Holocaust in Paris
Monday started the Jewish celebration of Passover, the religious holidays that commemorate the portion of Exodus where God spares (passes over) the Israelite first born sons and kills the first born sons of Egypt as what you might call a last straw to convince the Pharaoh to release the Israelites from from slavery in Egypt. This event followed a long period of having tried through Moses lesser measures to obtain their release (the last of 10 plagues). It is the beginning of the long, 40 year exodus of Moses and the Israelites from Egypt to the promised land. During Passover the Jewish followers consume unleavened bread and a Passover meal, as well as observing other religious traditions commemorating the release and hasty flight of the Israelites from Egypt.
With Passover as the backdrop, look now at our neighborhood. Just across the Seine is the Marais, a traditional Jewish neighborhood in Old Paris. Even when the nobility had occupied the Marais in the 1600’s, Jewish merchants had settled in the area as clothing makers and participants in the City’s financial and banking business. After most nobility had left the area, numerous Eastern European Jews immigrated to Paris and the Marais in the 1800’s.
You may never have heard about the devastation of the Holocaust in Paris. In 1940 there were about 175,000 Jewish residents of Paris. Many fled when the Germans invaded in May of 1940, and by September there were about 150,000 remaining, including about 64,000 foreigners. In 1942 the Germans with the assistance of French police began a systematic deportation of foreign and stateless Jews. In June 1942, Jews in Paris were ordered to wear yellow Star of David badges for easy identification. In July French police concentrated 13,000 Jews in a sports area in south central Paris, and by year’s end nearly 30,000 had been deported. Many more went into hiding, so that by mid 1943 only about 60,000 Jews remained in the city. In early 1944, the Germans began to deport Jewish citizens of France as well. By the time Paris was liberated, at least 50,000 Parisian Jews, most of them foreign-born, had been deported and murdered. You can find more information from the US Holocaust Museum.
Only a few blocks from our house is the Mémorial de la Shoah (Memorial to the Holocaust). It has numerous exibits, including a Wall of Names (shown above), honoring the 76,000 French Jews (according to the description in Fodors) deported from France to Nazi concentration camps, of whom only 2,500 survived. We saw a local grade school in the Marais that listed the names of the children deported from that school (never to return) during the holocaust. These chilling events happened only a few years before I was born, and the hatreds and struggles played out in these stories of the past continue unsettled in our world today.