Exile and Encounter in Martinique, 1940-1945

My project is a layered study of exodus and encounter in a time of war and displacement. It focuses on the exile of thousands of refugees, fleeing Hitler and Vichy France, to the French Caribbean between 1940 and late 1941.1 On board dozens of cargoes and ocean liners from Marseille bound for Fort-de-France were scores of leading intellectual and cultural lights, including German writers Anna Seghers and Walter Mehring, German painter Carl Heidenreich, French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, French surrealists André Breton, Pierre Mabille, and André Masson, famed Cuban painter Wifredo Lam, and avant-garde photographer Germaine Krull. They shared the deck with others desperate to leave Hitler’s Europe: Spanish republicans, Jews, and German leftists. On location in Martinique, André Breton stumbled upon Aimé and Suzanne Césaire’s journal Tropiques, which ushered in a rich confluence between Surrealism and Négritude -- an intellectual current dedicated to celebrating Blackness and rejecting racism. Various biographers have evoked the episode in passing, and several of those involved wrote of their experiences. But the remarkable story of transatlantic escape and encounter with Martinique at its epicenter has yet to be studied. This project sheds light on the Second World War’s intellectual impact, in particular its substantive mark on anti-colonial dynamics, on questions of rescue and exile, and on issues of identity, by way of Négritude and Martinique’s unique context.

Principal Investigator: Eric Jennings

This research was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2014.