Gensburger, Sarah. National Policy, Global Memory: The Commemoration of the "Righteous" from Jerusalem to Paris, 1942-2007. New York: Berghahn Books, 2016. x + 217 pages. Hardcover, $90.00.
In National Policy, Global Memory: The Commemoration of the "Righteous" from Jerusalem to Paris, 1942-2007, Sarah Gensburger extends the body of work on memory studies from the fields of history and sociology to her discipline, political science. As the most recent volume in Berghahn Books' Monographs in French Studies, the work necessarily focuses on commemorations of French actions between 1942 and 1945, the years of the Nazi occupation of France, and the political meanings of those commemorations as they evolved from 1945 to 2007. Specifically, Gensburger traces how French institutions appropriated and transformed the Israeli concept "Righteous among the Nations" into "Righteous of France," providing a case study of "a public policy of memory" (p. 2).
Gensburger begins her book by detailing how Israel came to create the title, Righteous among the Nations, and how it came to be used as an instrument of Israeli foreign policy after the establishment of Yad Vashem (the World Holocaust Remembrance Center located in Jerusalem) in 1953. The title applies to those non-Jews who assisted or rescued Jews during World War II, and who have been nominated for the honor by Jewish witnesses. Honorees were expected to travel to Israel to receive their awards, and together with the person they had rescued, plant a tree along Yad Vashem's Avenue of the Righteous. Gensburger explains how the Yad Vashem committee's selection of honorees from particular European nations served as an international diplomatic effort, seeking the ongoing support of those nations for the state of Israel.
After this introductory chapter, Gensburger comes to the heart of her work, namely, how France appropriated the term Righteous and used it for its own national political ends. France's memory politics in the immediate post-war period worked at negotiating a French identity that disavowed a connection to Vichy France where, calling for 'National Regeneration', the French Government at Vichy reversed many liberal policies and stressed anti-Semitism. Members of the Resistance, Gensburger argues, were deemed the French heroes, with, at first, no room for French civilians who were heroic by virtue of having risked their lives to protect Jews in occupied France. Although Israel had issued medals to...