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Escape from Vichy

Escape from Vichy

The Refugee Exodus to the French Caribbean

Eric T. Jennings

ISBN 9780674983380

Publication date: 03/09/2018

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In the early years of World War II, thousands of political refugees traveled from France to Vichy-controlled Martinique in the French Caribbean, en route to what they hoped would be safer shores in North, Central, and South America. While awaiting transfer from the colony, the exiles formed influential ties—with one another and with local black dissidents. Escape from Vichy recounts this flight from the refugees’ perspectives, using novels, unpublished diaries, archives, memoirs, artwork, and other materials to explore the unlikely encounters that fueled an anti-fascist artistic and intellectual movement.

The refugees included Spanish Republicans, anti-Nazi Germans and Austrians, anti-fascist Italians, Jews from across Europe, and others fleeing violence and repression. They were met with hostility by the Vichy government and rejection by the nations where they hoped to settle. Martinique, however, provided a site propitious for creative ferment, where the revolutionary Victor Serge conversed with the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, and the Surrealist André Breton met Negritude thinkers René Ménil and Aimé and Suzanne Césaire. As Eric T. Jennings shows, these interactions gave rise to a rich current of thought celebrating blackness and rejecting racism.

What began as expulsion became a kind of rescue, cut short by Washington’s fears that wolves might be posing in sheep’s clothing.


  • A riveting, heart-wrenching story of exile, intellectual cross-fertilization, and political awakening among refugees from Hitler’s Europe who escaped together to Martinique. Jennings has written a brilliant new chapter in the transatlantic history of negritude, anti-colonialism, and anti-racism.

    —Alice L. Conklin, The Ohio State University


  • 2019, Winner of the Gilbert Chinard Prize


  • Eric T. Jennings is Distinguished Professor in the History of France and the Francophonie at the University of Toronto.

Book Details

  • 320 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press