On a visit to the far western tip of Brittany this week, JHE director Ruth Ellen Gruber didn’t expect to encounter any sites or monuments regarding Jewish heritage or history…Few Jews live in the region today, and there are few sites of built heritage other than a synagogue in Nantes, built in 1870.
A walk in the rain in the charming little port of Treboul, however, led to a chance encounter with a monument to the Holocaust — specifically, a sculptural memorial to the avante-garde poet, painter, and critic Max Jacob, a close friend of Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Amadeo Modigliani and other artists in Paris. He was born in nearby Quimper in 1876 and vacationed in Treboul from 1929.
Born and raised a Jew, Jacob (who was gay) converted to Catholicism in 1909 (apparently after claiming to have had a mystical vision of Christ). Still, he was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944 and sent to the Drancy internment/deportation camp outside Paris, where he died of pneumonia before he would have been deported to Auschwitz.
His brother Gaston, sister, and brother-in-law were murdered at Auschwitz.
The memorial, by sculptors Philippe Meffroy and Veronique Millour and erected in 1995, is a double portrait of Jacob. It stands at the top of a path leading up from the port (which is located next to the larger port town of Douanenez), near the church of St. Jean.
The inscription states that the double portrait shows two faces of Jacob — that of the worldly, monocle-wearing young poet at home among the bohemian artists of Montmartre and Montparnasse, and the other that of the “mystic” Catholic convert who was arrested as a Jew and died in Drancy, a “victim of barbarism.”