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A Semite

Denis Guenoun

Published by Columbia University Press

Published in print May 2014 | ISBN: 9780231164023
Published online November 2015 | e-ISBN: 9780231537247 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.7312/columbia/9780231164023.001.0001
A Semite

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In this memoir, the author excavates his family's past and fills out a portrait of an imposing, enigmatic father. René Guénoun was a teacher, pioneer, and supporter of Algerian independence. To be Algerian, pro-independence, a French citizen, a Jew, and a Communist were not, to René's mind, dissonant allegiances. He called himself a Semite, a word that he felt united Jewish and Arab worlds and best reflected a shared origin. He also believed that Algerians had the same political rights as Frenchmen. Although his Jewish family was rooted in Algeria, he inherited French citizenship. He taught science in a French lycée in Oran and belonged to the French Communist Party. His steadfast belief in liberty, equality, and fraternity led him into trouble, including prison and exile. René was drafted to defend Vichy France's colonies in the Middle East during World War II. At the same time, Vichy barred him and his wife from teaching because they were Jewish. When the British conquered Syria, he was sent home to Oran, and in 1943, after the Allies captured Algeria, he joined the Free French Army and fought in Europe. After the war, both parents did their best to reconcile militant unionism and clandestine party activity with the demands of work and family. The Guénouns had little interest in Israel and considered themselves at home in Algeria; yet because he supported Algerian independence, René outraged his French neighbors and was expelled from Algeria by the French paramilitary Organisation Armée Secrète. He spent his final years in Marseille.

Keywords: Algerian independence; Semite; Algeria; Oran; French Communist Party; prison; exile; World War Two; Free French Army

Book.  176 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social and Political Philosophy

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