The Arty Semite

Leading Lady with a Diabolique Sense of Justice

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share

On September 30, the 25th anniversary of the death of beautiful French actress Simone Signoret, Les éditions Michel Lafon paid homage by publishing an augmented edition of an acclaimed biography by Emmanuelle Guilcher, “Signoret: a Life.” Signoret’s own two memoirs have just been reprinted by Les éditions du Seuil: “Nostalgia Isn’t What it Used to Be” and “The Next Day, She was Smiling.

In the former, Signoret explains: “I am the daughter of a non-Jewish lady who married a Jewish gentleman.” Born Simone Kaminker in 1921, her father André Kaminker had roots in Poland and Austria. When Germany invaded France, Signoret was a lycée student in the city of Vannes, where one of her teachers was Lucie Aubrac, a Resistance hero alongside her husband, Raymond Aubrac (still busy traveling the world at age 96).

Aubrac later recalled that she informed Signoret “that my husband is Jewish, and that brought us closer, because it made her think of her own Jewish father.” Onscreen Signoret repeatedly portrayed Jews, and Resistance fighters, with understandably powerful veracity. In 1953, in rehearsals for the Paris staging of “The Crucible,” Arthur Miller’s dramatization of the McCarthy witch-hunts, she engaged in much relevant discussion of how France’s Jews were forced to wear yellow stars and were denounced to the Gestapo, according to Guilcher. In the role of Elizabeth Proctor in “The Crucible,” Signoret “totally identified with the persona of [recently executed] Ethel Rosenberg, a martyred victim who was loyal unto death to her husband,” according to “Signoret: a Life.”

This emotional closeness to history was even clearer in films such as Sidney Lumet’s 1966 thriller “The Deadly Affair,” in which Signoret plays a Jewish widow, or a 1968 TV movie as the title character in Brecht’s short play “The Jewish Wife.” Signoret was also unforgettable as a Resistance fighter in Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1969 “Army of Shadows” inspired by the book by Joseph Kessel, and as a retired Jewish prostitute in Moshé Mizrahi’s 1977 “Madame Rosa.”

Signoret’s 1985 novel, Adieu, Volodya described with affection and understanding the lives of East European Jewish immigrants to Paris between the wars. French Jewish Prime Minister Pierre Mendès-France, praised Signoret for “contributing to the political education of [her] era.” Indeed, she lived long enough to help found the anti-racist organization “S. O. S. Racisme” in 1984, since, as one friend quoted by Guilcher explains, Signoret believed that the still-omnipresent French far-right wing demagogue Jean-Marie Le Pen represents “absolute evil.”

Watch a 1960’s TV interview with Signoret:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Simone Signoret, Raymond Aubrac, Emmanuelle Guilcher, André Kaminker

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!
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • 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.