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  • Isabel Kirsch

The Memorial: Excerpted from "Hidden in Plain Sight: An Itinerary through the Landscape of Holocaust Memory in Contemporary France"

In a reading room named for King Louis XIV and decorated with ceiling-height oil paintings of French military victories, I saw my great-grandfather, Adam Stein, for the first time. He was unsmiling, although his unevenly perched glasses made him seem a bit less stoic, and I was surprised by his youthful appearance, the smoothness of his skin. The curve of his chin reminded me of both my grandmother, Marguerite, and of my father. I lingered on the photograph, struck by my inability to take the picture out of the state archive for my family to appreciate and by the sudden, unexpected physicality of an ancestor who had existed only in words until then. I compromised with a photograph of the photograph and continued through Adam’s dossier. I found his image in a dossier housed at the Service Historique de la Défense (SHD), the Ministry of Defense’s main archive in a suburb just east of Paris, thanks to Laura, an archivist at the Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris who suggested searching for individual family members in an online military database. My father had told me that Adam served in the French military as a medic, but given the many laws enacted by the Vichy state to strip recently naturalized Jews of their citizenship, I was surprised to see Adam’s name pop up online, associated with dossiers in both Vincennes and at another SHD location in Caen. In these two dossiers, one linked to his resistance participation and the other to his military service-related death, I discovered the paper trail of his military roles, the circumstances of his death in September 1944, and ultimately his receipt of a coveted Mort pour la France (MPF) designation of having died in national military service. Jarnac’s local war memorial includes Adam because of this designation; however, the etching of his name into a marble slab fails to reflect the context that I found in his personnel files. What is the relationship between the version of Adam Stein constructed in the SHD’s dossiers and his representation on Jarnac’s war memorial? How does memory move from its construction in an archive to a tangible public presence?

In this final chapter, I will move beyond private, family knowledge and the construction of archival narratives to explore how these dynamics play out in concrete terms. Guided by medical anthropologist João Biehl’s application of the term “file self” to describe the identity established by a patient’s collected medical records, I will describe Adam’s as reflected in French military archives. [1] His “file self” not only extended the gaps inherent in any archive, but it also shaped the construction of a physical memory landscape. My analysis will draw on Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s understanding of the process by which archives construct historical silences, James E. Young’s genre-shaping work on Holocaust memorials, particularly his idea of “countermonuments” as “brazen, painfully self-conscious memorial spaces conceived to challenge the very premises of their being.” [2] While Young applies this term to the German memorial landscape and installations created by younger artists with no lived experience of the Nazi period, I will consider Jarnac’s war memorial as simultaneously, and unintentionally, both a monument and a countermonument. Analysis of Adam’s archival files revealed the inherent challenge that his name on Jarnac’s marble slab poses, the subversive potential that it holds to disrupt the memorial’s sturdy foundations. Nora’s framework of lieux de mémoire also proves generative in this chapter, as well as Andreas Huyssen’s description of “urban palimpsests.” [3] The Jarnac war memorial is a monument, a countermonument, and a palimpsest, a layered, textual reflection of differentially visible narratives and histories.

Adam’s File Self

Adam’s “file self” presents a naturalized Polish immigrant, doctor, military veteran, and resistance-affiliated medic who lost his life in a military accident in September 1944. His first dossier, labeled “16P 556576,” was housed within the “Résistance” office of a larger repository of the land army’s personnel files. The labeled manila file holding his documents featured a laundry list of acronyms of different officially recognized Resistance groups. [4] Here, somebody had drawn an uneven box around “FFI,” the acronym that applies to his “Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur” affiliation. [5] The folder included about twenty pages of documentation on almost transparent paper, including a “Certificate of Membership in the Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur,” the “Dossier of Homologation of F.F.I. Grade,” Adam’s “Individual Officer Record,” and descriptive mailing slips. Within his homologation dossier, I found a reprinted “Certificate of Membership,” an additional copy of his “Individual Officer Record,” two additional slips describing the dossier’s contents, and a few smaller sheets attesting to his promotions and titles within the resistance movement. These promotion-proving sheets carried the signature of his sector’s leader, Colonel Bernard. [6] These documents were dated from either 1946 or 1950, timing that suggests a slow military bureaucracy, that Adam’s wife and my great-grandmother, Fania, filed additional paperwork from New York after leaving France with Grammy in 1946, or perhaps both.

It is worth noting that the Angoulême questionnaires, which asked schoolteachers to describe their experiences of occupation and liberation for the Commission of the History of the Occupation and Liberation of France (CHOLF), also dated to 1950, in the midst of the ten-year period that historian Henry Rousso describes as France’s “unfinished mourning” of World War II’s humiliation and devastation. [7] The immediate aftermath of the Occupation prompted debate about the appropriate role of résistants in post-war politics; in fact, these tensions between Communists, different branches of résistants, and reactionary Pétainist parties were so worryingly visible that a former Pétain staffer coined the term “guerre franco-française” to characterize this political “civil war.” [8] It is within this context, and at the same approximate time, that regional military commanders in nearby Bordeaux reviewed and stamped Adam’s dossiers and that local schoolteachers described the German occupation of their towns for the CHOLF questionnaires.

These 1950 examples offer two distinct models of government-created questionnaires prompting civilians to engage with the recent wartime past. In the first model, the Charente schoolteachers submitted their completed questionnaires to a sealed archive for the stated purpose of “historical ends.” [9] In the second model, Adam’s widow, Fania, filled out paperwork to administratively recognize the wartime death of her husband with the expectation that military bureaucrats would view and process the documents in the immediate future. Rousso’s description of France’s “unfinished mourning” in 1950 takes on additional significance with these archival examples in mind. [10] Archives, too, were unfinished just five years after the war’s end. The multi-decade crystallization of French World War II memory that Rousso traces supports Trouillot’s observation that the act of assembling archives is a prerequisite to the creation of enduring historical narratives. In 1950, the questionnaires and wartime dossiers that make up today’s archival materials were still under construction.

The Adam that emerges in this dossier was patriotic and critical to the French war effort, a naturalized French citizen who joined the country’s military as a reservist medic and went on to serve with distinction within a local resistance chapter. After a childhood of hearing unconfirmable stories about my great-grandfather’s heroism and resistance activities, I was heartened by the version of Adam that became visible in these materials. In fact, not only did he participate in local resistance, but, according to a signed certificate in his file, he became the leading regional medic for his resistance unit in early September 1944, just days before his death. [11] While this rosy description was comforting to me as Adam’s descendant, it also served a concrete purpose for Fania. After all, if not for archival preservation for posterity, why might Fania have filled out such a daunting sheaf of documents? I will explore the writer, Fania, that these forms revealed. Just as the documents constructed an edited or burnished “file self” of Adam, so too did they reflect their author’s priorities. Unlike the local teachers who filed CHOLF questionnaires, Fania had a financial stake in the satisfactory shaping of Adam’s “file self,” for confirming her husband’s military service was critical to securing a widow’s pension.

In the spirit of Stoler and Trouillot, it is worth emphasizing how the structure of the “Individual Officer Record” shaped Fania’s ability to answer the stated questions. It appeared that the officer himself was meant to fill out the form, which did not mention a date of death and referred to the officer as the “interested party.” [12] However, by March 1946, the date stamped on the form, Adam was no longer alive, and Fania was left to complete the form in his absence. In asserting her own role in submitting the form, Fania also emphasized her status as a war widow, whether out of administrative necessity or to prompt sympathy in the military bureaucrats who processed the form. She mentioned this positionality in various ways throughout Adam’s detailed “Individual Officer Record,” ranging from subtle edits to an explicit assertion of her financial needs.

In the bottom-right corner on the back of the first pages, Fania signed the form where prompted. However, she crossed out the form’s language, “Signature of the interested party,” and replaced it with “Signature of the widow.” [13] This one-word substitution may have generated an emotional response and suggested that Fania was a uniquely and especially interested party. While a local military bureaucrat might have breezed through hundreds of forms each day, perhaps this description of Adam as an individual linked to a grieving, struggling, and very much alive wife could have encouraged the employee to give the document another read or even to advocate for benefits for Adam’s family. I cannot measure any such effects, yet, intentionally or not, Fania further shaped Adam’s “file self” by asserting her relationship as the signing party.

Fania also used her role as a widow to justify the form’s incompleteness. When asked for the address of the office charged with liquidating Adam’s army unit after the armistice in June 1940, she responded, “Being a widow, I do not remember.” [14] However, Fania’s widowhood itself said nothing about her ability to understand Adam’s military roles. In fact, she offered detailed notes about Adam’s different military and medical titles in the previous question. Instead of leaving the question blank or even writing “not applicable,” Fania defined herself as a widow to explain her lack of knowledge, knowledge that any French army officer would be expected to recall. In a form intended for a living officer with memories of his military placements, Fania clarified her incomplete information. I will never know the degree of intentionality behind Fania’s responses – was her insertion of the phrase “being a widow…” meant to provoke sympathy or simply to explain the form’s gap? No matter this distinction, however, this example further revealed Fania’s usage of the term “widow” beyond contexts where that information was explicitly requested, like the opening section’s request for details about the officer’s immediate family.

Fania’s gymnastics to accurately respond to a form meant for a living officer became painfully clear in a final example, her answer to a question about a preferred job or transfer to a new unit. She wrote, “I want to obtain a job, as a war widow, given that I have a child and that I lost all my family and all my belongings in the wake of the war.” [15] The form’s structure guided this response. Fania was not a military officer herself, but the only way to advocate for her family’s needs in this form was in this section, titled “Wishes expressed by the interested party.” The form expected and prompted officers to request a new role or transfer, yet Fania took the opportunity to emphasize her financial need. I did not find the relevant documentation, but I do know from my father that Fania was ultimately successful in her request for a war widow’s pension. She and Grammy arrived in New York City in late 1946, just a few months after she submitted Adam’s “Individual Officer Record.”

What Went Unfiled

While Adam’s first dossier illuminated details about his medical training and resistance activity, as well as Fania’s efforts to file posthumous paperwork on his behalf, his “file self” was additionally generative in its gaps. The dossier did not contain any mention of Adam’s status as a Jew. Nowhere did the form request religious or ethnic information; however, Fania alluded to anti-Jewish legislation in an addendum to Adam’s “Individual Officer Record.” The first question on this one-page addendum asked for a list of the respondent’s civil and military jobs between June 1940, the date of France’s devastating defeat to Germany, and liberation in September 1944. Fania responded with the following: “Having lost the right to exercise medicine under the law of August 16 1941 (son of a foreigner), he took a civilian job as an agricultural laborer…." [16] Upon further examination, this response seemed to combine details of different antisemitic statues implemented in the early years of the Vichy regime.

Fania’s reference to Adam’s classification as the “son of a foreigner” most closely referred to a Vichy law enacted just two months after the armistice. On August 16, 1940, Marshal Pétain, the head of the Vichy government, approved a law that created a doctor’s guild, called the Ordre des Médecins, and prohibited doctors without a French father to practice in or enter the medical field. [17] Historians Marrus and Paxton note that the medical profession had been “the most resentful of refugee interlopers in the 1930s” and had much to gain by restrictions on Jewish doctors and medical students. [18] Adam, who received his medical degree in August 1938, was exactly the kind of immigrant doctor that French doctors and the Vichy government had in mind with the passage of the 1940 law: he had left his birthplace, Warsaw, to pursue a medical degree in Paris due to restrictive quotas that prevented him from enrolling in Polish medical schools. [19] The 1940 law did not explicitly mention Jews; however, Marrus and Paxton note a “[general understanding]” that Jews were the primary target of this legislation. [20]

Almost exactly one year later, on August 11, 1941, Marshal Pétain implemented additional restrictions and quotas on Jewish doctors. Unlike that of the prior summer, this legislation explicitly mentioned Jews and fine-tuned the regime’s first Statut des juifs, passed the previous year in October 1940. The suite of summer 1941 laws focused not just on doctors, but also on Jewish lawyers, dentists, university students, architects, and others in the liberal professions. [21] The August statute limited Jewish doctors, for example, to comprising no more than two percent of licensed practitioners, while Jews could make up no more than three percent of the student body at higher education institutions. [22] Fania’s description of “the law of August 16 1941” seemed to mix these two statues – the first a veiled attempt to restrict immigrant Jewish doctors in August 1940, the second an explicit quota imposed on Jewish doctors regardless of parental citizenship as part of a larger purge of Jews from the liberal professions in August 1941.

Fania’s apparent error stood out given her clear and corroborated timeline of Adam’s military and resistance roles during the war. Why did she incorrectly reference a law passed on August 16, 1941, that prevented Adam from practicing medicine due to his status as the child of a foreigner, no matter his own naturalization as a French citizen? Instead, Adam’s medical practice was restricted the previous year, on August 16, 1940, when the Vichy government passed its first statute aimed at limiting Jewish participation in the medical profession. While the later August 1941 quota on Jewish doctors would have similarly restricted Adam’s ability to work as a doctor, it only further cemented professional exclusion that he already experienced thanks to the 1940 statute. Had Fania referred to the August 16, 1940, legislation, Adam’s Jewish background would not be immediately clear to the form’s reader. Instead, while the general understanding the Marron and Paxton mention may prompt readers to assume Adam’s Jewish origins, it is Fania’s perhaps subconscious reference to explicitly antisemitic legislation passed in August 1941 that would confirm Adam’s background to a suspicious reader. [23] Perhaps Fania simply wrote the wrong date in 1946 after years of targeted antisemitic statues. This likely lapse or confusion could also point to an attempt to conceal Adam’s Jewish background in his military dossier, especially her parenthetical reference to his foreign parentage, not his Judaism, as the justification for his cessation of licensed medical work. No matter the rationale behind her actions, Fania’s responses provided clues to Adam’s origins without explicit clarification.

Beyond Adam’s Jewish background, the dossiers also presented the circumstances of his death ambiguously. I will turn now to his second dossier, the folder housed in Caen at the SHD’s branch archive devoted to “victims of contemporary conflicts.” [24] This slim file, his official “Dossier de Décès,” included his entry in Angoulême’s city death records, internal resistance documents reporting the incident, a few paper slips that labeled and explained the various documents, and two forms about Adam’s posthumous receipt of the “Mort pour la France” designation bestowed on French soldiers who lost their lives in military service. [25] The summary page of Adam’s dossier listed the “genre” of death as an “injury caused by a service accident.” [26] A 1944 copy of Angoulême’s death registry went into more medical detail, listing the death as the result of a “penetrating wound in the 2nd left intercostal space by a service accident.” [27] A report filed the day after Adam’s death by his resistance unit’s commander, Colonel Bernard, offered additional context: “On the date of 13 September 1944, around 19h30, the Médecin-Commandant STEIN was found gravely wounded in his room by a firearm. The position of his body and that of the revolver found underneath him, as well as the inquest completed immediately, permit the clear conclusion of an accident during the manipulation of the gun.” [28]

Claude, the gruff man in his mid-sixties with whom I had coordinated my visit to the Caen archive, was suspicious after I asked for assistance deciphering the cursive handwriting on one of these documents. He read the multiple descriptions of Adam’s death, pointed out a few cursive words, and paused to look at me.

“This sounds a lot like a suicide.” I froze. I do not remember how I learned this information, but it is common family knowledge that yes, Adam died by suicide. At the time, suicide was not recognized as a service-related military death, so technically speaking, Adam’s name should not have been engraved on the Jarnac war memorial. Yet my more immediate concern was financial – Fania should never have received the widow’s pension that ultimately enabled her and Marguerite to relocate to New York in 1946. Could Adam be retroactively stripped of his Mort pour la France designation with the confirmation of his suicide? Could my family be liable for theft from the French government? I stuttered a response about the ongoing ambiguity of my great-grandfather’s death and how curious my family and I were about its circumstances, but my answer can’t have been particularly compelling. I returned to my carrel and deciphered the rest of the cursive without Claude’s assistance.

Mort pour la France

It took Claude just moments to identify the unstated cause of Adam’s death. How, then, did these documents succeed in proving Adam’s Mort pour la France status? I will trace the bureaucratic path that these documents revealed, from Adam’s death to his confirmation as “an MPF,” as contemporary archivists abbreviate the title, to demonstrate the role of archival ambiguity in making this designation possible. Unlike Susan Slyomovics, whose grandmother’s reparations claims were possible in large part because of carefully maintained German records of Jewish persecution, I will argue that the ambiguity in Adam’s documents ultimately allowed for a successful MPF claim and Fania’s receipt of a widow’s pension. [29]

Colonel Bernard’s report, filed the day after Adam’s death, suggested the seeming inevitability of a forthcoming MPF declaration. Besides his assertion of the “clear conclusion of an accident,” Bernard also included a glowing paragraph about Adam’s contributions to the resistance movement. The document ends in capital letters asserting Adam’s military sacrifice: “IL EST MORT POUR LA FRANCE!!” [30] I suspect that Bernard understood the circumstances of Adam’s death; his confident language and laudatory paragraph both seem so forceful potentially as attempts to hide ambiguous or alternate explanations. Perhaps Bernard understood the financial stakes for Adam’s widow and daughter of securing a widow’s pension and MPF designation, although I do not know the motives underlying his report.

A few months later, on January 22, 1945, Fania submitted a form titled “Request for Inscription of the Mention Mort Pour la France on the death act of a member of the FFI.” [31] In this document, Fania used the local death registry’s language to describe the cause of Adam’s death, with a slight addition: “Penetrating wound in the 2nd left intercostal space by a service accident – taken dead to the hospital.” [32] Understandably, Fania did not mention her husband’s suicide in her application for a military designation and related financial benefits. The case was picked up in Angoulême later that year with a typewritten report, handwritten addendum, and a final October 10, 1945, document confirming Adam’s approval for MPF designation.

The ambiguity of Adam’s death was visible even during these final exchanges. Despite Colonel Bernard’s earlier certainty of the cause of Adam’s death, a typed memo from August 1945 mentioned that “the causes of his death are still unknown.” [33] A handwritten note affixed to the memo summarized this concern and ended with a question: “The causes of his death remain unknown according to the report of the Commandant… [despite being assigned locally in Angoulême,] can the [MPF designation] be sustained without supplement from the inquest?” [34] Underlined below this question, another person’s handwriting responded, “yes.” With this willingness to overlook the inquest’s lack of certainty about Adam’s cause of death, it seemed that the next step was approval of his MPF status. On October 10, 1945, almost thirteen months after Adam’s death, the military’s Paris-based Service Central sent a form to the mayor of Angoulême requesting the addition of MPF status to Adam’s local death record. Upon receipt, the mayor’s office stamped the form, agreed to the addition, and returned the document as requested. [35]

Fania’s successful efforts to apply the MPF label to her deceased husband complicate Trouillot’s sequence of the production of historical silences that I discussed in the previous chapter. To Trouillot, the assembly of facts into archives requires selectivity; I agree that no one archive can possibly contain a complete record of all perspectives and experiences of a given event. However, in Adam’s case, archival incompleteness allowed recognition of his resistance involvement and wartime activities. Both his Jewish background and suicide were not explicitly visible in his dossiers. The first silence may have minimized Fania’s concerns about antisemitism in the bureaucratic process, while the second enabled her to receive financial support from the French government. This section is not to challenge Trouillot’s progression of historical silence production, from the assembly of facts to the concretizing of shared historical narratives. [36] Instead, I offer a caveat – that, in certain circumstances, archival silences may tangibly benefit the families referenced in said archival material. Unlike sealed government archives which scholars have described as benefiting the perpetrators of French colonial crimes, the silences that I analyze here benefited a victim of Nazi and Vichy antisemitic persecution, despite his proud service in the French military. [37]

I will consider Adam’s dossier as a palimpsest, a text with overlapping meanings and content inscribed by different authors over time. Historian Jody Russell Manning notes that the Greek-derived word describes the erasure of previous writing from a parchment scroll and the inscription of new content. [38] In contemporary academic use, urban geographers, psychologists, and anthropologists alike usually use the term to emphasize either the act of erasure of memory or the creation of new, overlapping patterns through repeated inscriptions. It is in this second sense that I view Adam’s dossiers as a palimpsest. Although these files did not reflect the literal erasure of one text and its replacement by another, they displayed a temporal progression between authors and the ongoing influence of earlier iterations. This dynamic was most clear in the files that traced the trail of Adam’s MPF designation. Four months after Colonel Bernard’s patriotic missive following Adam’s death, Fania mobilized the language on the local Angoulême death record to submit an application for military review. Later that year, internal military documents showed uncertainty about Adam’s status given the inconclusive inquest into his death, despite Bernard’s apparent confidence that a tragic accident had taken place. However, the application’s reviewers did not deem this concern worthy of derailing Adam’s posthumous application, and in late 1945, the Angoulême mayor’s office confirmed his new administrative status and its reflection in city materials.

The Jarnac War Memorial

With this reading of Adam’s dossiers as a palimpsest in mind, I will now move to the most tangible result of Adam’s MPF status, the presence of his name on Jarnac’s memorial to the local men killed in military service during the World Wars. Jarnac is not alone in its prominent memorial to French war dead from the two World Wars – in fact, as historian Antoine Prost notes in an essay compiled for Nora’s “Lieux de Mémoire” collection, almost all French communes have such a memorial. [39] The monuments were initially constructed in the years immediately following World War I, often with a modest subsidy from the national government. [40] Instead of creating new monuments, after World War II, most municipalities simply added World War II casualties to the original monument, often in a less central location due to space constraints. While Prost identifies four different categories of monuments, classified by varying degrees of funereal, patriotic, civic, and republican elements, he emphasizes that most of the monuments share similar language and read “Morts pour la Patrie” or “Dead for the Country,” mirroring the Mort pour la France vocabulary of military death certificates like Adam’s. [41]

I visited Jarnac’s memorial, a substantial white marble slab with names etched on all faces, with Corinne, the descendant of dear friends of my great-grandparents who had hidden Grammy in their home during the war. Both Corinne and Pierre, her cousin, had brought up the memorial in the context of Bastille Day and Armistice Day ceremonies, although neither of them routinely visited the memorial in everyday life. Corinne mentioned that the memorial was recently relocated from a central traffic circle to the quiet park, replaced by a bust of hometown hero and former president François Mitterrand. She noted that the new memorial site, with its open plaza, allowed for commemoration ceremonies without closing busy downtown streets. Despite this reasonable justification, I was struck by the sterility and emptiness of the plaza and noticed that Corinne and I were the only visitors except for a man walking his dog on the other side of the park. While Nora views local military monuments like this one in Jarnac as exemplary lieux de mémoire, this memorial did not hold nearly the same degree of meaning for Corinne as the gifts and letters from Grammy maintained privately at home.

Thanks to his MPF classification, Adam’s name did appear on Jarnac’s memorial. The front and back sides of the slab were already full with almost one hundred alphabetized names and excerpts of speeches from World War I, so Adam and the other five local military casualties from World War II appeared on a thinner side, not either of the main faces. Below these names were short lists from two more conflicts, colonial independence struggles in Southeast Asia and Algeria. The slab was adorned with carved bunches of grapes, and a statue of a cloaked mother stood in front of the display, pointing out names to her sculpted young son. With my newfound understanding of the paper trail behind Adam’s technically inappropriate MPF designation, my visit to the memorial prompted mixed emotions. I was at once proud of my great-grandfather’s military and resistance service, disheartened by the glossing over of his Jewish background and any other personal details besides his name, and unsure how much my companion, Corinne, knew about the circumstances of Adam’s death and the receipt of this MPF recognition. Did these later generations of Corinne’s family, the Girods, know that Adam died by suicide? After the discomfort of my interaction with Claude in the Caen SHD archives, I did not ask this question, despite my curiosity.

While Adam’s dossiers themselves served as a palimpsest in a more literal, textual sense, Jarnac’s war memorial as a whole can be considered an “urban palimpsest,” to use the phrasing of comparative literature scholar Andreas Huyssen. [42] Huyssen cautions against a growing trend of considering cities and buildings as palimpsests, as most buildings are not actually reinscribed on the same foundation as their predecessor, and a building performs one purpose at a given time. To Huyssen, the “urban palimpsest” is temporal rather than spatial; urban palimpsests emerge at the convergence of past memories, present uses, and even future possibilities brought together by modern technologies and a seeming compression of the past into contemporary life. [43] This convergence of past and present was clear during mine and Corinne’s visit to the memorial. Corinne and I, connected by links between past generations of our families, stood together in front of a monument bearing my great-grandfather’s name.

While this engraving on the marble slab was the most tangible, permanent, and publicly displayed evidence that I found of my family’s presence in Jarnac, it was also the least informative. In the process of inscribing and consolidating Adam’s “file self,” from a sheaf of personnel documents to his death records to memos about an ambiguous inquest to, finally, his certificate of MPF designation, details about his Jewish background and the circumstances of his death disappeared. Instead of the erasure and rewriting that a palimpsest suggests, Adam’s engraved name was the result of a layered selection process. Not only did his paper trail reveal different iterations and authors, but it also shrank from full archival folders to a simple two-word inscription on the memorial. It was this shrunken representation of a complex, layered human life that remained visible to passersby.

Yet even this shrunken, context-free representation of Adam on the marble slab was enough to transform the memorial from a straightforward monument to an unwitting “countermonument.” [44] While James E. Young uses the term to describe “brazen, painfully self-conscious memorial spaces conceived to challenge the very premises of their being,” the Jarnac memorial reflected no such intentionality. However, to an informed viewer, the presence of Adam’s name unintentionally challenged the patriotism and united French national sentiment that the monument glorified. Adam, a naturalized, Communist-affiliated Jew of Eastern European origins and a graduate of French medical school, was a prime target of the Vichy government’s antisemitic legislation. And yet, following the war, Adam was included on this memorial, officially recognized as a soldier who “died for France” for his military and resistance service. Despite the circumstances of his death, despite the lack of context about his life, and despite this painful irony, I was proud to see my great-grandfather’s name etched onto Jarnac’s war memorial. However, the Jarnac war memorial became a subversive “countermonument” only with additional context. I knew nothing about the other men listed on the wall, just as most other visitors would be unaware of the layered texts and meaning behind Adam’s name. My countermonument, a tangible reminder of Adam’s national service in the midst of active persecution, was, to most visitors, a standard local war memorial.


It is worth noting a final silence in both Adam’s constructed “file self” and his presence on the Jarnac war memorial’s side – his role not as a military officer or resistance medic but as a father. Grammy’s own memoir, a twenty-page Microsoft Word document circulated within our small extended family a few years before her 2020 death, provided just this insight. From Fania’s addendum to the “Individual Officer Record,” we learned that Adam worked as an agricultural laborer after losing his license to practice medicine. Not only did Grammy’s memoir describe Adam in a different job, working in road construction, but it also offered insight into Adam’s emotional life: “He was very unhappy. I remember how sad he looked. I have thought a lot about this, both when I was young and when I was older. Despite his obvious unhappiness, he continued to want me to learn. I had some special moments with him, and they are memories I cherish.” [45] While Fania’s forms and Grammy’s memoir presented similar timelines of Adam’s restriction from his chosen profession, it is only in Grammy’s reflection that I could feel the emotional weight of these statutes on Adam.

Her description of her father’s death was similarly evocative. Beyond the detailed medical language in the dossier’s description of Adam’s “penetrating wound in the 2nd left intercostal space,” Grammy’s brief memoir offered a personal account of his death and is worth including in full:

“And I immediately figured out what was happening: my mother in tears, everybody gone, and I’m here, and the daughter [of the family at whose house I was staying]—of all things—goes out and brings out a real stove, and a real potato, and starts a real fire?
‘What’s happened to my father?’ I asked.
‘Well, he’s busy.’
And I said, ‘I know he’s dead.’
She was just speechless. Literally. She never said another word about it. Neither did I. Nor did anyone else! Even my mother never officially told me he died. She took for granted that I already knew. She was at her wit’s end too. Everyone was upset.
I didn’t find out until more than a quarter century later that he had killed himself.” [46]

No glorified statement from Colonel Bernard or administrative confirmation of Adam’s MPF status could capture the emotions that Grammy described. Laura, the archivist at the Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris who directed me to Adam’s dossiers in the SHD archives, commented that, despite her job at a public archive, she found private family archives to be “the best” archival source because of the personal flavor of family documents. Bracketing the implications of this statement for families without such traceable archivable documents, it is Laura’s point about the personal, emotional content of private family documents that stands out in this case. However, it took both official monument and personal memoir, public record and private account, to represent Adam in his various roles as a résistant, doctor, reservist, and father. Despite its public visibility, the war memorial’s shrinking of layered archival materials and lack of context made it an incomplete representation of Adam’s life and military service.



1. João Biehl, Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 125.

2. James E. Young, The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 27.

3. Andreas Huyssen, Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003).

4. Note my challenge in determining when to refer to “Resistance” or “resistance.” Kedward’s In Search of the Maquis offers helpful background on the difference between officially recognized, capital-R Resistance movements later absorbed into the French army and spontaneous, less centrally organized, lowercase-R resistance. In this paper, I use uppercase and lowercase “Resistance/resistance” depending on the context and guided by this distinction.

5. Dossier 16P 556576. Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes, France. Accessed June 2022.

6. Dossier 16P 556576. Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes, France. Accessed June 2022.

7. Henry Rousso, The Vichy Syndrome (Boston: Harvard University, 1991), 15.

8. Rousso, The Vichy Syndrome, 29.

9. Enquête sur l’Histoire…, spring 1950. See any questionnaire.

10. Rousso, The Vichy Syndrome, 15.

11. Dossier 16P 556576, “Nomination le 3 septembre 1944,” Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes, France. Accessed June 2022.

12. Dossier 16P 556576, “Fiche Individuelle d’Officier,” Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes, France. Accessed June 2022.

13. Dossier 16P 556576, “Fiche Individuelle d’Officier,” Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes, France. Accessed June 2022.

14. Dossier 16P 556576, “Fiche Individuelle d’Officier,” Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes, France. Accessed June 2022.

15. Dossier 16P 556576, “Fiche Individuelle d’Officier,” Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes, France. Accessed June 2022.

16. Dossier 16P 556576, “Addidif à la Fiche Individuelle d’Officier,” Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes, France. Accessed June 2022.

17. Marrus and Paxton, Vichy France and the Jews, 4.

18. Marrus and Paxton, Vichy France and the Jews, 160.

19. Dossier 16P 556576, “Fiche Individuelle d’Officier,” Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes, France. Accessed June 2022.

20. Marrus and Paxton, Vichy France and the Jews, 4.

21. Marrus and Paxton, Vichy France and the Jews, 98.

22. Marrus and Paxton, Vichy France and the Jews, 99.

23. Note that Jews were considered a racial category during the Vichy period. While today, I might answer “Jewish” if asked about my religion on a form, at this time, being categorized as a Jew was a predominantly racial category that carried with it associated religious beliefs. Many of France’s Jews, Adam included, were secular, but the racial classification still applied.

24. More information about this archival division is available here, on the SHD’s website:

25. Dossier de Décès 21P 157650, Service Historique de la Défense, Caen, France. Accessed July 2022.

26. Dossier de Décès 21P 157650, Service Historique de la Défense, Caen, France. Accessed July 2022.

27. Dossier de Décès 21P 157650, “Extrait du Registre des Décès,” Service Historique de la Défense, Caen, France. Accessed July 2022.

28. Dossier de Décès 21P 157650, “Rapport du Colonel Bernard,” Service Historique de la Défense, Caen, France. Accessed July 2022.

29. Susan Slyomovics, How to Accept German Reparations (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014). Anthropologist Susan Slyomovics tracks her grandmother’s and mother’s efforts to secure German payments and the paperwork required to prove Jewish victimhood at the hands of the Nazi state. To Slyomovics, proof of her grandmother’s presence in the German concentration camp system ultimately enables her relative to receive financial payment for her persecution. Despite the uncomfortable quantification of German war debt and its translation from human into financial terms, it is ultimately only with archival proof that Slyomovics’ grandmother is able to establish her eligibility for compensation. The contemporary German reparations system rests on the same name-reliant archival logic as the bureaucratic documents of Nazi genocide.

30. Dossier de Décès 21P 157650, “Rapport du Colonel Bernard,” Service Historique de la Défense, Caen, France. Accessed July 2022.

31. Dossier de Décès 21P 157650, “Demande d’Inscription de la Mention Mort Pour la France…,” Service Historique de la Défense, Caen, France. Accessed July 2022.

32. Dossier de Décès 21P 157650, “Demande d’Inscription de la Mention Mort Pour la France…,” Service Historique de la Défense, Caen, France. Accessed July 2022.

33. Dossier de Décès 21P 157650, “Rapport du Colonel Commandant la Subdivision Militaire de la Charente…,” Service Historique de la Défense, Caen, France. Accessed July 2022.

34. Note affixed to Dossier de Décès 21P 157650, “Rapport du Colonel Commandant la Subdivision Militaire de la Charente…,” Service Historique de la Défense, Caen, France. Accessed July 2022.

35. Dossier de Décès 21P 157650, “Je vous prie de bien vouloir…,” Service Historique de la Défense, Caen, France. Accessed July 2022.

36. Trouillot, Silencing the Past, 26.

37. Didier Fassin and Richard Rechtman, “Introduction: A New Language of the Event,” in The Empire of Trauma: An Inquiry into the Condition of Victimhood (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009); Rothberg, The Implicated Subject. I use the terms “perpetrator” and “victim” with caution given Fassin’s, Rechtman’s, and Rothberg’s awareness of the malleability of these terms and their applicability in different situations.

38. Jody Russell Manning, “The Palimpsest of Memory: Auschwitz and Oświęcim,” Holocaust Studies 16, no. 1–2 (June 2010): 236.

39. Antoine Prost, “Monuments to the Dead,” In Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1996), 307.

40. Prost, “Monuments to the Dead,” 308.

41. Prost, “Monuments to the Dead,” 311.

42. Huyssen, Present Pasts.

43. Huyssen, Present Pasts, 7.

44. Young, The Texture of Memory, 27.

45. Lederberg, 13.

46. Lederberg, 20.

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