A 1968 Nobel Peace Prizewinner for his activism on behalf of human rights, the French Jewish legal scholar René Cassin is more honored for his public actions than understood as a man. Co-author of the UN’s postwar Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Cassin was given a book-length homage in 2001 from Les editions Honoré Champion, “René Cassin (1887-1976): an Open Mind on the Modern World,” and in April, Les editions Fayard published “René Cassin,” a biography by historians Antoine Prost and Jay Winter.
Both books reliably cover Cassin’s public life, including his combat wounds in World War I alongside other French Jews who insisted on fighting on the perilous front lines “because they were Jewish,” as Cassin would recall. Surviving his injuries, Cassin became a distinguished legal scholar and in 1940, joined Charles de Gaulle’s London-based government-in-exile after Germany occupied France. There Cassin found that many French anti-Nazis were also anti-Semites.