Victor Basch (1863 - 1944)

Victor Basch


Journalists & intellectuals

A Dreyfusard and founder of the Rennes branch of the League of Human Rights on 22 January 1898, Professor Victor Basch was born in Budapest on 18 August 1863.

His father was a journalist who moved to France, and Victor became a French citizen in 1887. Two years earlier, however, he had become an assistant professor of German language and literature in Nancy, after earning an undergraduate degree in philosophy and passing the competitive entrance examination for German teachers.

Beginning in 1887, he became a lecturer in Rennes, and was heckled by students and attacked at his home as a Jew and a supporter of the judicial review. Colette Cosnier and André Hélard have pointed out that in 1899, the Dreyfusist party consisted of a few workers' leaders, teachers, freemasons, and Protestants supported by some 250 students, against 400 reactionary students. At its foundation, the small Rennes section of the League of Human Rights, the first such branch outside of Paris, counted only twenty-one members, including four workers, and which was one-third academics. According to Séverine, they lived "in an atmosphere of constant animosity."

Writing in Le Siècle on 8 July 1899, Victor Basch praised the captain: "the image of the soldier proudly standing tall beneath men's scorn." He welcomed the Dreyfusards, put several of them up at his house, and organized their meals near his house, at the Auberge des Trois Marches. After the assassination attempt against Fernand Labori, and convinced that more blood could be spilled, he contacted the prefect to demand that Dreyfus's defenders be given increased security.

In 1906, after Dreyfus's rehabilitation, he was appointed to the Sorbonne where, in 1918, a chair in the aesthetics and history of art was created for him. He joined the central committee of the League of Human Rights in 1907, became vice-president in 1909, and was named president in 1926. As a professor emeritus at the Sorbonne in 1933, he helped those opposed to the Nazis. Lucien Rebatet hatefully described him as supplying, along with Emile Kahn, "all of the Republican sacraments and master keys."

After his son Georges, a captain in the French army, committed suicide in order to not lay down his weapons in 1940, Victor Basch remained the incarnation of the defense of human rights. On 10 January 1944, German and French Nazis arrested him and wife Ilona at their home. The lead collaborationist present, Joseph Lécussan, killed Victor with two bullets; his adjoint Gonnet then assassinated Ilona. In 1946, before he was sentenced and executed, Lécussan expressed his hatred for "the symbol of the Judeo-Masonic mafia, ghetto escapee, and creator of the Popular Front."