The Ph.D. Program in History

at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

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November 9 Center for Jewish History: Patriotic Self-Portraits

Florence Largilliere


Patriotic Self-Portraits: Letters of French and Italian Jewish Veterans Faced with Racial Laws


Thursday, November 9, 4 PM


The implementation of Racial Laws in 1938 (Italy) and 1940 (France) were a shock for many French and Italian Jews who had believed their participation in the Great War would mark the last step of their integration. Less than twenty-five years after their sacrifices, thousands of individuals were suddenly regarded as second-class citizens. However, exemptions to some of the Racial Laws could be granted to French and Italian Jews who met certain patriotic criteria. To obtain this exemption, called dérogation in French and discriminazione in Italian, Jews had to write to their governments and explain why they deserved this privileged status.


This paper is based on these demands for exemption. It will outline the discursive strategies of patriotic Jews and analyse how they portrayed themselves and self-fashioned their stories to nationalist antisemitic authorities. It will show that, while these letters provide a rather homogeneous definition of what it meant for patriotic Jews to be an ideal Italian or French man, they also reveal a great diversity of Jewishnesses, of ways of belonging to a Jewish community. If being part of the nation meant being part of a whole, defined by others, and thus easy for patriotic Jews to adapt to in their letters, being Jewish was defined on a more personal, almost case by case basis.


Florence Largilliere, the Dr. Sophie Bookhalter Graduate Research Fellow at the Center for Jewish History, is a doctoral student studying history at Queen Mary, University of London.


Philipp Nielsen, who will respond to Florence’s paper, is Assistant Professor of History at Sarah Lawrence College.


If you have not RSVPed and wish to do so in order to receive Florence’s paper, please email Judah Bernstein (

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