Leon Blum, pre-war premier of France, died in a “Jewish camp” near Lublin in 1943, according to a report published here today by the well-known Soviet author Constantin Simonov, who has just returned from a visit to the newly liberated Polish city.
If Simonov’s story is correct – he got it from two persons who claimed to have spoken to Blum shortly before he died – it clears a mystery of more than a year’s standing as to the ex-premier’s fate. Blum, one of the French leaders tried by the Vichy government in the never-completed Riom trials in 1942, was last reported in 1943 to be in a prison camp in western Prussia.
According to Simonov’s story, Blum was held in one of the grimmest and most notorious Nazi prison camps about a mile from Lublin. What happened there was told to the Soviet author by the two men with whom he talked in Lublin, a Russian named Peter Mikhailovich Denisov and a Pole named Klaudia Elinsky.
In 1943, they said, they were in a warehouse filled with construction materials for the camp, and met one of the Lublin Jews whom they had known in the past. He talked to them for a while, and then, pointing to an old man who was lugging boards, said: “Do you know who that is? That’s Leon Blum.”
Seeing that there was no one near then, the two men approached the old man.
“Are you Leon Blum?” Denisov asked.
“Yes,” the old man replied, “I am Leon Blum.”
“Prime Minister of France?”
“Yes, Prime Minister of France.”
“How did you get here?” Denisov asked.
“I came with the last party of French prisoners,” the old man answered.
“Why didn’t you try to save yourself at home?” Denisov persisted. “Couldn’t you have done it?”
“I don’t know,” the old man said. “Perhaps I could. But I decided to share the fate of my people.”
The old man began to cry. Just then some Gestapo men came up, and Blum picked up the heavy board and went on. In a few steps he fell down. Someone helped him up, and he went on again.
A week later Denisov and Elinsky were back at the warehouse, and met their Jewish friend again. They asked him where Leon Blum was. “Up there,” the man replied pointing to the sky, “where I’ll be soon.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.