May 17 will be a landmark date in the family of actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Her grandfather Pierre Louis-Dreyfus will be 102. Beyond a highly lucrative career as a banker, Pierre is a noted war hero, one of the 42 still-living Compagnons de la Libération, a lofty distinction for war resisters.
Like Louis-Dreyfus, a number of these honorees are Jews, such as Nobel-Prizewinning biologist François Jacob, also an author and member of the Académie française who will be 90 this year. As a wartime combat medic, Jacob performed heroics, braving enemy fire to rescue the wounded, and was repeatedly wounded himself, before making his landmark discoveries in the genetic mechanisms of bacteria, messenger RNA and others.
In “The Logic of Life: A History of Heredity” (Princeton University Press), and other works so far untranslated into English, Jacob also proved himself an incisive and elegant writer. Like Jacob, Louis-Dreyfus, the scion of a family of Paris’s ritzy 8th arrondissement with a fortune based on armaments, leapt into the fray after the 1940 German invasion of France. After extensive Resistance activity, he trained as a machine-gun expert and joined a bombardier command, flying 81 bombing missions over the Western Front (Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands) for a total of 185.5 combat flights hours.
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