People ask a lot of their vacations these days, from weight loss to spiritual fulfillment. For two groups of entrepreneurial Jews in the post-war era, vacation seemed an opportunity to give people an outlet for newfound prosperity and a respite from war-weariness—with just a gleam of socialist idealism.
The Borscht Belt of the 1950s, of course, is famous for giving American Jews luxurious-but-heymish vacations where they could relax like their WASPier compatriots (see: David Kepesh). But meanwhile, two former members of the French resistance to Nazism, Gerard Blitz and Gilbert Trigano were pitching tents for the Club Méditerranée—or, more chummily, Club Med. Blitz, the son of a Jewish father and Catholic mother, refused to participate in the 1936 Berlin Olympics despite making the water polo team. Trigano, the son of French Jews from Algeria, joined the French resistance, writing and distributing anti-Nazi leaflets.
In 1950, Blitz started a straw hut “village” on a beach in Majorca, and wooed Trigano into partnership with him 3 years later. As at popular resorts in the Catskills, all food, lodging, and group activities were included. But unlike the grand hotels of Catskills, Club Med kept it simple and utopian, complete with communal washing facilities and beads as currency.
After Blitz and Trigano attracted Rothschild dollars, the Club’s utopian origins seemed to give way to what is today more of a Euro-Disney experience. But back when all they had was army surplus tents, it must have seemed that a vacation could give people exhausted by war a little bit more than just a break from work.