Thursday, July 18, 2013

How Roosevelt (Not the Republican One) Helped Save a Noted Author

Lion Feuchtwager, The Devil in France: My Encounter With Him in the Summer of 1940. Los Angeles, Ca. Ferguson Press, 2009.

This memoir relates the experiences of a leading anti-Hitler Jewish author who fled Germain only to be placed in French interment camps in 1940 along with other Germans, including pro-Hitler Germans, just because he was German. The author observes the French government acted quickly and irrationally in imprisoning Germans and Austrians in fear there were Nazi collaborators within those communities. This was little prior planning on how this would be done. This interment also did not consider how much pain and suffering this would cause large numbers of people. Even people who had served in the French military or had sons serving in the French military were detained. In the author’s case, there was no consideration of the fact that he was a published denouncements of Hitler and was Jewish and was not at all likely to be a Nazi collaborator. Those interred were unable to contact others, including their families, in theory to prevent any communications with enemy contacts.

Tensions mounted within the internment cap the author was at as the Nazis approached close to the amp. Moving those interred was not a high priority for the French government. The French were slow to develop a system to determine who should be moved. The author recommended to the French authorities that those interred should decide. Those who wanted to be united with the Nazis would choose to stay and those who wanted to flee the Nazis should be moved. The author was glad when this was eventually essentially what happened. Those who were moved from the camp were moved packed in rail cars so tightly they could only stand for a trip that lasted several days.

The French government fell and a Fascist government took over. The author notes the French detainment policies still did not even make military sense but that the Fascists decided treatment according to ethnic hatred. The author was surprised when he was rescued by suddenly being told to get into a getaway car and to wear a disguise. He did not write the story of his escape from that point on and he feared some people who helped him might face reprisals.

The author’s widow finished the book. She did not provide details about his escape yet noted that a photograph of the author in camp led Americans to realize he had been interred. Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt personally asked for efforts to save the author. He was rescued, brought to the home of American Ambassador Hiram Bingham, and traveled with Red Cross identification in a train alongside Nazi officers. He then lived in California.


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