In the early years of World War II, thousands of political refugees traveled from France to Vichy-controlled Martinique in the French Caribbean, en route to what they hoped would be safer shores in North, Central, and South America. While awaiting transfer from the colony, the exiles formed influential ties-with one another and with local black dissidents. Escape from Vichy recounts this flight from the refugees' perspectives, using novels, unpublished diaries, archives, memoirs, artwork, and other materials to explore the unlikely encounters that fueled an anti-fascist artistic and intellectual movement.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.
What began as expulsion became a kind of rescue, cut short by Washington's fears that wolves might be posing in sheep's clothing.
Eric T. Jennings is Distinguished Professor, History of France and the Francophone World at the University of Toronto, and his latest book is Escape from Vichy: The Refugee Exodus to the French Caribbean (Harvard, 2018). Earlier books include Free French Africa in World War II: The African Resistance and Vichy in the Tropics Pétain's National Revolution in Madagascar, Guadeloupe, and Indochina, 1940-44.
This event is made possible by support from the Knapp Family Foundation.