Henry Rousso is one of France’s most preeminent scholars and public intellectuals. Last week, as the historian attempted to enter the United States to attend an academic symposium, he was detained for more than 10 hours — for no clear reason.
On Wednesday, Rousso arrived at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport after an 11-hour flight from Paris, en route to Texas A&M University in College Station. There, he was to speak Friday afternoon at the Hagler Institute for Advanced Study.
But things did not go according to plan: Rousso — an Egyptian-born French citizen — was “mistakenly detained” by U.S. immigration authorities, according to Richard Golsan, director of the Glasscock Center for Humanities Research at Texas A&M.
Egypt — from which Rousso and his family, as Jews, were exiled in 1956, after a slew of anti-Semitic measures imposed by the administration of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz — was not among the seven nations in the travel ban, which had been suspended by the time he arrived in the United States.
Rousso’s scholarship focuses on the memory of the Vichy regime, the darkest chapter in modern French history, when the government of unoccupied France collaborated with Nazi Germany in World War II. Vichy authorities are particularly infamous for assisting the Germans in rounding up and deporting tens of thousands of Jews from France during the Holocaust, which Rousso once called “the past that does not pass.”
He spoke Friday on a similar subject in College Station, in a lecture titled “Writing on the Dark Side of the Recent Past.”
Fellow historians took to social media after news of Rousso’s experience, many pointing out what they considered the uncomfortable irony of the arbitrary detention of a Holocaust historian.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian at New York University, said on Twitter, “His work on cost of forgetting past (Vichy) so relevant.”
Bloody symbolic. These are dark times.