The Survival of the Jews in France

Part of the CERI/Sciences Po. series
December 2018 9781787380141 360pp
EU Customers


Between the French defeat in 1940 and liberation in 1944, the Nazis killed almost 80,000 of France’s Jews, both French and foreign. Since that time, this tragedy has been well-documented. But there are other stories hidden within it–ones neglected by historians.

In fact, 75% of France’s Jews escaped the extermination, while 45% of the Jews of Belgium perished, and in the Netherlands only 20% survived.

The Nazis were determined to destroy the Jews across Europe, and the Vichy regime collaborated in their deportation from France. So what is the meaning of this French exception?

Jacques Semelin sheds light on this ‘French enigma’, painting a radically unfamiliar view of occupied France. His is a rich, even-handed portrait of a complex and changing society, one where helping and informing on one’s neighbours went hand in hand; and where small gestures of solidarity sat comfortably with anti-Semitism.

Without shying away from the horror of the Holocaust’s crimes, this seminal work adds a fresh perspective to our history of the Second World War.


‘May well prove to be a landmark in the historiography of the subject … well-researched and cogently argued’ — Times Literary Supplement

‘[A] careful study . . . Semelin details, in accessible prose and with cogent organization, the extraordinarily complex story of Jews—French and foreign—in France during the Occupation.’ — The Wall Street Journal

‘Engagingly written, combining psychological perspectives with first-rate historical research, and brimming with original insights, this is masterful scholarship.’ — CHOICE

‘An altogether remarkable and indispensable book for all those with an interest in France and the Shoah.’ — Serge Klarsfeld, founder and president, Sons and Daughters of Jewish Deportees in France

‘Readable, engaging and dynamic. Semelin is a true expert in his field, and draws on a rich and broad historiography.’ — Lindsey Dodd, Senior Lecturer in Modern European History, University of Huddersfield

‘A most important book on the history of Jews in Vichy France. This meticulously researched work  is already standard reading in the field and hugely contributes to the difficult debate on why 75% of Jews in France survived the Holocaust.’ — Jean-Marc Dreyfus, Reader in Holocaust Studies, University of Manchester


Jacques Semelin is Professor Emeritus of History and Political Science at Sciences Po, CERI, CNRS, Paris, focusing on the Holocaust and mass violence, as well as civil resistance and rescue. He is the author of the classic Unarmed Against Hitler: Civilian Resistance in Europe, 1939–1945, and Purify and Destroy:The Political Uses of Massacre and Genocide.

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