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Gertrude Stein’s History During the Holocaust

Gertrude Stein’s History During the Holocaust

Specifically, how she and her life partner, Alice B. Toklas, survived the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied France—despite being Jewish, lesbian, American women.

Two recent exhibitions involving Gertrude Stein in San Francisco explore how life as an artist and literary figure are  a vital part of her work.  But, a new historical analysis by Truth-Out paints a different portrait of Stein.

Specifically, how she and her life partner, Alice B. Toklas, survived the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied France—despite being Jewish, lesbian, American women.

And while Stein is often remembered for her influence, art collection, poetry, and long-term relationship with partner Toklas, even the San Francisco Contemporary Jewish Museum’s exhibit failed to shed light on some lesser-known facts about Stein. Such as: how she managed to live and move about freely in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. elaborated on how the enigmatic artistic figure and her famous partner opted to stay in France during the Holocaust and, “despite being Jewish lesbian Americans, they - and Stein's priceless modern art collection - survived the war without major incident,” with help from noted noted French academic and anti-Semite, Bernard Faÿ, who was a key adviser to Pétaina, a Gestapo agent, as well as gay himself.

In a historical analysis of Stein’s relevance posted on, there’s brief mention of “The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) exhibition of the modern art collected by the Bay Area-based Stein family...The exhibition drew blockbuster crowds and it will go on to the Grand Palais in Paris and then to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.”

But the more interesting and enlightening exhibit on Stein was at the San Francisco Contemporary Jewish Museum, this past "Stein summer" in San Francisco. Here's some of what Truth-Out had to say:

The Contemporary Jewish Museum exhibition was divided into five "stories" about Stein. As described on the museum's web site, "Through a portrayal of Stein's contributions in her writings, patronage and lifestyle, the exhibition provides an intimate look at Stein's complex relationship to her identity, culture and history." This exhibit is now on its way to the National Portrait Gallery, part of the Smithsonian Museum.

Given the history of Stein's World War II years, the protection of her art collection from the Nazis by collaborationists, her entirely conflicted identity as a Jew - that leaned sometimes into a gray zone of remarks and thoughts that could be construed as anti-Semitic - her promotion of the Vichy leader whose promulgation of anti-Jewish regulations she translated, her fascist leanings - all of these and more which came to a crux during her WW II life in southern France - it is a bit astonishing that neither museum elaborated on any of this in their exhibits…

Professor Will stated to BuzzFlash at Truthout. "It is hard to get at the complexities and dilemmas of this modernism/fascism nexus if we only see a sanitized 'Saint Gertrude' image of Stein. She was a complex, layered, in some ways heroic, but in some ways despicable individual. The fact that her writing is so obscure has allowed people to say almost anything about her and up to this point the discussion around her has been mostly hagiographic. Looking at the facts of her life, her politics, even her aesthetic principles (which are more conservative than you would think) allows for a much fuller and more realistic picture of Gertrude Stein to emerge."

While the mainstream exhibits draw the masses that are needed to support these organizations, these deeper examinations of Stein’s personal life lived among the centuries' most horrific war offer a fascinating new layer to well known figure, Gertrude Stein.

For more about Stein and Toklas’ life in Europe and political, academic, and artist affiliations, read the complete original article on now.

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