Emma Kuby, "Political Survivors: The Resistance, the Cold War, and the Fight against Concentration Camps After 1945" (Cornell UP, 2019)


Emma Kuby’s new book, Political Survivors: The Resistance, the Cold War, and the Fight against Concentration Camps after 1945 (Cornell UP, 2019) traces the fascinating history of the International Commission Against the Concentration Camp Regime (CICRC) established in 1949 by the French intellectual and Nazi camp survivor David Rousset. In the wake of the Second World War, Rousset called upon fellow deportees who had been detained for their political activities to serve as expert witnesses to Nazism’s “concentrationary universe” and to oppose any repetition of its crimes in the postwar world.

Following the work of the CICRC through the 1950s and up to the end of the Algerian War, Political Survivors examines the vicissitudes of an organization whose makeup and activities embodied the complexities of the post-1945 political field. Negotiating the traumatic experience and memory of the war, the CICRC’s members and activism were caught up in the politics of the Cold War. This included receiving funding support from the CIA. Attending to sites of political repression and incarceration around the globe, from the Soviet Union’s gulag system to Franco’s Spain, Greece, Tunisia, China, and Algeria, the international group’s preoccupations also expressed the specificities of French national and imperial politics. The CICRC’s investigations and dramatic mock trials exposed and denounced some injustices, but short-circuited in the face of others. The organization’s insistence on the repeatability of the Nazi camp system was both a source of its power to judge and a weakness. When confronted with situations in which past and present could not be compared so easily, the group’s mission fell short. Plagued by a number of tensions, including a membership policy that refused “racial” victims and did not engage the issue of genocide, the organization ultimately foundered over the case of the Algerian War. Analyzing this complex history, Political Survivors is a book that feels all-too-urgent in 2019. Readers interested in learning more about political violence and resistances past and present will find its insights challenging, and deeply thought-provoking.

To read Emma’s thoughts on the contemporary relevance of the history she treats in Political Survivors, particularly with respect to the detention of migrants in the United States today, see her July 2, 2019 piece in Dissent here.

Roxanne Panchasi is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University. Her current research focuses on the representation of nuclear weapons and testing in France and its empire since 1945. She lives and reads in Vancouver, Canada. If you have a recent title to suggest, please send an email to: panchasi@sfu.ca.

*The music that opens and closes the podcast is an instrumental version of “Creatures,” a song written and performed by Vancouver artist/musician Casey Wei (“hazy”). To hear more, please visit https://agonyklub.com/.

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Roxanne Panchasi

Roxanne Panchasi is an Associate Professor of History at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada who specializes in twentieth and twenty-first century France and empire. She is the founding host of New Books in French Studies, a channel launched in 2013.

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