Well? Have you? If not, it’s probably because René Blum’s lifelong career in the arts has been safely hidden from the history books. Only his brother Léon Blum, the first Socialist and Jewish Prime Minister of France, received enormous attention. But Judith Chazin-Bennahum knows why René Blum deserves to be remembered: because he was an extraordinary man. Chazin-Bennahum’s book introduces the reader to the world of the Belle Epoque artists and writers, the Dreyfus Affair, the playwrights and painters who reigned supreme during the late 19th century and early 20th century period in Paris. Below she provides us with just a few of his most impressive accomplishments.
• As a French soldier in WWI, under enemy fire, Blum saved important works of art and for his bravery received the Croix de Guerre.
• As editor of the Parisian literary journal Gil Blas, Blum singlehandedly arranged for the publication of Marcel Proust’s Du côté de chez Swann (Swann’s Way) by the publisher, Bernard Grasset.
• After the death of Serge Diaghilev, René Blum brought back to life the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, engaging the greatest talents in ballet in 1932.
• René Blum oversaw the extraordinary performances of young Balanchine’s early works in 1932, the symphonic ballets of Leonide Massine that rocked the dance scene, as well as the classical pieces of Michel Fokine.
• Blum saved many dancers and choreographers from the ravages of World War II by selling his company to American entrepreneurs in 1940.
• When a prisoner at Drancy, the infamous concentration camp near Paris, he gave lectures on French literature and ballet to distract the others from their pain and hunger. He behaved heroically before he was murdered at Auschwitz.
Judith Chazin-Bennahum, a former ballet dancer, is Distinguished Professor Emerita of Theatre and Dance at the University of New Mexico. She is author of Rene Blum and The Ballets Russes: In Search of a Lost Life.