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Parisians write to the Administration: Interplay between social and spatial boundaries (1920-1945)

Isabelle Backouche
Traduction de Juliette Rogers (rogers.juliette@gmail.com)

Résumés

Isabelle Backouche rapproche deux terrains d’enquête sur lesquels elle travaille actuellement. D’une part, l’annexion de la zone non aedificandi, une bande de 250 mètres déclarée inconstructible en 1841 parce qu’elle longe la fortification, et largement urbanisée au moment de son incorporation au territoire parisien en 1919. D’autre part, le vaste transfert d’appartements des familles juives parisiennes pendant l’occupation, sous l’égide de la préfecture de la Seine. Dans les deux cas, les Parisiennes et Parisiens concernés – les zoniers expulsés, les familles qui tentent d’investir un appartement précédemment occupé par des Juifs – écrivent à l’administration pour plaider leur cause. C’est à partir de ces écrits ordinaires que l’usage des frontières spatiales et sociales mises en œuvre dans les argumentaires est analysé. Cette observation donne l’occasion de comprendre comment des normes sociales sont travaillées par les acteurs, et par là, de restituer leur participation aux dynamiques spatiales à plusieurs échelles qui affectent la capitale au 20e siècle.

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  • 1 Considering the ethical stakes surrounding the re-assignment of apartments and not wanting the desc (...)

1On October 10, 1942, Monsieur C. C.,1 a building manager in Paris, wrote to the Commissariat-General for Jewish Affairs (CGQJ):

  • 2 National Archives (henceforth NA), AJ 38 795.

“A property manager is required to declare unoccupied apartments belonging to Israelites. That seems impossible because most of the time the manager doesn’t know if his tenant is Jewish.”2

But A. B., a tenant of a Jewish landlord, knew all about his confession:

  • 3 Ibid., letter of 1 November 1941.

“Being a tenant in a building belonging to a Jew, should I keep paying him rent, or should I wait for a manager to be named?”3

2R. B. used his conception of the distinction between the French and the Jews when he wrote to the CGQJ to ask…

  • 4 Ibid., letter of 27 November 1942.

“…if a solution will soon be given to the issue of residential spaces initially occupied by Jews who are now either in the free zone or under arrest. Many lodgings or apartments are thus unoccupied while many French live in hovels or in overly cramped spaces.”4

  • 5 Laws of 3 October 1940 and 2 June 1941 “portant statut des juifs” (“concerning the Jews”); German o (...)

3These letters were sent during the Occupation to the CGQJ, an ad hoc administration established in March 1941 to exclude Jews from French society, and they trace the social boundaries that emerged according to changes introduced by very recent anti-Semitic legislation.5 New categories were circulating, spanning the legal to the social, but they were strikingly difficult to apply in daily life. How to identify a Jewish tenant? C. C.’s question, one that also piques the researcher’s curiosity, points to the difficulty in applying the imposed anti-Semitic measures compartmentalizing society into Jews and non-Jews, which was often turned into an opposition between Jews and the French, as R. B.’s letter illustrates.

  • 6 Archives de Paris (henceforth AP), Perotin 106-50-1, box 1, letter of 21 February 1920.

4This distinction between “Them” and “Us” is also used in the inter-war period by residents of the non aedificandi zone (“the Zone”) a space spanning many suburban towns on the outskirts of Paris. For instance, L. L., resident of the Les Lilas section of the Zone, wrote in 1920: “This part of the zone is not inhabited by rag men,”6 setting himself apart from the stigmatizing reputation of this suburban space being incorporated into the capital. At the same time, this immaterial boundary seems absent from the everyday lives of those living in the Zone, to the point that Monsieur F. sought information before purchasing his place of residence:

  • 7 Ibid., box 18, letter of 22 June 1925.

“The owner of the house where I live 173 avenue Gallieni in Bagnolet want [sic] to sell me the house and surrounding land but since I want to build on the land I want to know 1) if the land is part of the zone and if I have the right to built.”7

5Both of these corpuses of letters share the form of personal request, but are rooted in very different circumstances. They document how claimants writing the administration used and appropriated boundaries marking social and/or spatial distinctions, as they are sometimes connected and mutually supporting. By sorting residents of the capital into groups to define their respective rights, these boundaries are also arguments in their favor. The social boundary is thus neither tangible nor universal; it emerges through the use of legal categories invented by the administration and imposed on constituents. Observation of the point of contact between constituents and the administration challenges the monolithic conceptions of each of these parties, and highlights how each uses the flexibility available to them. The constituents are not submissive or overwhelmed; they navigate between various administrations, adapt their arguments, present themselves differently according to the nature of their audience. Moreover, the administration must take account of its constituents’ demands and capacity to resist, but it also knows how to take advantage of constituent requests to obtain additional information. Consequently, the regulation of social activities does not flow from the univocal application of norms by the administration, but is rather the fruit of exchange occurring at the boundary, and on the subject of boundaries.

  • 8 This aspect of the article comes out of a collective research program on the large-scale transfer o (...)

6How do “residents” use these versions of the boundary to address the administration? To what extent are claims of social or spatial belonging modulated according to the receiving administrations? How do Zone residents use its “territorial resources” to plead their case? How to interpret the discourse of apartment-seekers trying to distinguish themselves from the families who once lived in the apartments they want – are they opportunists, or anti-Semitic?8 

7After demonstrating how claimants appropriate or contest the social categories created by administrations, I will describe the interests spurring them to negotiate social categories and how they use them. Lastly, I will address the synergy between social divisions and spatial rootedness, another point of convergence between the two corpuses.

Administrations that impose controversial or appropriated norms

  • 9 The corpuses analyzed here are drawn from the Zone expropriation files going back to the 1920s (Arc (...)

8All of these letters manifest Parisians’ ability to mobilize to make requests or to resist.9 Writing these letters was a form of action documenting social processes that are invisible in other sources or scales of observation, making them nearly ethnographic. Analysis probes each writer’s text to discuss the creation and use of social categories, showing their changing and malleable character.

Ordinary lives in extraordinary contexts

  • 10 Vincent Dubois, The Bureaucrat and the Poor: Encounters in French Welfare Offices, Routledge (1999) (...)

9Both historical situations of these letter-writers could be called exceptional. One was an urban development initiative at the scale of the entire capital, involving a great number of participants (the State, the army, the prefecture of the Seine, mayors of neighboring towns), and the other was the German Occupation and the bombing of the capital. Examining their letters together means setting aside the extraordinary contexts that led to their being written and treating them as more ordinary texts, so they can be used to identify the social order as it is expressed, as well as its uses. Political scientists have demonstrated how much can be learned from observing “the counter”10 and interactions between public officials and the public as they are occurring by paying attention to the words spoken and the rhetoric used.

  • 11 Recent publications on the Zone favor a cultural history approach, especially Jérôme Beauchez, Jame (...)

10The catalyst in both cases was a common, ordinary problem: housing and how hard it was to come by in the first half of the twentieth century. It filled letters that are all pieces of a vast puzzle in service to a social history that has shown little interest in these two moments in the history of Paris.11 The political context is always present, under the surface, serving as a framework for self-exposition and framing letters’ arguments. Requests were often from the same social milieu – modest households excluded from property ownership and subjected to the rules of the real-estate market – prompted by the commonplace situation of needing shelter for oneself and one’s family.

11Together these two corpuses allow analysis of the everyday lives of Parisians entangled in an extraordinary situation – either a rupture or an event – that broke the flow: one had to leave the Zone at any cost after having set up a home there, or one hoped to improve one’s housing situation by taking over a Jewish family’s lodgings. The encounter between the triviality of everyday life and the upheaval of the time creates a compelling situation for two lines of enquiry. One is observing an event that historiography often studies at other scales (the expansion of Paris, the anti-Semitism of Vichy), but in this instance based on its effects on society, exploring how claimants seized upon the situation of rupture in which they found themselves to present their case. The other is to analyze how they fit into the event in question.

Constituents and the administration face off

12In the case of the Zone, the categorization imposed by the administration was contested; in the other case, Parisians looking for an apartment appropriated the imposed social categories (the distinction between Jews and non-Jews) as the basis of their request. These empirical situations first of all highlight the negotiation of administration-imposed norms, between protest and appropriation, thus describing the social actualization of legal boundaries found throughout the letters.

  • 12 Isabelle Backouche, “La Zone et les zoniers parisiens. Un territoire habité, un espace stigmatisé,” (...)
  • 13 Until 1919, portions of the Zone belonged to towns neighboring Paris, and so residents were inhabit (...)
  • 14 Florence Bourillon and Annie Fourcaut, Agrandir Paris, 1860-1970, Paris, Publications de la Sorbonn (...)

13Until the 1950s, before being replaced by the massive bypass known as the Périphérique, the Zone was a 250-meter strip of land around the city of Paris, outside the 1841 fortifications. Its constructability had been debated since the mid-nineteenth century, and when the convention was passed between the State and the city of Paris in 1912, most of it had already been built on and was inhabited.12 It was then decided that the Zone would be emptied of its residents and annexed to Paris.13 World War I interrupted the process, but from 1912 onward the city issued an abundance of reports of violations, specifically of the ban on new construction or home expansions. Expropriations and expulsions came with indemnities, and the city was trying to minimize disbursements. After the war, the law of 19 April 1919 finalized the annexation, creating a new boundary for Paris, which historiography has oddly overlooked in favor of vigorous debate over the annexation of 1860.14 Paris grew, enveloping this urban ring, which long had an ambiguous status that nurtured its caricatural reputation as a disadvantaged and disreputable area. Many described it in such terms, including Henri Puget in 1930:

  • 15 Henri Puget, “La Région Parisienne. Les problèmes actuels, les projets d’aménagement,” Les cahiers (...)

“the poorest or those with the largest families are crammed into the miserable cabins of the military zone, this leprous ring surrounding Paris.”15

In anticipation of future indemnities, a 1901 decree imposed restrictive construction norms that only tolerated…

  • 16 Decree on the easements of the surrounding walls of Paris, 13 July 1901.

“… wooden shacks of just one story, a maximum surface area of twenty square meters (20m2), built or not on a base of masonry of twenty-five centimeters (0.25m) high and fifty centimeters (0.50m) deep, roofed in wood, tin, or tar paper, and without masonry chimney […]; fabric tents and light fabric shelters on light wooden frames […]; parking (requiring concerned parties to be in the possession of police authorization) of wagons mounted on their wheels, provided that these wagons are not connected to each other.16

14Such was the landscape of the Zone, so decried as proof that its residents were social and spatial fringe elements, painstakingly ensured by an imposed normative text that threatened them with fines should they disobey. The Zone was thus a wide boundary offering an opportunity to examine negotiations over a social and spatial norm compartmentalizing the space of Paris.

15Another group that wrote the authorities consisted of a mix of constituents residing in Paris and in its outskirts who were seeking an apartment in Occupied Paris, where the penury of housing, chronic since the nineteenth century, had been exacerbated by bombings since 1942. While Jews were persecuted and arrested, those ferreting around for lodgings jumped at the chance to improve their housing situations. They initially wrote to the CGQJ, charged with the “Aryanization” of French society that had begun in the occupied zone in October 1940. The CGQJ thus seemed to be the chosen interlocutor for anyone seeking vacant “Jewish housing.” This first wave of requests attests to an autonomous social dynamic unrelated to public housing policy. But faced with the influx of requests and the requirements of German authorities, in the summer of 1943 the prefecture of the Seine established a rehousing service at 2 rue Pernelle, to officially reassign these empty apartments to the unfortunates needing their help.

16I could thus use two collections of letters, those sent to the CGQJ and those sent to rue Pernelle, to study the Occupation period. These administrative organizations existed for completely different purposes, which influenced the content of the letters they received. While the former received more spontaneous letters fuelled by traces of anti-Semitic persecution, the latter received letters resulting from information circulating in the media, as several of them indicated:

  • 17 AP, Perotin 901-62-1, box 46, letter from Madame H., 23 August 1943.

“Having read in the papers that I should see you to occupy housing previously inhabited by a Jewish family, I am here to submit my case to you.”17

Indeed, a headline on page 4 of the 23 August 1943 edition of Le Matin, “For the immediate aid of victims, may there be greater recourse to Jewish properties,” announced an article stipulating that…

  • 18 Le Matin, 23 August 1943.

“In execution of a decision of occupation authorities and to compensate for current housing problems, apartments held by Jews, become available in the Département of the Seine, cannot be newly rented without prior authorization. This authorization must be requested in writing of the Housing Office, Service of Vacant Housing and Re-Housing, 2 rue Pernelle, Paris (4th).”18

17The aim of these letters is the same – obtaining better lodgings – but the claimants adopt distinct repertoires thought likely to move the addressed administration so they would get what they wanted. While making the distinction between Jews and non-Jews is central for those addressing the CGQJ, having been a bombing victim was determinant at the rue Pernelle. Appropriating the categories legitimized by the administrations to which they wrote, housing-seekers produced variations (in the musical sense of the term) on a social boundary that might make their hopes acceptable.

Uses of the boundary

  • 19 It is difficult to give an exact figure but at this stage of research it amounts to several hundred (...)

18Reading letters provides an occasion to examine how claimants manipulated the social distinctions introduced by anti-Semitic legislation. For one thing, claimants’ demands for housing press the administration to clarify its role and grey areas. At the same time, administrative procedures become perceptibly more mundane as time goes on,19 stabilizing the norm of exclusion, which raises the question of their authors’ anti-Semitism. The origins of anti-Semitism are more complex than simple ideological saturation, although that is always a possibility, and letters should mainly be seen as describing the social situations exacerbating the exclusion of Jews according to Parisians’ personal and housing interests. I consider the appropriation of the social categories imposed by the Vichy regime and their use for personal ends to be markers of subscription to anti-Semitic policy, or at least as proof of its implementation in Parisian society.

19The administration’s solicitations via the press prompted the writing of letters that demonstrate how variable these appropriations of social divisions were. On 14 January 1943, the CGQJ had a small article published on the first page of Le Matin, entitled “All Property Belonging to Jews Must Be Declared within Eight Days”:

Document 1: Le Matin, 14 January 1943. Source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France

20The call was addressed to building managers, superintendents, and tenants who were to indicate whether or not “Jewish buildings” had indeed been declared, so they could be provided with an interim manager. The responses skirted the initial aim, transforming into indications of Jewish tenants, which could be considered as akin to denunciation. For instance, on 27 January 1943, B. M. wrote:

  • 20 NA AJ 38 box 811.

“In conformity with the communiqué recently appearing in the papers, we inform you that an apartment in our building, 40 rue Lubeck, is rented to Monsieur C. G. as a respectable dwelling.”20

21The boundary between Jewish goods and Jewish people has been crossed. Other letters describe the moveable property of Jewish tenants, giving a very broad interpretation to the CGQJ’s requirement, which only concerned the property of Jewish owners to be “Aryanized.” The ambiguity comes from the word “property,” which letter-writers thought included moveable property, so they sent lists of their Jewish tenants, both present and absent, whose possessions were still in place. The great variety of responses is a sort of test of actors’ ability to use a social boundary by mobilizing a wide range of behaviors, from denunciation to simple concern with obeying the law. The chasm between the newspaper announcement’s aims and the content of the response is an indicator of the writer’s relationship to Jews, and the letters’ denunciatory nature confirms a form of nearly incontestable anti-Semitism. For instance, Madame R. wrote:

  • 21 Ibid.

“In conformity with the instructions, as superintendent of no. 8 rue de la Maire, I hasten to indicate to you the names of the Israelites residing in the house: Monsieur H, family, 3 people; Monsieur R., family, 3 people; Monsieur H., family, 5 people; Monsieur R., family, 3 people.”21

22One J. P., agent for several building owners, wrote “to give the list of Jewish tenants, or presumed Jews, living there.” He identified ten families at eight addresses, sometimes specifying if they were in the free zone, and concluding:

  • 22 Ibid., letter of 29 January 1943. Underlined terms are underlined in the original.

“I cannot, as I indicated earlier, be certain for some of the tenants enumerated above and that’s why I indicated Jews or presumed Jews.”22

  • 23 Ibid., letter of 26 January 1943.

23So many precautions describing the prudent loyalism demonstrated by these constituents. A. M. addressed a similar list of 32 names at ten addresses, taking a moralistic register lending another tone to his words: “Here is the list of Jewish or ambiguous tenants in the houses I manage or own.”23 These letters from managers are close to being a form of anti-Semitism for utilitarian ends: they want to have these Jewish families’ furniture removed so they can re-rent the apartments.

24Concern with obeying the law is obvious in the letters of some building superintendents, like Madame M. at 51 rue Marcadet:

  • 24 Ibid., letter of 21 January 1943.

“I have several Jewish tenants in the house who have been deported, I declare them to you, monsieur the commissioner send me someone if possible, or have a response sent to me, so I know what to do to get in order.”24

25Details on family trajectories and the compartmentalization of Jews and non-Jews are dispensed throughout these hundreds of letters, offering an opportunity to probe constituents’ capacity to work the boundary between Jews and non-Jews and contribute to the identification of victims of anti-Semitism.

Boundaries for the recognition of rights

Inclusive boundaries

26Analytical and social boundaries are a promising approach because they are shaped by the assertions of letter writers: since they subscribe to or refute the compartimentalization of society that isolates residents of the Zone or Jews for their difference, claimants consider that they have rights that should be recognized by the administration. Jospeh Verrechia lived in the Pantin section of the Zone (16 bis route de Flandre) and he wanted to be able to stay in his “little plank house” where he lived with his eight children. To do so he was prepared to subvert another boundary – nationality – to preserve the status quo:

  • 25 AP, Perotin 106/50/1, box 28, letter from Joseph Verrechia, Pantin, 24 March 1939. Naturalizations (...)

“I am informing Monsieur the Prefect that I am an Italian subject living in France for 18 years, father of eight children born in France, and I intend to have myself naturalized as French to give my children to my adopted homeland.”25

27This man, who had not previously felt the need to be naturalized as French, presents this undertaking as a gift to France, his children becoming a sort of currency. He would join the national community in order to continue living in the Zone. This game of social and spatial scales implemented by a Zone resident is instructive of the social diversity of this urban space and how manipulative residents of the Zone were prepared to be.

28To stay where they live, Zone residents breathed life into the existence of a social group established on the territory. Emile de Méo went back on the attack to build a brick house, authorization for which had always been refused, with the following argument:

  • 26 Ibid., letter from Emile Di Méo, Pantin, 19 March 1927.

“Now I see in the same zone others that they are in the process of building a brick house. I ask, Monsieur the Prefect, in your fairness, the permission to build, me too, a house in the same zone because I need that a lot.”26

29This implicit solidarity also came up when Zone resident Pedro Juste thought he was being treated worse than his neighbors, since he had been asked to destroy his shack:

  • 27 Ibid., letter from Pedro Juste, Saint-Ouen, 19 July 1930.

“Being surrounded by many tenants who find themselves in the same situation as me, and who haven’t received any notices concerning them, I beg of you, Monsieurs members of the council, to be willing to grant me temporary authorization to reside at the said places and in so doing defer the demolition of the shack.”27

Residents of the Zone were bound together by their condition as insecure tenants, but also by their neighborly situation. On top of social cohesion, spatial cohesion also interfered in these classifying and categorizing operations.

30Some letter-writers took care to generalize beyond their personal situations, in another approach to setting social boundaries. Madame D., who was seeking housing, wrote directly to Maréchal Pétain (document 2):

  • 28 AP Perotin, 901-62-1, box 54, letter of 15 November 1943.

“I am notifying the prefect of the Seine immediately, on 8-11, of this state of affairs, requesting that he be willing to do what is necessary so that the radically inappropriate formalities for such a situation – far from being unique – be reduced to a minimum.”28

31One is not merely writing for oneself, and one gives weight to one’s particular situation by arguing the fact that many others face the same problem. As a spokesperson for a group of Parisians handled roughly by the administration, such writers try to pressure authorities with the weight of an invisible community that is revived with each letter.

Document 2: Letter to Maréchal Pétain of 15 November 1943. Source: Archives de Paris

The porosity of social boundaries

  • 29 NA, AJ 38 1142, 20th list of apartments put under seal and sometimes emptied of their furnishings b (...)

32Mme D., a bombing victim from Courbevoie, coveted an apartment at 11 rue de Saint-Marceaux (17th arrondissement). She knew that the Germans had removed its furnishings in October 1943, well before the official list of emptied and available apartments was sent to the Seine prefecture.29 She did research to identify the lodgings she hoped to take over and have attributed to her. Apartment hunters did not wait to be offered housing; they combed the area where they lived or wanted to live. Mme D. hoped to move into Paris from a suburb, thus crossing another boundary. The relationship between constituents and the administration was reversed, as the former gained strength through proposals, and this shift only becomes legible in combining documents to study – especially petitions.

33Her letter of 15 November 1943 reveals the crossing of a boundary that is often considered impenetrable, between Parisians and Occupation authorities. Mme. D. claimed that she had:

  • 30 AP Perotin, 901-62-1, box 54, letter of 15 November 1943.

“obtained from the Kommandantur the suspension of the requisition of a Jewish apartment […] 11 rue St Marceau in Paris – belonging to the city of Paris.30

  • 31 Sarah Gensburger, Witnessing the Robbing of the Jews. A Photographic Album, Paris 1940-1944, Bloomi (...)

34She displays her proximity to the Kommandantur, like the Parisians who shuttled between the avenue Iéna (location of the Dienststelle Western [DW], the service handling the removal of furnishings from the apartments of Jews31) and the avenue de l’Opéra (where the Kommandantur was located), making the connections necessary to moving their requests forward.

  • 32 AP, Perotin 901/62/1, box 63, apartment F.

35Studying a variety of documents challenges the analytical categories established by historiography, which are sometimes too closed. In fact, some apartment-seekers tinkered with the course of events during the Occupation to defend themselves after the war. Some settled in “Jewish apartments” found themselves threatened with eviction when the apartments’ owners had enough financial and social resources to take them to court. R. R. received an order to move out of his housing, and wrote to the Ministry of Reconstruction in 1945, listing his actions against the occupier: he was a prisoner of war for two years, then joined the resistance; his son was “a resistant from day one, meaning before the krauts left”; his sister was jailed for Gaullist plotting. But R. R. was the manager of a movie theater at 158 avenue Parmentier (11th arrondissement) and thanks to a recommendation from the DW he was able to get a very comfortable apartment at 148 avenue Parmentier in May 1944.32 His two faces are disturbing but not impossible, and highlight how roles in events were re-crafted following the Liberation. His declaration of good faith as a resistant didn’t prevent him from being xenophobic (he added in a P.S.: “the Jew in question is named J. F., a truly French name”), and he also seized the occasion to denounce clandestine work:

  • 33 NA, 19771095/1, letter of 28 July 1945.

“We are threatened with being put in the street because we can’t find any housing at any price, and this to the advantage of foreigners, so the French are thrown out to allow foreigners taking refuge in Nice to resume their trafficking, that is to say making workers work from home and not paying them well, and only declaring what they want.”33

36The penury of housing, common to both situations, serves as a magnifying glass for writers’ narratives, bringing out polyvalent social registers. R. R., the movie theatre manager, may have resisted like the rest of his family, but he didn’t balk at the prospect of a German recommendation allowing him to occupy a “Jewish” apartment. Public and private attitudes differ, personal interest and devotion to the nation obeying two registers of different scales, and noting this dichotomy is a way to work with the actors’ categories to describe Parisian society under the Occupation.

  • 34 AP, 901/62/1, box 58, apartment G.

37To get authorization to move into 153 rue du Temple (3rd arrondissement), G. C. also tinkered with her biography to get her way. She was a clerk in a dairy at 151 rue du Temple, and from 7 March to 15 April 1944, she wrote four letters presenting her case to the service at rue Pernelle, plus a letter she claims to have sent to Pierre Laval.34 She explicitly demanded “a Jewish apartment” and bemoaned the fact that they were reserved for bombing victims, blaming the division between the weak (among which she counted herself) and war victims. She then launched into a series of arguments presenting various aspects of her life to arouse the pity of authorities: she is French, she was a teenage mother who raised her daughter alone, she points out that she was shunned by society as a result, and now the State owes her. She seized upon the context of Jewish persecution to demand reparations in the form of an apartment close to work.

38Beyond particular cases, some institutions formalized these social divisions born of global conflict. In August 1945, the Union Confédérale des Locataires de France (the French Renters’ Union) wrote to the Ministry of Reconstruction and Urbanism to notify it of several cases of bombing victims being evicted in order to return the apartments to their previous despoiled occupants. Two social categories that emerged from the conflict became competitors that day:

  • 35 NA, 19771095/1, letter of 2 August 1945.

“Although we are in complete agreement with returning to the despoiled the housing that was taken from them, we cannot accept throwing French families, who are sometimes just as worthy (if not more so), into the street without further consideration.”35

  • 36 Ordinance of 14 November 1944 concerning the re-integration of certain tenants, Journal Officiel of (...)

39Introducing a hierarchy stemming from competition between victims, the union defended potential “French” evictees by relegating the despoiled to the other side of the national boundary. Its rhetoric of defense uses both of the legal categories, consolidating post-Liberation orders36 and prejudice-based categories: Jews are foreigners who are less worthy of consideration than those whose homes were destroyed.

Spatial stakes and social interests

40All letter writers argued for their spatial position in Paris: they do not want to (or cannot) leave the Zone, or want to move into a “Jewish apartment.” The former think that they have been part of Paris since 1919 and object to the distinctions introduced by the new “sanitary zone,” a designation that the State had been prudent enough to put into law to keep Zone land under a special status after the destruction of the fortifications. The latter, to the contrary, had entirely appropriated the category of “Jewish apartment” on the Parisian real estate market, a boundary they use to justify their requests. The intentions are proven in both cases, but the social values differ. One group calls for the disappearance of the effects of a vanished boundary, the other insists on the existence of a boundary in letter after letter. Social use of the dividing line re-enforces the distancing of which Zone residents and Jews are victim. But each marginalization results from a different dynamic: Zone residents want to be seen and treated as normal residents, while every letter apartment hunters wrote contributed to the cumulative exclusion of Jews from Paris with the re-assignment of each housing unit, estimates putting the number of Jewish homes involved at 25,000.

The constraints of an imperceptible boundary

  • 37 Decree of annexation of 27 July 1930, Journal Officiel of 1 August 1930, p. 8864.

41For some Zone residents, the shift in the boundary had tangible consequences. Monsieur Calmel, whose café at 17 rue de Paris was now in the capital,37 wrote to the mayor of his arrondissement (the 19th) in August 1938:

  • 38 AP, 1338 W box 2138, letter of 24 August 1938. It is the facade of lot 42, corresponding to rue de (...)

“It’s been six years that we’ve been established at the café at no. 17, having paid rather dearly at the time for this business. When we arrived we had the market outside our door, and even farther, up to the barrier, but now they have closed it on our side, between no. 21 and no. 13… three of us shopkeepers are very unhappy.”38

42The town of Pantin had re-organized its market, bringing in vendors who had been selling at markets in the Zone (document 3) to provide commercial services for its residents and have rights over the merchants. But M. Calmel could not accept the disappearance of the bustling market, the basis of his café’s prosperity, so he took up his pen to complain to the mayor, protesting this new spatial division with obvious economic consequences.

Document 3: Expropriation in the Zone of Pantin, 1938. Source: Archives de Paris

  • 39 AP, 106-50-1, box 18, letter of April 1927.

43Indeed, in most cases the outer limit of the Zone was a virtual boundary, with no material spatial marker. Knowing its precise location was a determinant factor in knowing one’s rights and planning one’s future. Several letters enquire as to the status of the writer’s property. The widow Sibille, for example, intended to build on her lot in Bagnolet, and in 1927 wrote to ask if she was in the fortification Zone.39 A map was prepared and she received the answer:

  • 40 Ibid., letter from the director of the extension of Paris, 23 April 1927.

“Only a tiny part of the lot measuring 9m2 is located outside the zone […] I remind you that the law of 19 April 1919 maintained, in the interest of public health and salubrity, a ban on building anything in the easement area as well as a ban on repairing older buildings.”40

44Health and salubrity are invoked to limit residents’ ability to act on their housing while the ban on maintenance work prompts the slow degradation of this urban space – not out of residents’ negligence, but as the will of the administration. In 1923 M. Guiffaut wrote to the Prefect in anticipation of the purchase of a burrstone house at 72 avenue Jean Jaurès in Bagnolet, adding a little sketch at the bottom of his letter (document 4):

  • 41 Ibid., letter of 16 November 1923.

“I’m writing to ask you if this house is liable to have the same fate as some found in the zone. The owner claims to have had permission to build and claims that it cannot be removed; being in doubt, before I commit my money, I preferred to inform myself.”41

Document 4: Letter to the Prefect, 16 November 1923. Source: Archives de Paris

  • 42 Ibid., real estate estimate, 23 July 1925.

45The fact that residents of the Zone did not know if they lived in the Zone or not speaks volumes on the impact of this immaterial boundary on their lives, and on the marginality of this urban space that seemed to meld seamlessly with adjoining towns. Zone limits were superimposed on previous real estate boundaries, cleaving the fate of residents without their realizing it. The will to dissimulation could be flagrant, a fact the administration stressed in response to an auction of three lots in the hamlet of Les Gouvieux in Bagnolet whose poster and documentation filed with the notary failed to specify were in the Zone.42

46Numerous lots overlapped the Zone and an associated town, making the boundary a serious constraint for building. Albert Jouin was aware of this and wanted the property to be surveyed and marked so he could respect the distinction:

  • 43 Ibid., letter of 28 November 1924.

“Planning to build on the part not in the easement, I ask you, M. Director, to kindly have the exact line of the so-called zone marked out so I can begin to build there soon. I ask you to kindly inform me of the day when the line will be made so I can be well aware of it.”43

Advantages of the boundary’s disappearance

47These epistolary exchanges also shed light on the speculative strategies in play. Some property-owners in the Zone wrote to the administration knowing that their property would be expropriated, offering to sell it privately; this was the case for M. Mélinon, who owned some land in Bagnolet and preferred to sell…

  • 44 Ibid., letter of 29 October 1925.

“…the little family land we have left to the city of Paris, which must take possession of this land for extension and development, rather than selling it to speculators trying to profit from the expropriation.”44

  • 45 Ibid., letter to Prefect of 9 February 1922 
  • 46 Ibid., letter from the Prefect of 19 January 1922.

48Lucien Crosnier also offered to sell his property in the Bagnolet portion of the Zone to the city, adding that it “enjoys a privileged situation” because it runs between two major streets.45 In January 1922 M. Graindorge offered to sell “three admirably located lots” for “40 francs a meter” (document 5).46

Document 5: Letter to the Prefect, 19 January 1922. Source: Archives de Paris

  • 47 Ibid., letter of 19 March 1921.
  • 48 Ibid., letter of 12 October 1927.

49Their offers were generally rejected, the administration systematically making significantly lower counter-offers. Edmond Perin asked 70 francs per square meter for his lot on rue de Ménilmontant in March, 1921.47 The administration noted that he had acquired the property in 1910 for 16 francs per square meter. Was Perin trying to speculate on the future of the Zone? The moving of the boundary of Paris renewed the strategies of owners, who manifested their capacity to anticipate their property’s fate. Faced with their vague attempts, the administration tried to control the circulation of information. In M. Didion’s complaint about a property owner who had made an agreement to sell his lot in Bagnolet at 50 francs per square meter in 1912 but was asking 120 francs per square meter in 1927, he asked: “What is the going price for land in the zone of Paris?,”48 a question to which the bureau characteristically responded that he should come to the office on the Quai de la Rapée, careful to leave no written trace of anything resembling property estimates that could end up circulating among property owners. This is evidence of the administration’s caution in written exchanges with constituents, which historians should exploit to get past overly simplistic readings of social situations.

Spatial rootedness as a resource

  • 49 Original address for those having lost their housing in the war, address of temporary housing, prof (...)

50Many apartments requested under the Occupation were located near claimants’ current homes (in the same building or neighborhood), a fact indicating how attached these Parisians were to their home environment, their experience of their everyday space, and the extent of their area of survival at this difficult time. Spatial analysis of all information relative to claimants’ addresses reveals the proximities that were the basis of their demands.49 Mme. E. lived at 8 rue Pierre Dupont (10th arrondissement), and she wanted an apartment at 192 rue Lafayette (10th), 300 meters away. Her letter attests to her knowledge of how the administration works:

  • 50 NA AJ 38 796, letter to rue Pernelle, 30 March 1944.

“So please grant me your indulgence to ask for a Jewish lodging (once the seals are broken) located at 192 rue Lafayette. However, I know that this vacant housing is reserved for bombing victims and that only you are authorized to order the exchange I am requesting, yielding mine to them.”50

51Mme. E. had appropriated two active social boundaries of the day: one between Jews and herself, another between bombing victims and herself. To reach her goal she proposes a trade, thus demonstrating some dexterity in manipulating recent administrative categories. Social use of the divisions between multiple categories of residents makes them operational, inflecting the idea of a unilateral circulation of the social compartmentalization of society from above and relativizing Parisians’ submission to a policy-dictated social order. Contact with the administration is a time and opportunity to verbalize and frame an “Us” and “Them” in service of acquiring an apartment: the social distinction is not abstract and must function in the claimant’s favor.

  • 51 Among the 5600 apartments in the corpus, 463 were assigned to beneficiaries already living in the s (...)
  • 52 Pierre Bonnin and Roselyne Villanova (dir.), Loges, concierges et gardiens, Paris, Créaphis, 2006.

52The number of demands from within a given neighborhood51 leads one to think that information was circulating by word of mouth, and that building superintendents were active participants.52 On 7 June 1944, Mme. G., who had lost her home in the war and resided with her parents at 31 Bd Ornano (18th arrondissement), wrote to the CGQJ:

  • 53 NA, AJ 38 796, letter of 7 June 1944 to the CGQJ.

“One of our friends who is a superintendent alerted me to the fact that there were 2 beautiful apartments in her building that are occupied by Jews who fled about two years ago, leaving their furnishings.”53

53She specified that the owner would like nothing better than to rent to Aryans and that three “Jewish apartments” in her parents’ building had been given to bombing victims. She concluded by giving the address and name of the Jewish man in question: 58 bis rue Ramey, fifth floor, Monsieur R.

54Zone residents used space in another way: uniting against expulsion. The administration was aware of this in 1920, when it wanted to enforce the 693 tickets for violations issued since 1912 but put on hold during the Great War:

  • 54 AP 106-50-1-box 1, note to the director of the expansion of Paris, 20 January 1920.

“I propose to proceed immediately as follows so as to not provoke too much protest from zone residents: each week, a maximum of twenty offenders will be notified of the Prefecture Council’s orders, and as many as possible for buildings constructed in different parts of the zone.”54

55The temporal and spatial dilution of notifications made it possible to ward off potential resistance rooted in the localized unity of Zone residents. Residents further argued by explaining that they could not be moved like pawns on a chessboard. While the administration thought of the Zone as a homogeneous space to evacuate and develop, residents introduced geographical distinctions in hopes of staying near their part of the Zone, where their resources were (work, friends, professional networks). The Zone’s neighborhoods were an obstacle for the administration, which planned to re-house residents, regardless of where they lived, in a building constructed for this purpose in Villejuif, to the south of the city. This housing project, christened “The Future of the Zone,” was adapted to the presumed traits of Zone residents:

  • 55 AP, Perotin 106/50/1, box 11, building plan for rehousing Zone residents, n. d.

“This resettlement should be planned in the particular and special conditions of this category of inhabitants who demand to be resettled in an atmosphere suitable to their resources, their lifestyle, and their social condition.”55

  • 56 Ibid., note to the director of planning of Paris from the division of habitation services, 21 April (...)
  • 57 Ibid., note of 15 February 1937.
  • 58 NA, AJ 38 796, letter of 16 April 1943.
  • 59 Ibid., letter of 23 April 1943.

56So even beyond the expulsions and disappearance of the Zone, the category “Zone resident” lived on, the specificity of this urban space contaminating its inhabitants. The logics of each type of actor converged to solidify “Zone resident” as a social category: the evicted had to prove that they were from the Zone in order to settle in “The Future of the Zone,” the company that built it had to ensure that each applicant was indeed entitled to the preferential rate, and the prefecture of the Seine funded the project to facilitate the evacuation, but should applicants from the Zone be lacking, the housing would be given to people with no ties to the Zone. This ad hoc solution was a failure, however: the administration lamented that there was only one applicant for the 180 apartments and 76 houses offered at costs 15-20 % below the legal maxima – and he had ultimately turned it down.56 Many tenants of the Saint-Ouen section of the Zone to the north of Paris worked in factories there, so going to live in Villejuif in the south would put them too far from work. The low proposed rent would be more than erased by the cost of commuting.57 Likewise, residents of the Zone of Pré-Saint-Gervais worked in the northern 19th arrondissement, especially at the La Villette slaughterhouses, and it was unthinkable that they would go live in Villejuif. The same was also true for residents of the Zone in Bagnolet and Les Lilas. Proximity to work was a recurrent issue in letters requesting apartments in both contexts. The widow D. was a war victim living amid the bombings in Boulogne who combed Paris looking for an apartment; she demandingly wrote to the CGQJ: “an apartment in Paris would suit me, so long as it is not too far from Billancourt, where I work at Farman’s (warehouse worker).”58 E. D. wanted to move into the apartment of “Jews who are currently interned abroad, apparently,” at 6 rue du Moulinet in Paris (13th arrondissement), adding in his letter to the CGQJ that he “would like to move closer to work.”59

57Attention to space as a social resource is a way to reinstate letter writers’ strategic capacities. Their enrolment in the Parisian space is not the result of segregation fatally reproducing relegation. To remain in their living space or settle in new housing, they constructed arguments that shed considerable light on the public policies that concerned them, confirming that the word of constituents enriches understanding of the logics in play in urban change.

***

58These corpuses of letters are an opportunity to revise the hierarchy between administration and constituents, because they show how the legal norm is shaped by interactions between claimants and the authorities. The boundaries between worlds, each with its own logic, are not airtight. For the Zone, the administration was obsessed with the chronology of construction and how much to give in compensation, persisting in evaluating the age of structures. Inversely, Zone residents resisted with written proof that was tenuous given the ambiguity of the Zone’s status. Likewise, Parisians’ tenacity in seeking apartments and their use of their knowledge of the machinery of the administration to plea their case lays bare historiography’s dead-end concerning housing in Paris during the Occupation. The issue has its place in the study of despoliation. This search for property is indeed connected to anti-Semitic persecution, which had not been truly documented until now, and the active role that the administration was able to play has received even less attention. Analysis of these letters, a superb interface between the actors, allows us to escape the cliché of an omnipotent administration versus desperate Parisians or impoverished residents of the Zone.

59 I used these corpuses to flip the perspective by starting with the inhabitants’ point of view. In both cases, penury prompted indignation among claimants and fuelled strategies using social compartmentalization, either by rejecting it or asserting it. This appropriation of social distinctions affected the boundary established by the concerned administrations. The claimants used it to their advantage or protested it, and the interactions between norms and uses is at the heart of my analysis. Reaffirmed or transgressed, the boundary functions as a catalyst of social behaviors that in turn illuminate historic situations. What are we to make of the banality of Jacques Deschamps’ request of the CGQJ?:

  • 60 Ibid., letter of 10 April 1943.

“… wanting to rent an apartment having belonged to a Jew, M. B., 2 rue de Provence, and to remove the seals, the German authorities are asking me for certification that M. B. is Jewish, I would be most grateful to you if you would so kindly obtain this certification as soon as possible.”60

60All claimants write because they think that they are in their rights. All of them tinker with two categorical registers. Some are obvious (“the Jew,” “the Zone resident”) but they are intimately entwined with other counter-categories, like “the absent Jew,” the “vacationing Jew,” “the Jew with two residences,” the negative charge to add weight to their requests. Unlike Zone residents with no need to attack the Other, these claimants are compelled to defend their interests against those of others. The categories they use are rather inclusive: they have occupations, families, concerns about their futures and their comfort. While the first group tried to set itself apart, the second sought the anonymity of being just more residents of Paris.

61This social history perspective is not blind to political choices. To the contrary, it allows us to examine the modalities of their diffusion and the adaptation of categories used to implement public policy – eradicating the Zone in one instance, rehousing under the Occupation in the other. In sum, these two corpuses document the two-way porosity between the administration and society. Anti-Semitism is a central issue in the corpus of letters from apartment seekers: “Us” and “Them” are well articulated in their pleas, and although it is difficult to distinguish between belief in the ambient anti-Jewish ideology and the opportunity to seize upon it to improve their housing conditions, these requests attest to a strong incorporation of administration-imposed categories. Deadbeat, in ill health, absent, prisoner of war… the former Jewish renter is first and foremost a Jew. Does the search for any sort of benefit eclipse the label of anti-Semitism? One wonders, but the question shows that the dynamic, which helped to bring about the exclusion of Jews from society in Paris, is complex and fuelled by the quest for personal profit.

  • 61 The Zone would be expropriated and its residents expelled on a major scale from 1941 onward, using (...)

62In both corpuses, claimants’ arguments are mainly based on the category to which they belong, put in opposition to the category of those from which they wish to distinguish themselves (the resident of the Zone of Les Lilas/the ragman of Saint-Ouen; the Frenchman whose son is a prisoner of war/the imprisoned or fleeing Jew). These attributions should be taken seriously – not because they were previously unknown, but because both corpuses allow us to understand how social actors use them. The construction, appropriation, and use of these social categories are all at the heart of analysis, and the spatial implications of their variations justify the decision to treat them together. Claimants plea for their situation in Paris by exposing social boundaries. There is a strong connection between being assigned to a social category and to a spatial status: Zone residents wanted to melt into the population of Paris, since the Zone was part of the city’s territory, whereas people applying for new housing pursued improved living conditions convinced that Jewish families would not return. The former would vanish with the implementation of a violent and irrevocable policy under the Vichy regime,61 while the latter would try to stay in their legally occupied lodgings by exploiting competition between various victims of war, whether they had lost their house in bombings or had been prisoners, members of the resistance, or deported for their race.

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Notes

1 Considering the ethical stakes surrounding the re-assignment of apartments and not wanting the descendants of letter-writers to suffer disgrace from their ascendants’ actions, I decided to change all names in this corpus to preserve anonymity. By law these archives may be consulted freely without any special permission, so anyone wishing to consult them may do so.

2 National Archives (henceforth NA), AJ 38 795.

3 Ibid., letter of 1 November 1941.

4 Ibid., letter of 27 November 1942.

5 Laws of 3 October 1940 and 2 June 1941 “portant statut des juifs” (“concerning the Jews”); German ordinance of 27 September 1940.

6 Archives de Paris (henceforth AP), Perotin 106-50-1, box 1, letter of 21 February 1920.

7 Ibid., box 18, letter of 22 June 1925.

8 This aspect of the article comes out of a collective research program on the large-scale transfer of apartments that began in Paris in 1941. I. Backouche, S. Gensburger, E. Le Bourhis, https://politika.io/fr/notice/opportunites-antisemitisme-logement-a-paris-19431944.

9 The corpuses analyzed here are drawn from the Zone expropriation files going back to the 1920s (Archives of Paris [AP]) for one and the Seine prefecture’s apartment reassignment files (AP) and individual letters requesting apartments addressed to the CGQJ (NA) for the other.

10 Vincent Dubois, The Bureaucrat and the Poor: Encounters in French Welfare Offices, Routledge (1999) 2010.

11 Recent publications on the Zone favor a cultural history approach, especially Jérôme Beauchez, James Cannon, “Cette mauvaise réputation…Quand la ‘zone’ fait des histoires (1895-1975),” Ethnologie française, 2018/2, n° 170, p. 329-344. Anne Granier’s dissertation reconstructs the territory of the Zone with a GIS: La Zone et les zoniers de Paris, approches spatiales d’une marge urbaine (1912-1946), ENS Lyon, 2017. Concerning the situation of tenants in Paris, see Danièle Voldmann, Locataires et propriétaires. Une histoire française, Paris, 2016.

12 Isabelle Backouche, “La Zone et les zoniers parisiens. Un territoire habité, un espace stigmatisé,” Genres urbains. Autour d’Annie Fourcaut, Paris, Créaphis, 2019, p. 49-66.

13 Until 1919, portions of the Zone belonged to towns neighboring Paris, and so residents were inhabitants of those towns, including Les Lilas or Ivry.

14 Florence Bourillon and Annie Fourcaut, Agrandir Paris, 1860-1970, Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 2012.

15 Henri Puget, “La Région Parisienne. Les problèmes actuels, les projets d’aménagement,” Les cahiers de la République des lettres, des sciences et des arts, n° 12, 1930, p. 22. The same expression is found in the law of 4 June 1941 authorizing work in greater Paris: “L’aménagement de la ‘zone,’ cette ceinture lépreuse qui déshonore la capitale,” Journal Officiel of 8 June 1941.

16 Decree on the easements of the surrounding walls of Paris, 13 July 1901.

17 AP, Perotin 901-62-1, box 46, letter from Madame H., 23 August 1943.

18 Le Matin, 23 August 1943.

19 It is difficult to give an exact figure but at this stage of research it amounts to several hundred relevant letters.

20 NA AJ 38 box 811.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid., letter of 29 January 1943. Underlined terms are underlined in the original.

23 Ibid., letter of 26 January 1943.

24 Ibid., letter of 21 January 1943.

25 AP, Perotin 106/50/1, box 28, letter from Joseph Verrechia, Pantin, 24 March 1939. Naturalizations were burgeoning in France between 1927 and 1940, reaching 81,000 in 1938, which leads one to think that Verrechia was familiar with the procedure.

26 Ibid., letter from Emile Di Méo, Pantin, 19 March 1927.

27 Ibid., letter from Pedro Juste, Saint-Ouen, 19 July 1930.

28 AP Perotin, 901-62-1, box 54, letter of 15 November 1943.

29 NA, AJ 38 1142, 20th list of apartments put under seal and sometimes emptied of their furnishings by the German authorities, 29 March 1944.

30 AP Perotin, 901-62-1, box 54, letter of 15 November 1943.

31 Sarah Gensburger, Witnessing the Robbing of the Jews. A Photographic Album, Paris 1940-1944, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2015.

32 AP, Perotin 901/62/1, box 63, apartment F.

33 NA, 19771095/1, letter of 28 July 1945.

34 AP, 901/62/1, box 58, apartment G.

35 NA, 19771095/1, letter of 2 August 1945.

36 Ordinance of 14 November 1944 concerning the re-integration of certain tenants, Journal Officiel of 15 November 1944, p. 1309. Article 2 enumerates the categories of tenants protected from immediate eviction without re-housing solutions: those having lost their lodgings in bombings, evacuees, refugees, soldiers’ families, prisoners of war, political deportees, and deported work camp laborers. Racial deportees and victims of Vichy anti-Semitism are not included.

37 Decree of annexation of 27 July 1930, Journal Officiel of 1 August 1930, p. 8864.

38 AP, 1338 W box 2138, letter of 24 August 1938. It is the facade of lot 42, corresponding to rue de Paris, number 17.

39 AP, 106-50-1, box 18, letter of April 1927.

40 Ibid., letter from the director of the extension of Paris, 23 April 1927.

41 Ibid., letter of 16 November 1923.

42 Ibid., real estate estimate, 23 July 1925.

43 Ibid., letter of 28 November 1924.

44 Ibid., letter of 29 October 1925.

45 Ibid., letter to Prefect of 9 February 1922 

46 Ibid., letter from the Prefect of 19 January 1922.

47 Ibid., letter of 19 March 1921.

48 Ibid., letter of 12 October 1927.

49 Original address for those having lost their housing in the war, address of temporary housing, professional address. A GIS revealed the boundaries and porosity between micro-spaces. I. Backouche, S. Gensburger, E. Le Bourhis, “Spoliation et voisinage. Le logement à Paris, 1943-1945,” dossier L’Espace de la persécution des Juifs. Paris dans la Seconde Guerre mondiale, Histoire Urbaine, forthcoming.

50 NA AJ 38 796, letter to rue Pernelle, 30 March 1944.

51 Among the 5600 apartments in the corpus, 463 were assigned to beneficiaries already living in the same building, while 912 apartments were allotted to beneficiaries living less than 400 meters away.

52 Pierre Bonnin and Roselyne Villanova (dir.), Loges, concierges et gardiens, Paris, Créaphis, 2006.

53 NA, AJ 38 796, letter of 7 June 1944 to the CGQJ.

54 AP 106-50-1-box 1, note to the director of the expansion of Paris, 20 January 1920.

55 AP, Perotin 106/50/1, box 11, building plan for rehousing Zone residents, n. d.

56 Ibid., note to the director of planning of Paris from the division of habitation services, 21 April 1937.

57 Ibid., note of 15 February 1937.

58 NA, AJ 38 796, letter of 16 April 1943.

59 Ibid., letter of 23 April 1943.

60 Ibid., letter of 10 April 1943.

61 The Zone would be expropriated and its residents expelled on a major scale from 1941 onward, using the same legislative arsenal as “insalubrious lot” number 16 and with the same prejudice toward its inhabitants. See I. Backouche, Paris transformé. Le Marais 1900-1980 : de l’îlot insalubre au secteur sauvegardé, Paris, Créaphis, 2019 [2016].

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Table des illustrations

Légende Document 1: Le Matin, 14 January 1943. Source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France
URL http://journals.openedition.org/acrh/docannexe/image/12160/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 222k
Légende Document 2: Letter to Maréchal Pétain of 15 November 1943. Source: Archives de Paris
URL http://journals.openedition.org/acrh/docannexe/image/12160/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 130k
Légende Document 3: Expropriation in the Zone of Pantin, 1938. Source: Archives de Paris
URL http://journals.openedition.org/acrh/docannexe/image/12160/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 295k
Légende Document 4: Letter to the Prefect, 16 November 1923. Source: Archives de Paris
URL http://journals.openedition.org/acrh/docannexe/image/12160/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 192k
Légende Document 5: Letter to the Prefect, 19 January 1922. Source: Archives de Paris
URL http://journals.openedition.org/acrh/docannexe/image/12160/img-5.png
Fichier image/png, 697k
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Isabelle Backouche, « Parisians write to the Administration: Interplay between social and spatial boundaries (1920-1945) », L’Atelier du Centre de recherches historiques [En ligne], 22 bis | 2021, mis en ligne le , consulté le 28 février 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/acrh/12160 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/acrh.12160

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Auteur

Isabelle Backouche

Isabelle Backouche is a Professor at the Centre de Recherches Historiques at EHESS. She is a historian who studies urban change through the connections between social and material transformations of the city. She published La Trace du fleuve. La Seine et Paris, 1750-1850 (Editions de l’EHESS, [2000] 2016), which analyses transformations in the role of the Seine in Paris. She then worked on urban development issues in the latter half of the twentieth century, starting with the issue of creating a buffer around historical monuments, leading to the book Aménager la ville. Les centres urbains français entre conservation et rénovation (de 1943 à nos jours) (Armand Colin, 2013). Recently she has conducted research on Paris, especially on “îlot insalubre” (insalubrious lot) number 16 in the south of the Marais. In her latest book she probes the motivations of this urban development initiative under the Vichy regime, showing that the transformation of the city cannot be understood when divorced from several contexts, including the political and the aesthetic (Paris transformé. Le Marais 1900-1980 : de l’îlot insalubre au secteur sauvegardé, Creaphis, [2016] 2019). She also co-edited a volume on social mobilizations over urban development. It highlights the plurality of viewpoints and the capacity of a great number of actors to resist decisions from on high (Isabelle Backouche, Nicolas Lyon-Caen, Nathalie Montel, Valérie Theis, Loïc Vadelorge and Charlotte Vorms (eds.), La ville est à nous. Aménagement urbain et mobilisations sociales depuis le Moyen-Age, Editions de la Sorbonne, 2018; I. Backouche, “Mobilisations urbaines et histoire des vainqueurs. Le cas de l’axe nord-sud à Paris (1959-1976),” pp. 263-284). Lastly, she participated in a major study of philanthropy, conducting research in Paris (“Micro-tactiques de l’implantation charitable : quatre quartiers parisiens,” in C. Topalov, Philanthropes en 1900. Londres, New York, Paris, Genève, Créaphis, pp. 387-434, co-authored with C. Topalov). She is currently part of a collective research program on the massive transfer of apartments rented by Jewish families in Occupied Paris (“Opportunités et antisémitisme. Le logement à Paris, 1943-44,” with S. Gensburger and E. Le Bourhis, Politika, put online in June 2017, https://www.politika.io/fr/notice/opportunites-antisemitisme-logement-a-paris-19431944), and is pursuing social history work on the “Zone” surrounding Paris in the twentieth century (“La Zone et les zoniers parisiens. Un territoire habité, un espace stigmatisé,” Genres urbains. Autour d’Annie Fourcaut, Créaphis, 2019, pp. 49-66). Concerned with making research findings available to the general public, she works with the non-profit Faire-Savoirs to produce audio walking tours found on the website “Ca c’est passé ici” (passe-ici.fr). With S. Gensburger she has published “Entendre l’histoire pour comprendre son élaboration : des bulles sonores à la webapp ‘passe-ici.fr’” ((Re)conquérir des publics ? Les écritures de l’histoire sociale, Le Mouvement Social, n° 269, 2019).

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