Meghan Riley

  • Fellowship year:2021-2022
  • University: Indiana University
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Modern Europe
  • Dissertation Title: Reading Novels in the Cattle Cars: American Humanitarian Relief in the Internment Camps of Unoccupied France, 1940-42
  • During the Second World War, tens of thousands of Jews, political dissidents, and members of other “undesirable” populations were interned in the French concentration camp system. Under the aegis of the collaborationist Vichy regime, many of the Jewish prisoners were deported from the French camps to death camps in Nazi-occupied Poland. American aid organizations such as the Quakers, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the YMCA, and the Unitarian Service Committee provided material, spiritual, and legal assistance to the interned prisoners. To accomplish this admirable work, these groups often worked closely with individuals and regimes we would now consider perpetrators of crimes against humanity. The tangled network of connections between the aid groups and the French and Nazi regimes created a space in which complicity, or at least accommodation, in the Holocaust took on a variety of forms. My doctoral dissertation examines this gray zone of interactions between Vichy France, the concentration camps, and the aid organizations and asks what we can learn about Holocaust collaboration and accommodation within it. Additionally, my project explores the work of these aid organizations in French camps in order to better understand the development of humanitarian groups during the Second World War as well as the dilemmas, possibilities, and consequences of humanitarian advocacy within the concentration camp.