“The Burdens of Brotherhood,” which grew out of Katz’s doctoral
dissertation, is about the interactions between French Jews and French Muslims during
the stormy history of France during the Twentieth Century. Much attention is focused on those who lived
in France’s American Jewish lore.
Award winners this year include Dennis Ross, longtime Middle East envoy,
who served two years as special assistant to President Obama, and Rabbi Lord
Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of England, who is a global religious
leader, philosopher, and bestselling author. Other past award winners include
Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and well-known author of “Night” (where
Wiesel describes his and his father’s experiences in Nazi Germany’s
concentration camps) and such renowned luminaries of Jewish letters as Philip
Roth, winner twice of the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction and winner of the
Pulitzer Prize, and Isaac Bashevis Singer, winner of the Nobel Prize for
Katz gives a prime example of the
complexity of this history in the third chapter of his book, entitled “Jews as
Muslims and Muslims as Jews.” The
chapter is set during World War II, when Germany invaded and occupied France
and the lives of many Jews were in danger (eventually one fourth of France’s
Jews were deported and murdered). France’s
government, during that time became known as Vichy France – a government that
ruled in the Southern Zone while Germany occupied the Northern Zone. On the rue de Surènes, a Parisian street,
there stood a café named “Little Hungary.”
An Iranian Muslim, Sebastien Hassid, owned the restaurant along with his
wife, Ilonka Laufer, and Laufer’s sister, Blanche Luckas. The
problem: German authorities questioned
the religious identity of Laufer, who had changed her name to Ilonka
Hassid. Born Jewish, she had become a
practicing Muslim due to her marriage.
Under a new German
ordinance, in Northern France, all Jewish property was given to “provisional
administrators.” Suspicious of Ilonka
Hassid’s and Blanche Luckas’ religious origins, “provisional administrators”
took over the restaurant ownership.
Luckas had to sell her stock in the restaurant. Ultimately, as Katz writes, “Despite failing
to obtain further information, the (German) authorities concluded in February
1943 that Ilonka Hassid was indeed a Muslim and that the Hassids’ marriage
contract made her husband’s property separate from her own. They they said the restaurant
should be returned to the Hassids.” This case illustrates how French
policy influenced the relationships between Muslims and Jews in France and its
territories. Throughout the book, Katz
gives other examples of how the French state played a key role in Muslim-Jewish
relations. He shows how varied relations
were historically, while also tracing the way that by the later decades of the
twentieth century, Muslims and Jews were more sharply demarcated from one
another and frequently aligned with opposing political camps in the
Israeli-Arab struggle. During the
start of the Century, Jews were content with living under the French government
amongst their Muslim neighbors, but by the middle and toward the end of the
century, many Jews were leaving France and its colonies to go to Israel.
A Chateaubriand Fellowship from the Cultural
Services of the French Embassy in the United States helped Katz start the
research for his dissertation. This highly
selective fellowship allows doctoral students enrolled in American universities
to research in France for four to nine months.
It enabled Katz to spend nearly a year traveling between three French
cities, gathering material in some twenty archives that he would use for his
Being bilingual, Katz was able to read
through thousands of French documents for the book. He had majored in history and French at
Amherst College, from which he graduated Summa
Cum Laude in 2002. While at Amherst
he spent a semester in France. Since
then, Katz has returned to France many times for his studies. And, he is improving upon a third language –
Hebrew. Katz has also made trips to
Israel for studies and research.
Besides the Chateaubriand
Fellowship, Katz also received the George L. Mosse distinguished graduate
fellowship from the University of Wisconsin, dissertation grants from the
Foundation for Jewish Culture, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, and
the Society for French Historical Studies.
Katz has also received funding from the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic
Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and the Charles Phelps Taft Research
Center, each of which provided a year-long research and writing fellowship that
proved crucial to the completion of his book.
Katz is already working on a new
book – where he hopes to describe in detail a little-known Algerian uprising
from 1940 to 1943. This insurrection
proved pivotal to the success of Operation Torch, the Allied landing in North
Africa in November 1942, which Katz explains was at that time the largest
amphibious invasion in recorded human history.
This operation consisted of simultaneous landings at three points,
Casablanca (in Morocco), Oran (in Algeria), and Algiers (also in Algeria).
For more information about Dr. Katz,
go to his Web site at http://www.ethankatz.net/about.html.
For more information about the Jewish Book Council Awards, visit the
council’s Web site at http://www.jewishbookcouncil.org/awards/2015-national-jewish-book-award-winners-and-finalists.
Here is a picture of Dr. Katz receiving the 2015 National Jewish Book Award during the March 9, awards dinner at the Center for Jewish History in New York City. To his left is Naomi Firestone-Teeter, Executive Director of the Jewish Book Council. To his right is Rabbi and best-selling author Joseph Telushkin, who acted as the emcee at the awards dinner.