A Proud Jewish Native Son
by Andrew Nagorski for Moment Magazine
In November 1938, as Hitler was preaching his gospel of hate, French Prime Minister Léon Blum delivered a speech to the International League Against Anti-Semitism about “the tragic Jewish question.” Urging European nations to open their doors to the growing number of Jewish refugees who had been condemned “to a bitter and unfortunate fate,” he left no doubt about his identity. “I am a Jew who has never boasted of his background but who has never been ashamed of it either, a Jew who has always opened up to his name,” he declared.
This was vintage Blum, and explains why he is a perfect subject for Yale’s Jewish Lives series. Pierre Birnbaum, professor emeritus at the Sorbonne, points out that Blum’s electoral victory in France in 1936 as head of the Popular Front, a coalition of leftist parties, was not the first time that a Jew had risen so high in European politics. Benjamin Disraeli served as Britain’s prime minister in the previous century—but he was a convert to the Anglican faith. “For the first time, not only in France but in the modern era, a Jew who did not hide his identity but often proclaimed it with pride had become the head of a major government,” Birnbaum writes.
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