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 Escape from Vichy recounts this flight from the refugees’ perspectives, using novels, unpublished diaries, archives, memoirs, artwork, and other materials to explore the unlikely encounters that fueled an anti-fascist artistic and intellectual movement.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.
An excellent book. Using a wide array of sources, Jennings vividly describes a short-lived but important episode in the refugee experience during World War II—the desperate attempts of those who went to Marseille in order to emigrate to the French Caribbean. He examines the cultural creativity that emerged as a result of the encounter between the refugees, many of whom were Surrealists, and native black artists and intellectuals on Martinique, especially Aimé and Suzanne Césaire, the founders of the ‘negritude’ movement.
Jennings tells the little-known story of the escape route that took some thousands of Jews, Spanish republicans, and others menaced by Nazi Germany from Marseille to France’s Caribbean colony of Martinique. Many of those saved in this way from the clutches of Nazism were prominent artists and intellectuals, some of whom—Claude Levi-Strauss, André Breton, Wilfredo Lam—enjoyed, or would enjoy, international renown. We learn about Martinique’s complex relations with the United States, which feared that many of the refugees destined for the island were potential fifth columnists eager to attack Americans from within. And it is fascinating to see how the connection between negritude and surrealism played out in Martinique.
[An] eye-opening history of the Martinique ‘refuge’ during World War II. Escape from Vichy provides a rich social history of one of the understudied escape routes of World War II, one fraught with internment camps and Pétainist antisemites, yet one that allowed some five thousand refugees to flee Nazi-ridden Europe.
- 2019, Winner of the Gilbert Chinard Prize
- 320 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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