Whither the Jews?

Whither the Jews?

Georges Friedmann is a Frenchman, humanist, intellectual, distinguished sociologist, Jew. I choose the order of these modifying nouns deliberately, for Friedmann, like so many assimilated Jewish intellectuals and social scientists at work in Western Europe in the period between the world wars, had no occasion to be centrally preoccupied with such questions as the loss of faith in Judaism, the “danger” of complete assimilation, or the future of Jewish tradition and ritual. A “marginal” Jew wholly at home in France and with no direct experience of anti-Semitism, Friedmann simply went about his work in industrial sociology. For a time attracted to Communism, he thought “the Jewish question” might be resolved by revolution; but the excesses of Stalinism turned him away from the Soviet Union.

Then, in an instant, with the explosion of Nazism beyond Germany and the fall of France, all seemed different. For the Nazis it mattered not in the slightest that a Friedmann’s “Jewishness” was no more, really, than a certain open and generous outlook toward life itself; he would suffer exactly the same fate as a Goldmann who went daily to the synagogue —deportation and death in the East.

Stripped of his job, subjected to the humiliating new Vichy laws, Friedmann went into the Resistance and restored his faith in France. But after the gas chambers of Auschwitz, what could restore his faith in man? And, specifically, how could a French Jew who felt a new identification with fellow-victims of the holocaust experience a revitalization of his Jewish identity?