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Obituary: Claudie Weill (1942-2018)

Born in 1942 in Lyon, she escaped the Nazi mass arrests thanks to the courage of Protestant families from Chambon-sur-Lignon, a village in the Haute Loire, that provided refuge to her and other Jewish children.

After having studied German and Russian – both languages that she spoke fluently – she specialized on the social and political history of socialist and student movements in Europe. She dedicated two theses to these topics: Marxistes russes et social-démocratie allemande 1898-1904 [Russian Marxists and German Social Democracy, 1898-1904] (Paris, Maspero, 1977) and Étudiants russes en Allemagne: 1900-1914 [Russian students in Germany: 1900-1914] (Paris, L‘Harmattan, 1996). Assistant to Georges Haupt at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris, she worked as a researcher in the team for contemporary history led by Michaël Werner.

She was particularly interested in the thought and political action of Rosa Luxemburg. Weill translated Luxemburg’s political writings she drafted in the last two years of her life into French and made them known in France: Œuvres II. Oeuvres politiques 1917-18 [Works II. Political Writings 1917-1918] (Paris, Maspero, 1971). Furthermore, Weill published Luxemburg’s correspondence in French: Vive la lutte! Correspondance 1891-1914 [Long live the struggle! Correspondence 1891-1914] (Paris, Maspero, 1975) and J‘étais, je suis, je serai! Correspondance 1914-1919 [I was, I am, I will be! Correspondence 1914-1919] (Paris, Maspero, 1977) and other less known writings: La question nationale et l’autonomie [National question and autonomy] (Paris, Le Temps des Cerises, 2001). Her last work on the German revolutionary was a collection of articles published under the title Rosa Luxemburg: ombre et lumière [Rosa Luxemburg: Shadow and light] (Paris, Le Temps des Cerises, 2009).

The national question and the debates it caused within Marxism and the socialist movement before 1914 in Europe constituted another central axis of her research: Les marxistes et la question nationale, 1848-1914 [The Marxists and the national question, 1848-1914] (Paris, Maspero, 1974, in co-operation with Georges Haupt and Michael Löwy). Above all, Weill contributed to the diffusion of the works of Otto Bauer and other Austro-Marxist theoreticians on the national question in France.

In her research Claudie Weill also dedicated herself to the Bund [the General Jewish Labour Bund in Lithuania, Poland and Russia], the relationship between socialism and Judaism in Russia (Les cosmopolites: socialisme et judéité en Russie, 1897-1917) [The cosmopolitans: Socialism and Judaism in Russia, 1897-1917] (Paris, Syllepse, 2004), the inter-ethnic relations in the Second International: L’Internationale et l’autre: les relations inter-ethniques dans la IIe Internationale: discussions et débats [The International and the other: Inter-ethnic relations in the Second International: Discussions and debates] (Paris, Arcantère, 1987) and the student movements in Germany and the Russian Empire before 1914.

Thanks to her broad interests and her profound knowledge on the socialist movements in several European countries (Germany, Austria, Russia, Poland) Claudie Weill significantly distinguished herself from most French social historians. In this respect, she was closer to the actual “cosmopolitan” social historian Georges Haupt with whom she cooperated closely. As historian she was inspired by a militant passion that brought forth her interest in those heterodox and dissident personalities to whom she dedicated most of her research.

She inspired and actively collaborated with several scientific journals, in particular L’Homme et la société and Matériaux pour l’histoire de notre temps, and she frequently participated in the yearly conferences of the ITH (International Conference of Labour Historians, later International Conference of Labour and Social History) that embodied one of the rare meeting points and discussion forums in Europe of social historians from East and West during the Cold War division. Claudie Weill developed a large network of contacts and friends among historians from Central and Eastern Europe as well as specialists on Rosa Luxemburg in Japan and other countries.

Many of us, in the ITH and elsewhere, can only agree to the words of Michael Löwy in his article in honour of Claudie Weill (Médiapart, 14 October 2018): “We have lost a beloved friend and the research community on international socialism has lost a committed researcher full of human sensitivity.”

Bruno Groppo (Université de Paris I / Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique)
Translated from German by Lukas Neissl