Lecture: "Escape from Vichy: The Refugee Exodus to the French Caribbean"

March 22, 2019

On March 5, 2019, the European Institute co-sponsored a lecture by Eric T. Jennings, Distinguished Professor of the History of France and the Francophone World at the University of Toronto, on his new book Escape from Vichy: The Refugee Exodus to the French Caribbean (Harvard University Press, 2018).

Escape from Vichy recounts the journeys of thousands of political refugees who traveled from France to to Vichy-controlled Martinique in the French Caribbean in the early years of World War II. It uses novels, unpublished diaries, archives, memoirs, artwork, and other materials to explore the unlikely encounters that fueled an anti-fascist artistic and intellectual movement.

The refugees included Spanish Republicans, anti-Nazi Germans and Austrians, anti-fascist Italians, Jews from across Europe, and others fleeing violence and repression. They were met with hostility by the Vichy government and rejection by the nations where they hoped to settle. Martinique, however, provided a site propitious for creative ferment, where the revolutionary Victor Serge conversed with the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, and the Surrealist André Breton met Negritude thinkers René Ménil and Aimé and Suzanne Césaire. As Eric T. Jennings shows, these interactions gave rise to a rich current of thought celebrating blackness and rejecting racism.

The event was made possible by support from the Knapp Family Foundation.