Yid­dish Paris: Stag­ing Nation and Com­mu­ni­ty in Inter­war France

January 5, 2022

Yid­dish Paris explores how Yid­dish-speak­ing emi­grants from East­ern Europe in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s cre­at­ed a Yid­dish dias­po­ra nation in West­ern Europe and how they pre­sent­ed that nation to them­selves and to oth­ers in France.

In this metic­u­lous­ly researched and first full-length study of inter­war Yid­dish cul­ture in France, author Nicholas Under­wood argues that the emer­gence of a Yid­dish Paris was depend­ed on cul­ture mak­ers,” most­ly left-wing Jews from Social­ist and Com­mu­nist back­grounds who cre­at­ed cul­tur­al and schol­ar­ly orga­ni­za­tions and insti­tu­tions, includ­ing the French branch of YIVO (a research insti­tu­tion focused on East Euro­pean Jews), the­ater troupes, cho­rus­es, and a pavil­ion at the Paris World’s Fair of 1937.

Yid­dish Paris exam­ines how these left-wing Yid­dish-speak­ing Jews insist­ed that even in France, a coun­try known for demand­ing the assim­i­la­tion of immi­grant and minor­i­ty groups, they could remain a dis­tinct group, part of a transna­tion­al Yid­dish-speak­ing Jew­ish nation. Yet, in the process, they in fact cre­at­ed a French-inflect­ed ver­sion of Jew­ish dias­po­ra nation­al­ism, find­ing allies among French intel­lec­tu­als, large­ly on the left.

Discussion Questions

This elo­quent book cap­tures the moment when Paris was the hub in West­ern Europe for Yid­dish cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal expres­sion by telling the sto­ries of Yid­dish cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions in inter­war Paris – span­ning from the­aters to polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tions to pub­li­ca­tions – that artic­u­lat­ed an expand­ed vision of cul­tur­al Jew­ish­ness while stead­fast­ly remain­ing ded­i­cat­ed to the French Republic. 

Min­ing archives on both sides of the Atlantic, Under­wood demon­strates how Yid­dish writ­ers, intel­lec­tu­als, and artists in Paris carved out an autonomous space for Yid­dish cul­ture pro­duc­tion that was com­mit­ted to both polit­i­cal ideas like Dias­po­ra Nation­al­ism as well as French civic cul­ture. This book will be essen­tial read­ing for those inter­est­ed in Yid­dish cul­ture, West­ern Europe, and Jew­ish life in the inter­war period.