Jewish Paris

Jews have been living in Paris intermittently since the first century B.C. France was the first European country to grant civil rights to Jews – just after the French Revolution.  There are few visual reminders of the Jewish presence before the 2nd World War, but the 1st World War Jewish memorial below is located on a wall in  Rue Sedain in the 11eme and is missed by the “Jewish Paris”tour guides:


Almost every mainland European capital city was occupied by fascists or their collaborators in the 1940s. The only exceptions that I can think of are Moscow, Lisbon, Stockholm and Bern. The Nazi occupation of Warsaw was far more brutal than that of Paris, but Paris feels different, it still feels the pain, the wounds have never healed and are still raw. You feel it most intensely when the clocks go back, and the atmosphere remains sombre right through to Armistice Day. The difference, perhaps, is in part caused by guilt. There was too much collaboration, not enough resistance, and, with notable exceptions, practical help for the Jews of Paris came primarily from the Jewish community itself, which helped 14,000 escape before the 16-17 July 1942 roundup, when 13,000 Parisian Jews were deported. You notice the consequences every time you walk past a school. Every school in Paris has a plaque similar to the one below, although the wording differs:


In total,  11,000 children were deported and murdered,  including 100 from the 5eme, among them 13 toddlers too young to attend school and so not commemorated on the school plaques. They have their own glass memorial located in Square René Viviani, it was on my shortest route to work so I would sometimes pass it twice a day, but it never ceased to move me:


Behind Notre Dame, at the at the eastern tip of the  Île de la Cité, is the Mémorial de la deportation, commemorating more than 200,000 people who were deported. The words above the entrance read: Pardonne mais n’oublie pas (Forgive, but do not forget). Inside is the tomb of an unknown deportee killed at  Neustadt. Along both walls of the narrow, dimly lit chamber are 200,000 glass crystals with light shining through,  symbolizing  the deportees who died in the camps; at the end of the tunnel is a single bright light. Ashes from the camps, contained within urns, are positioned at both ends. Opposite the entrance is a stark iron gate overlooking the Seine:


The Mémorial de la Shoah is dedicated to the six million Jewish lives lost during the Shoah (holocaust) and includes the Memorial of the Unknown Jewish Martyr, Le Mur des Noms, a wall bearing the names of 76,000 Jews deported from France between 1942 and 1944, and rather more upliftingly, Le Mur des Justes, a wall bearing the names of 2,700 French people who helped save Jews. You will find it at 17 Rue Geoffroy l’Asnier, 75004 in the Marais district:


Paris’ most famous Jewish neighbourhood  is the Marais in the 4eme, known as the Pletzl – Yiddish for “little place” and  has been home to Jews since the 13th century. The Jewish district lies between Place des Vosges and the gay district and centres on Rue des Rosiers, a narrow, ancient street lined with kosher  boulangeries, charcuteries, and restaurants, Jewish bookshops,  and synagogues . There are numerous memorial plaques:


But it is the shops and restaurants that give the area its unique character:


However, most tourists will fail to realise the extent to which the Jewish community is under attack and has been for a long time:


Synagogues have 24 hour police protection, and most including this one, the Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue at 84-86 Rue de la Roquette, 75011 are behind protective steel barriers:


There are also police guards outside Jewish schools when the children arrive and go home, but the attacks continue and the Jewish community remains under threat. So it is worth remembering the Armenian proverb, “Remember to defend the Jews, because if they are gone, we will be next.”



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