth began to write reports and feature pages for newspapers. In 1920 he moved to Berlin, where he worked for various newspapers, and in 1925 he moved to Paris for a year as a correspondent. From 1926 he was commissioned to write travel reports, which took him to the Soviet Union, Albania and Yugoslavia, the Saar region, Poland and Italy. In 1933 he fled to Paris, where he died of pneumonia in 1939 after severe alcohol addiction, he described a dilemma faced by many for whom Paris became an adopted country in the interwar period. Fleeing from discrimination, civil wars and (genocidal) persecution in on a European continent plagued by newly drawn national borders, nationalism and burgeoning fascism, they came to Paris with the hope of a new start of some kind.
Europe looked different after the First World War. Great multiethnic empires such as Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman disintegrated into smaller nation-states, whose birth was accompanied by violent conflicts and made many people stateless. In 1926, there was talk of up to 9.5 million refugees seeking a place of refuge in Europe. 33Maud S. Mandel, In the Aftermath of Genocide: Armenians and Jews in Twentieth-Century France (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 19th ed. And Weingrod was one of the approximately two million new arrivals who were welcomed in France in the 1920s and 1930s with sometimes more, sometimes less open arms – and found their way increasingly to Paris. 44For an examination of the developments of the French migration regime in the 1930s, see Vicki Caron, Uneasy Asylum: France and the Jewish Refugee Crisis, 1933-1942 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999).
Among the Western European states, it was France that opened its doors the furthest for refugees in the interwar period. This had little to do with altruism: 1.4 million French had lost their lives in World War I and the country needed and actively recruited workers from Eastern and Central Europe and the former French colonies to rebuild its destroyed economy. Thus France became a nation of immigrants, in which refugees and migrant workers as well as refugee workers were welcomed equally in the interest of economic reconstruction, thus enriching the economy, but above all the cultural and social fabric.
In France, 150,000 Yiddish-speaking migrants and refugees from Eastern Europe settled in the 1920s, 55Nick Underwood, Staging a New Community: Immigrant Yiddish Culture and Diaspora Nationalism in Interwar Paris, 1919-1940, dissertation, University of Colorado, 2016, p. 2 65,000 stateless Armenian genocide refugees, 66Maud S. Mandel, In the Aftermath of Genocide: Armenians and Jews in Twentieth-Century France (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), p. 11 150,000 Russian émigrés who escaped the October Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing civil war, 77Katherine Froshko, France’s Russian Moment: Russian Emigres in Interwar Paris and French Society, dissertation, Yale University 2008, p. 2 Sephardic Jews from North Africa and the crumbling Ottoman Empire, as well as anti-fascist political refugees and migrant workers from Italy, Belgium, Spain, and Poland. 8 Italy (1926: 760,000; 1931: 800,000), Belgium (1926: 325,000; 1931: 250,000), Spain (1926: 320,000; 1931: 350,000), and Poland (1926: 300,000; 1931: 500,000). 88Ralph Schor, L’Opinion française et les étrangers, 1919-1939 (Paris: Publication de la Sorbonne, 1985), p. 38.
Compared to many others, Weingold’s arrival and settling in Paris in Roth’s portrayal seems to be filled by happiness. The fate of the Hungarian Communist writer and journalist Paul-Adolph Löffler (1901-1979) was different. He escaped Miklós Horthy’s fascist regime in 1924 and, like thousands of other Hungarian citizens, went to Paris 991921: 9000; 1931: 19 000. Löffler is thus an early representative of an anti-fascist refugee who had to make his living in recurring unemployment and low-paid jobs in a wide variety of industries shaken by the political-economic effects of the economic crisis. Löffler also suffered from the growing xenophobia and political and social exclusion like many other foreign workers in France. He foresaw on the day of his arrival that Paris would be a place of longing for him, one that regularly disappointed him:
“First April . I am in front of the Gare de l’Est, under the big clock. Something is constricting my neck, from which a sob is trying to escape. April Fools’ Day? Is that Paris? Under a fine rain, the large square appears dirty, the walls of the houses are blackish, run-down. And the woman of stone, up there, in her stone armchair, looks at this landscape with her stone eyes. How can a woman of stone sympathize with my disillusionment? Or maybe she is already used to this spectacle? I expected the sun, light, magnificent colors from Paris. I have been deceived! […] Through the sadness that settles in my eyes, I look at the long green streetcars bouncing past, making a metallic noise on the boulevard that runs opposite the train station. I hold on to my illusions with fear, so that they don’t fall flat… tomorrow will be different, tomorrow there will be sunshine and they will appear, the fairy-tale palaces and fairies. Now I am tired from the long journey.” 1010Paul-Adolphe Löffler, 1973. Journal de Paris d’un Exilé 1924-1939.
In 1926, when Roth was replaced as the Paris correspondent of the Frankfurter Zeitung after only one year, he warned his editor that he had no idea “how much would be destroyed privately and in terms of the literary career concerning me if I left Paris.” 1111Roth addressed Reifenberg on April 9, 1926, quoting Joachim Kersten: “No one has luck with Germany. (via Sieburg), in Grenzgänge. to Klampen, Lüneburg 1999, p. 61. But on January 30, 1933, the day of Hitler’s seizure of power, Roth rightly felt compelled to leave Germany and instinctively chose Paris as a city of refuge. Like many others, he did not wait for his literary work to fall victim to the book-burning in May 1933, and in a letter to Stefan Zweig he farsightedly judged “that we are drifting towards great catastrophes. Apart from the private ones – our literary and material existence has been destroyed, after all – the whole thing leads to a new war. […] We have succeeded in letting barbarism reign. Do not have any illusions. Hell reigns.” 1212Joseph Roth, letters 1911-1939, Cologne 1970, p. 249.
Roth was one of 25,000 German refugees who fled to France by the summer of 1933, the majority of whom were Jewish and/or intellectual, and who, after the “Anschluss” of Austria, the Munich Agreement and the 1938 night of pogroms, swelled to over 30,000 refugees from the Nazis. Overnight, German literature found a new home in Paris with exile publishers and press run by representatives of German antifascism. Harry Graf Kessler 1313Harry Clemens Ulrich Kessler (1868-1937) grew up in France and England as the child of the German banker Adolf Wilhelm Kessler. He was an art collector, patron of the arts, writer, and publicist, and was instrumental in promoting organized pacifism. In March 1933 he traveled to Paris and would not return to Germany. He spent the last four years of his life on Mallorca and in southern France. He was buried in the Paris Père Lachaise cemetery. For a detailed account see Hans-Ulrich Simon: Kessler, Harry Graf von. In: New German Biography (NDB), volume 11 (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1977), p. 545 f. (digitized). noted in June 1933 that the entire “Kurfürstendamm is pouring over Paris.” 1414For a general discussion of the role and symbolic power of Paris for German-Jewish refugees in the 1920s and 1930s, see Nils Roemer, “German Jews in Paris: Traversing Modernity,” in The Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry 3:1 (January 2016), 79-95; for the quote, see Harry Graf Kessler, diary entry of June 22, 1933, in idem., Tagebücher, 1918-1937, ed. Wolfgang Pfeiffer-Belli (Frankfurt: Island, 1961), p. 725. There was already an antifascist subculture here that had been built up by refugees like Paul-Adolphe Löffler. But it was not until 1934, in the words of Anson Rabinbach, that Paris transformed itself into the “capital of anti-fascism” thanks to the cultural synthesis of European intellectual and grassroots counter-movements to fascism, a shift in Soviet foreign policy, and increased philosophical sovietism in France – and above all thanks to the growing German-speaking emigrant milieus in Paris. 1515Anson Rabinbach, “Paris, Capital of Anti-Fascism”, in: Martin Jay (ed.), The Modernist Imagination: Intellectual History and Critical Theory. Essays in Honor of Martin Jay (New York: Berghahn Books, 2009), 183-209. In addition, in the 1930s, there were about 15,000 to 20,000 illegal Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe who fled antisemitic persecution in Germany, Poland, Romania or Hungary.
Thanks to the fact that France became the terre d’asile (country of asylum) after the First World War, the refugees of the 1930s could count on the already existing infrastructure of aid organizations that jumped to the side of the various groups and, in addition to helping them to literally survive, were also a point of contact for refugees to get involved and organize themselves for charitable and political purposes. Joseph Roth and Hannah Arendt 1616Hannah Arendt (1906-1974) was a Jewish German-American political theorist and publicist who became fundamental voice through her work on National Socialism and totalitarianism, the phenomenon of statelessness and the existence of refugees, and who also set the tone for We Refugees Archives. For detailed biographical data, see https://www.dhm.de/lemo/biografie/biografie-hannah-arendt.html. are paradigmatic in that matter. A refugee committee paid for Joseph Roth’s hotel room and more. 1717Roth to Stefan Zweig, letter of May 8, 1936, in Joseph Roth, Joseph Roth: Life in Letters, translated and edited by Michael Hofman (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012), p. 851. He was also involved in organizing Nansen Passes for refugees from Austria, published his works in Dutch exile publishers, and wrote articles for the exile magazine Das neue Tage-Buch. 1818Roth to Stefan Zweig, letter of August 19, 1935, in Joseph Roth, Joseph Roth: Life in Letters, translated and edited by Michael Hofman (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012), pp. 759-760. Hannah Arendt, in turn, who escaped persecution by the Gestapo to Paris in 1933, became politicized in the milieu of German political (Jewish) refugees, worked for the Zionist organizations “Agriculture et Artisanat” and “Aliyah des jeunes” to prepare Jewish youth for emigration to and life in Palestine, and gave lectures to various associations as well as in the antifascist exile institution Freie Deutsche Hochschule Paris [Free German School for Higher Education Paris], founded in 1935. For many, but by no means all, she got to the heart of the matter when she said:
“The foreigner feels at home in Paris, because you can live in this city as you would otherwise only live in your own four walls.” 1919Arendt, Hannah, 1989: Menschen in finsteren Zeiten, München/Zürich: Piper, S. 211 f.
Since the 19th century at the latest, Paris has been the projection surface and ideal for everything that travelers imagined under modern Europeaness in the sense of the French Revolution. It was a political commitment against National Socialism and European Fascism that grew out of the 1920s for the absolute majority of the political and Jewish refugees of the 1930s. Thus they fled home, as it were, when Paris was temporarily made their home.
For Yiddish-speaking newcomers, Arn Beckerman 2020Arn Beckerman (1897-1943) was a communist writer and journalist who originally came from Biała Podlaska and emigrated to Paris in 1926. During the First World War he was taken prisoner of war and deported to Frankfurt am Main for forced labor. In 1918, he was mobilized for the Polish army during the Polish-Soviet War and was again captured under Symon Petlura – a Ukrainian commander who fought for an independent Ukrainian nation state and was responsible for a large number of the pogroms perpetrated against the Jewish population, to which up to 200,000 Jews fell victim. From 1922 he lived in Warsaw and moved to Paris in 1926, where he worked for various (international) Yiddish newspapers and published several monographs. He was deported from Drancy and murdered in Majdanek on March 6, 1943. For more information, see Y. Spero, G. Kenig, M. Shulshteyn and B. Shlevin, Yizker-bukh tsum ondenk fun 14 umkumene Parizer yidishe shrayber (Paris: Farlag Oyfsnay, 1946), 26-73 charted a vision of Paris in his writings in which French culture intertwined with Ashkenazi culture and the city was transformed into the capital of a republican, revolutionary, and universalist “Yiddishland.” [21 Nick Underwood, “Aron Beckerman’s City of Light: Writing French History and Defining Immigrant Jewish Space in Interwar Paris,” in Urban History (October 2015), 1-17.] Others like Herman Kesten 2222Herman Kesten (1900-1996) was born in the Austro-Hungarian Podwołoczyska into a Jewish family. In 1904 the family moved to Nuremberg, where Kesten grew up. During the Weimar Republic, he advanced as a writer to one of the main representatives of the literary “New Objectivity.” In 1933 he fled to France, where he was active in the emigrant milieu, and after brief internment in 1939 in the French camps of Colombes and Nièvres as an “enemy alien,” fled on to the United States with a visitor visa, where he supported numerous artists persecuted by Nazi Germany. In the postwar period, he returned to Europe, stimulated fierce debates as PEN president and took an active part in the literary life of the Federal Republic were above all enchanted by Paris. “What a dream exile is,” he wrote to a friend. For with the crossing of the border into France, terror became “foreign,” at least for a certain time. 2323Herman Kesten to Ernst Toller, March 23, 1933, quoted from Mark M. Anderson (ed.), Hitler’s Exiles: Personal Stories of the Flight from Nazi Germany to America (New York: The New Press, 1988), pp. 135-136; quoted in: Nils Roemer, “German Jews in Paris: Traversing Modernity,” in The Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry 3:1 (January 2016), pp. 79-95, p. 90. For Walter Benjamin 2424Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) was a German philosopher and cultural critic associated with the milieu of the Frankfurt School, who to this day is considered pioneering in various academic fields such as comparative literature, cultural studies, critical theory, film and theater studies, etc. In 1940 Walter Benjamin managed to escape via Paris and the Pyrenees to Portbou in Spain, where he took his own life on the night of his arrival in the face of a hopeless further flight. the past was less reassuring than predictive. His unfinished Paris study Das Passagenwerk is characterized by a feeling of crisis and despair. 3030Nils Roemer, “German Jews in Paris: Traversing Modernity,” in The Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry 3:1 (January 2016), pp. 79-95, p. 85. And Benjamin was not alone with his foreboding of apocalypse – for good reason.
When, in early 1939, some 1.5 million Spanish Republican Civil War refugees began a literal exodus to France, many of them to Paris and its environs, it became all too evident that France had changed from a country of refugees to a country of forced transit. 2525Vicki Caron, Uneasy Asylum: France and the Jewish Refugee Crisis, 1933-1942 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), p. 2. For although the French authorities in the late 1930s would have been very well prepared to accept Spanish civil war refugees “humanely,” domestic and foreign policy as well as economic developments obviously spoke against it: immigration was severely restricted under the right-wing government of Édouard Daladier, making it more difficult for refugees to remain in France. 2626Scott Soo, The routes to exile: France and the Spanish Civil War refugees, 1939-2009 (New York : Manchester University Press, 2013), pp. 1-3.
Nevertheless, Spanish-Republican civil war refugees moved to the outskirts of Paris, where the so-called “Little Spain” had existed in La Plaine Saint-Denis since the first half of the 20th century. Various Spanish migrants had moved here over the years. In 1931, Spaniards made up the largest immigrant community in La Plaine Saint-Denis with 4.5 percent of the total population. When the Civil War raged in Spain, some ethnic Spanish men between the ages of 18 and 46 left Plaine Saint-Denis to return to Spain to fight in the Republican camp. Those who remained in “Little Spain” organized support networks for communists or anarchists. 2727” La petite Espagne de la Plaine-Sainte-Denis,” https://www.tourisme93.com/la-petite-espagne-de-la-plaine-saint-denis.html [accessed July 28, 2020].
“My uncle is one of the first Spaniards who came here. It is not the life you dream of when you leave your roots. He could not write and, of course, he could not speak French. He just had an address in La Montjoie, in the house of the Serrano family. He arrived at the Austerlitz train station with a friend from his village; as luggage they carried saddlebags over their shoulders. He told me that the people at the station looked at them like Martians and almost tried to touch them. […] My mother could neither read nor write. In the subway she could orientate herself by counting the stations and visual clues.” 2828Natacha Lillo, Maître de conférences en civilisation espagnole à l’Université Paris-Diderot (Paris 7). Auteur de : La Petite Espagne de la Plaine Saint-Denis (Paris, Autrement, 2004).
From Martians in the 1920s, Spanish refugees, and refugees in general, became pariahs in the late 1930s, who, due to the shift to the right and a radicalizing French nationalism, were to have no place in France’s society. France in the interwar period was characterized by competing political forces, most of which separated immigration policy from refugee policy for various xenophobic and/or antisemitic reasons. 2929Vicki Caron, Uneasy Asylum: France and the Jewish Refugee Crisis, 1933-1942 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), p. 9.
The declaration of war in 1939 meant the end of Paris as a city of refuge. Mass internment of refugees took place, which was the preliminary stage for the internment of initially foreign and gradually also French Jews of the Vichy regime led by Henri Philippe Pétain. 3030Vicki Caron, Uneasy Asylum: France and the Jewish Refugee Crisis, 1933-1942 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), p. 3. When Hitler went on a tour through German-occupied Paris on June 23, 1940, two million Parisians had already left the city. The day before, the German-French armistice treaty had been signed in the wake of the French defeat against the German Wehrmacht. The treaty divided France into a German-occupied north with Paris as its capital and an unoccupied but collaborating south with Vichy as the seat of the French government. The exclusion and persecution of foreign and Jewish persons became a characteristic feature of French politics: it began with two so-called “Jewish statutes” to exclude Jews from public life and culminated in the deportations of foreign and French Jews to German extermination camps in German-occupied Polish territories, carried out by the French police and administration.
On May 27, 1939, Joseph Roth died of double-sided pneumonia after a severe alcohol addiction and did not live to see the start of the war and its fatal consequences for Jewish life in Europe that he had predicted. His grave is on the cemetery Cimetière parisien de Thiais south of the capital and holds the inscription écrivain autrichien – mort à Paris en eil (“Austrian writer – died in Paris in exile”). Hannah Arendt, stateless since 1937, was interned in early May 1940, first on the grounds of the Buffalo Stadium and then as an “enemy foreigner” for about four weeks in the Gurs camp, from which she managed to escape. She organized papers for herself and her husband Heinrich Blücher for departure to Lisbon, and from there she reached New York City in May 1941. Walter Benjamin tried to follow Arendt’s example and reach New York City via Spain and Portugal on a visa for the United States, but he took his own life in the Spanish border town of Portbou on the night of September 26-27, 1940, for fear of being handed over to the Germans. Paul-Adolphe Löffler remained in Paris and joined the Résistance during the German occupation, spreading underground press and organizing secret meetings in Seine-et-Marne, east of Paris. He was one of the few for whom Paris remained the center of life until his death in 1979. The Yiddish journalist Arn Beckerman, who had placed all his hopes in Paris, was, like many other left-wing Yiddish-speaking migrants and refugees, also active in the Résistance. On March 6, 1943, however, he was deported from Drancy on transport No. 51 and murdered in Majdanek at the age of 46. 3131Nick Underwood, “Aron Beckerman’s City of Light: Writing French History and Defining Immigrant Jewish Space in Interwar Paris,” in Urban History (October 2015), 1-17, 17th ed. What happened to Mr. Weingrod and his inn is unknown. But he, like all the other named, unnamed and unknown new arrivees in Paris, had irrevocably inscribed himself in the texture of the city.
Through the various communities of new arrivees, Paris became a mosaic of diasporic inscriptions. Even today, buildings remind us of these new communities and shape the migrant cityscape like silent signposts. Diaspora is traditionally conceptualized as backward looking and accentuates the lasting connection to, longing for, and desire to return to the homeland. But Paris, like any diaspora space, involves the entanglement of genealogies of dispersion with those of ‘staying in place’. 3232Avtar Brah, Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 181. On the basis of refugee voices, the We Refugees Archive uncovers traces of the past which the imported memories, ideas, visions of the future and experiences of the emerging heterotopia of refugee communities in Paris have been co-writing, rewriting or writing anew.