Thanks to my academic background in modern French history, I was delighted when the Generations of the Shoah International (GSI) Book/Film Discussion Group announced its December 2012 guests: Jean Bodon and Antoine Malamoud, who would discuss the documentary Léon Blum: For All Mankind. Bodon directed the film; Malamoud is Blum’s great-grandson.
I was familiar with much of Blum’s story, especially his status as France’s first Jewish premier, most remembered for leading the Popular Front that came to power in 1936. But the fine documentary—which I was able to watch easily through Amazon Prime; you can also find it on Netflix—covers one piece of Blum’s story that I am ashamed to admit I did not recall clearly at all: Blum was arrested by the Vichy government in 1940 and imprisoned in France for nearly three years, after which he was transferred to German custody. In April 1943, he was moved to a detention site just outside the main camp at Buchenwald, where he remained until 1945. When Antoine Malamoud pointed out that letters that Blum wrote from his German detention to his son Robert (Malamoud’s grandfather, who was a French prisoner-of-war in Germany at the time) have been collected and published, as Lettres de Buchenwald, I was intrigued.