Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, after living for many years at 27 rue de Fleurus in Paris, found a country house near Belley and fell madly in love with it. When they first arrived in the area, they were vacationing, and the house was occupied by another renter. But the women had their hearts set on the place, even though they had only seen it across a valley, and used their influential friends to have the lessee, a soldier, promoted and thus transferred away from the area. They finally had their house, after a long wait, and would live in Belley and the surrounding area, some 80 km east of Lyon, through World War II and until Gertrude’s death.
One of the questions Janet Malcolm tries to answer in Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice is how two American Jewish women managed to live unmolested in the French countryside throughout the German occupation, even as the young men of the village were being sent to German labor camps. This is partly due to the fact that the villagers were very friendly with the women and apparently saw no reason to turn them over to the Germans. But Stein still had influential friends—Bernard Faÿ, an editor who befriended Stein in Paris despite his strong anti-Semitism and who would later be sentenced to a life of hard labor for collaboration, did his part to make sure that the couple remained safe and also well-rationed. Years after Gertrude’s death, Toklas would even sell a Picasso to fund his escape from prison and flight to Switzerland.
It seems shocking and disturbing to think of two Jews consorting with an anti-Semite in the middle of World War II, but neither of the women ever did much to admit, much less embrace, her religio-ethnic
Continue reading Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice by Janet Malcolm