OBITUARY: Annie Kriegel

Anyone who knew the Paris Latin Quarter in the late 1940s and early 1950s must have been aware of Annie Becker (or Annie Besse as she was known after her marriage to Guy Besse in 1947). As student, history teacher and journalist she was the leading militant of the Communist Party. There was scarcely a demonstration which did not seem to be led by her small, aggressive figure, deliberately provocative towards the police and violent in her denunciation of the enemy of the moment. She was important in the party apparatus, being responsible for cultural and intellectual affairs in the powerful federation of the Seine.

In 1953 some difference began to appear between the party direction and herself. Perhaps she seemed too committed to a particular line of policy. Then, since she had firmly linked the French party to Stalinism, the death of Stalin, the Khrushchev Report, and the reaction of the French leadership to these happenings, caused her to leave the party in 1957. She turned to research in history and became a supporter of the right wing, particularly after the return of de Gaulle to power. But unlike other former Communists, she continued to study communist theory and practice.

She began writing articles on a wide variety of subject for Le Figaro in the 1970s and she found no difficulty in writing for a paper that was owned and run by the wealthy, right-wing Robert Hersant. When Raymond Aron decided reluctantly that Le Figaro had become a publication with which he no longer wished to be associated, Kriegel was one of the few of his friends who urged him to stay on. It was during these years that she became the most fervent admirer and supporter of the state of Israel.

The explanation of this remarkable career is to be found in her wartime experience. Coming from a Jewish-Alsatian family and having passed idyllic school days in the Marais district of Paris, she encountered the anti- Semitic legislation of the occupation and then the infamous round-up of Jews on 16 July 1942. She frequently recalled how on that day she was at the crossing of the Rue de Turenne and the Rue de Bretagne. She had witnessed the unusual sight of a French policeman with tears running down his face, she saw flocks of children and old people carrying bundles, and then came the screams.

As the men were forcibly separated from the women and children she heard screams which she said contained all the pain that life and death provide. She did not know what to do. She sat on a bench and wept. "It was on that bench that I left my childhood," she afterwards said.

She escaped from Paris and joined the Resistance movement at Grenoble, at the age of 16, and was brought into the Communist-controlled group of immigrant workers, where Jews were prominent. With the Liberation she became a student at the Ecole Normale Superieure de Sevres, where she announced herself as the absolute communist. She shared a room with my wife (then Madeleine Rebillard) who tells me that she decorated it with a machine-gun and a lavish display of communist resistance pamphlets. She asserted her beliefs vigorously. For example, when a fellow student spoke of eventually bringing up a family, she was denounced as bourgeoise. The place for children was in a state-run creche. Her discourse of power was that victory had been that of the Soviet Union and the communist resistance. They would go on to change the world.

After she had left the party, her historical work was learned but controversial. She described the creation of the French party in 1920 as a banal accident that only acquired significance because of the intervention of the Russian Bolsheviks. A communist party in a society which it did not dominate was forced to establish a counter-society, with unfortunate results.

She married a doctor and became Annie Kriegel; she brought up four children (without sending them to creches); the University of Paris-Nanterre made her a professor; increasing deafness emphasised her isolation, although she was respected as an individual force amongst French intellectuals.

But she longed for another ideal to which she could become passionately attached. She found it in the state of Israel. Her background and her experience came together in a concept of Jewishness over which the endangered state of Israel presided. She preached its cause; she refused to believe that it would ever be defeated. The words of Charles Peguy were relevant: "the soldier who never admits that he has been defeated is always right".

As for herself she concluded her autobiography, Ce que j'ai cru comprendre, with the words "J'ai continue".

Douglas Johnson

Annie Becker, teacher, historian, journalist: born Paris 9 September 1926; married 1947 Guy Besse (marriage dissolved), secondly Arthur Kriegel; died Paris 26 August 1995.

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