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.
Renowned for his relentless work ethic, the elder Louis-Dreyfus must have instilled some of his determination in his descendants. His son, Gérard C. Louis-Dreyfus (known as William Louis-Dreyfus) is ranked by Forbes Magazine seventh among France’s billionaires with a fortune estimated in 2007 at $3.4 billion.
Shunning the showbiz milieu of their half-sister Julia, both of Gérard’s daughters from his second marriage, Phoebe Louis-Dreyfus Eavis and Emma Louis-Dreyfus, have embraced the profession of social worker. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics informs us, social work is a “profession for those with a strong desire to help improve people’s lives.” As indeed old Pierre Louis-Dreyfus, François Jacob and their brave compatriots did when their nation experienced humiliating defeat. They remind us that at the lowest point in modern Gallic history, some French people did indeed fight back.
Watch a 2008 French TV interview with François Jacob in two parts:
Watch as Julia Louis-Dreyfus follows in the tradition of the mishpocha with a 2007 PSA to get out the vote: