Henri Bergson was born in Paris in 1859. His global influence as a philosopher followed the publication of his book Creative Evolution (1907). After that, Western intellectual elites joined local students at his crowded lectures at the College de France. Eventually, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (1927) and the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor (the French government’s highest honor) (1930).
In his will (1937), he noted that he would have liked to have become a Catholic. He wouldn’t though, because he could tell that years of cruel anti-Semitism were about to strike the Jews of Europe. He didn’t, he wrote, because “I wanted to remain among those who tomorrow were to be persecuted.”
The German army occupied Paris in June 1940. In late 1940, occupying authorities ordered Parisian Jews, including Bergson, to register. Having refused the exemption offered him by the Vichy government, Bergson joined the long line himself despite being ill and the cold weather. He died of a respiratory illness on January 4, 1941.