The Arty Semite

Admiring Blum: A Great French Jewish Statesman Celebrated on Film

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share
Click for larger view

For visitors to the New York Jewish Film Festival, a must-see on January 18-20 is a new hour-length documentary, “Leon Blum: For All Mankind” about the French socialist politician.

Written by Blum’s grandson Antoine Malamoud and directed by University of Alabama Professor Jean Bodon, the film offers a mere sketch of an eventful life, and its English narration is geared to a public largely ignorant of Blum’s remarkable trajectory, as relatively little about him has been translated from the French.

Serge Berstein’s astute 2006 biography “Léon Blum” from Fayard Publishers recounts how Blum became a militant Socialist after the Dreyfus Affair, and despite antisemitic violence, carefully described in “Anti-Jewish France in 1936: the Attack on Léon Blum in the Legislature” (Éditions des Équateurs, 2006) he was elected Prime Minister as leader of the left-wing Popular Front. After the German invasion, Blum was sent to Buchenwald, from which camp he wrote touching letters home, collected in 2003 as “Letters from Buchenwald.”

Another recent book “I Promise to Return” by Dominique Missika (Robert Laffont Publishers, 2009) also deals with this period of imprisonment. “Léon Blum: For All Mankind” gives short shrift to Blum’s early literary career when he rubbed elbows with Marcel Proust and André Gide; Blum’s own books included a tribute to Stendhal, a guidebook on marriage, and also a 1935 memoir of the Dreyfus Affair (still available in paperback from Gallimard Folio editions).

The film’s interviews include apt ones with old Socialist politicians like Gérard Jaquet and Pierre Mauroy, who knew Blum. However, it is unsettling to see the right-winger Jacques Toubon and discredited Sarkozy crony Georges-Marc Benamou presented as authorities.

The life of Jewish militant socialist Marthe Louis-Lévy, and the fate of Blum’s fellow prisoner Georges Mandel are described hastily, but it is Blum’s brother the choreographer René Blum, tortured and murdered at Auschwitz, who really deserves closer attention. This film claims that he was “thrown into the crematory oven alive,” whereas at least one Nazi interrogated on the subject does not echo this version of his demise. “Léon Blum: For All Mankind” is so fascinating that a film of twice its length would still capture our attention.

Watch Blum fight a 1912 duel of honor with French Jewish playwright Pierre Veber, an episode described in Robert A. Nye’s ‘Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France’ (Oxford Press, 1993):

The French recognized the importance of Blum even directly after the war. A French newsreel about his death is available on a French website. Watch a more recent brief French documentary about Léon Blum’s political work below:

Watch Yale historian John Merriman describe Blum’s Popular Front in context:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Nicolas Sarkozy, New York Jewish Film Festival, Marthe Louis-Lévy, Marcel Proust, Léon Blum, John Merriman, Jean Bodon, Jacques Toubon, Holocaust, Gérard Jaquet, Georges-Marc Benamou, Georges Mandel, France, Film, Dreyfus Affair, Dominique Missika, Buchenwald, Auschwitz, Antoine Malamoud, André Gide, Pierre Mauroy, Pierre Veber, Popular Front, René Blum, Robert A. Nye, Serge Berstein, Stendhal

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • How did Tariq Abu Khdeir go from fun-loving Palestinian-American teen to international icon in just a few short weeks? http://jd.fo/d4kkV
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.