Unsung Hero

Cov_rene_blumEd Voves reviews Judith Chazin-Bennahum's René Blum and the Ballets Russes in California Literary Review:

The story of the Ballet Russes is so bound to the legendary lives of Serge Diaghilev and Vaslav Nijinsky that it is easy to forget the ballet company’s decades of survival and achievement after its glory days before the outbreak of World War I. That the Ballet Russes did survive was due in large measure to a man who has been unfairly relegated to the footnotes of European history.

That man was René Blum. Given his contributions to the literature, theater and dance of the 20th century, it is shocking that this cultural pioneer and victim of the Nazi Final Solution should be virtually forgotten.

In an important new book, Judith Chazin-Bennahum places Blum’s role as a guiding force in modern arts and letters in its true historical context. Along with reviving the Ballet Russes after Diaghilev’s death in 1929 and encouraging the budding genius of George Balanchine, Blum played a key role in the publication of the first volume of Marcel Proust’s Rembrance of Things Past. One of the organizers of the 1925 exhibition that established Art Deco as the signature design style of the period between the world wars, Blum was also a trend-setting journalist and a decorated hero of the French Army on the Western Front.

René Blum was also a French Jew.

Blum’s life spanned the years 1878 to 1942. All of Blum’s many accomplishments were bracketed between the anti-Semitic turmoil of the Dreyfus Affair that tormented France from 1894 to 1904 and the Nazi-led Holocaust in which he perished. To his dying day, Blum thought of himself as a French patriot. Yet it was the complicity of French officials during the German occupation that set him on the road to Auschwitz.