The recent opening of The Steins Collect at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has ignited a controversyregarding Gertrude Stein’s fascist past. At the center of this debate is Barbara Will’s recent book Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma.
As Will’s book reveals, Stein, herself a Jew, supported various Vichy policies and in fact translated several of Marshal Philippe Pétain’s speeches. Moreover, she had a close relationship with Bernard Fay, who was director of the Bibliothèque Nationale during the Vichy regime and overseer of the repression of French freemasons. It is through Fay’s protection that Stein was able to remain in France.
Initially, the Met made no mention of Stein’s Vichy past but, as reported in the New York Times, after objections they decided to add a few sentences to the final wall text of the exhibition, describing how Gertrude Stein’s affiliation with Bernard Fäy, the Vichy collaborator and Nazi agent, contributed to the protection of Stein and her companion Alice B. Toklas in France during the war. They also direct people to Barbara Will’s Unlikely Collaborator.
The story was also covered in the New Yorker, and in an interview Will suggests:
In a sense, the curators dropped the ball by not recognizing and anticipating this response. If one asks how and why this art survived the war [and] specifically, the art in Gertrude’s collection—then the issue of Gertrude Steins’s Vichy commitments becomes very important indeed. Why was Stein’s apartment, where most of the art was stored, left undisturbed during the war? The only firm answer we have—with documented proof—is that Bernard Faÿ kept his eye on the apartment and intervened when it looked like the seals on the doors were going to be broken and the Nazis were going to seize the art works.
Others objecting to the Met’s omission include New York City politicians Scott Stringer and Dov Hikind as well as Alan Dershowitz. In Suppressing Ugly Truth for Beautiful Art , a post in The Huffington Post, Dershowitz goes over the evidence linking Stein’s connection to and sympathy for the Vichy regime while criticizing the Met for not providing a full historical picture. He writes:
By offering a false explanation of how Stein and Toklas “remarkably” survived the Holocaust, while living in a town from which dozens of Jewish children were deported to death camps, the Met has distorted the history of the Holocaust and failed to point a finger of blame at collaborators, such as Stein, who made it possible.