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Georges Mandel, Resisting the Nazis in Vichy France

Lawrence Bush
June 15, 2017

Georges Mandel (Jeroboam Rothschild), a journalist with Emile Zola’s L’Aurore, an advisor to Georges Clemenceau, a government minister, and a sharp and prescient opponent of Nazism, was arrested in Bordeaux on this date in 1940. He was released by Petain a few days later after protests were made on his behalf by the presidents of the French legislature. Offered the chance to flee the country with Charles de Gaulle, Mandel declined, saying: “You fear for me because I am a Jew. Well, it is just because I am a Jew that I will not go tomorrow; it would look as though I were afraid, as if I were running away.” He eventually took himself, along with some twenty-five other politicians, to Morocco, where he was arrested by the Vichy government in August, 1941 and sentenced to life in prison. Fifteen months later, he was given over to the Gestapo, who imprisoned him in Oranienburg and then Buchenwald before arranging for his murder by French paramilitary fascists. Winston Churchill described Mandel as “the first resister” and tried to arrange his rescue in Morocco, possibly to lead the French government-in-exile, but was unsuccessful.

“On his bullet-ridden corpse had been found a packet of penciled paper scraps and a tiny notebook. Overlooked by the assassins, the scraps were saved by a loyal official, handed over to Mandel’s devoted mistress, blond, Junoesque Madame Beatrice Bretty of the Comédie Française. Now, with Madame Bretty’s permission, they were published in Mandel’s old paper, the Rightist L’Ordre. . . . Mandel wrote of his intense suffering in captivity. . . . He addressed himself to Marshal Petain . . . I leave you with these words: ‘I will be waiting for you at the downfall of the forces of the axe.’ It is the most marvelous revenge and also the only reparation that a Frenchman may desire who up to his last breath had only one religion—that of his country. . . .” --Time, March 12, 1945

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.