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Eliminating Jews


Jewish Settlement in France

            Overview of the Zones of Settlement

BACKGROUND                                                                                 TOP

The last thousand years has been characterised by expulsions, return and anti-semitism.  This differed from Spain as there the expulsion in 1492 was based on religion.  In France it was based primarily on money.  

France was not the united country we now know. This is important as Jews expelled from one area could go to another.  Discussion of the size of France in the Middle Ages (for more detail and maps see Wikipedia) is complicated by distinctions between lands personally held by the king (the "domaine royal") and lands held in homage by another lord. The notion of res publica inherited from the Roman province of Gaul was not fully maintained by the Frankish kingdom and the Carolingian Empire, and by the early years of the Direct Capetians, the French kingdom was more or less a fiction. The "domaine royal" of the Capetians was limited to the regions around Paris, Bourges and Sens. The great majority of French territory was part of Aquitaine, the Duchy of Normandy, the Duchy of Brittany, the Comté of Champagne, the Duchy of Burgundy, and other territories (for a map, see Provinces of France). In principle, the lords of these lands owed homage to the French king for their possession, but in reality the king in Paris had little control over these lands, and this was to be confounded by the uniting of Normandy, Aquitaine and England under the Plantagenet dynasty in the 12th century.

EXPULSIONS                                                                                   TOP

April, 1182, King Philip Augustus ordered all of the Jews to leave the royal domain (in this case, the area around Paris).  The Jews were permitted to sell their movable goods, but their real estate went to the crown, and synagogues became the property of the Church.  Most Jews moved elsewhere in northern France.  (The northern French Jewish communities were under the control of regional authorities.) In 1198 the Jews were permitted to return, but an additional tax was imposed on their activities.

1289, the Jews were expelled from Anjou, Maine, Gascony, and Nevers.  Most of these Jews moved to Paris, where, even though they were subjected to restrictions, they were welcomed by the king.  In 1306, Philip changed his mind and ordered the Jews to leave his realm.  With no other choice, the Jews fled northeast to Flanders, east to Provence, or southwest to the Iberian peninsula.

Nine years later, King Louis X readmitted the Jews to France subject to certain conditions: the Jews had to purchase their readmission; they were not allowed to lend money (although pawnbroking was permissible); and they were forced to wear badges identifying them as Jews.  

But by 1321, Charles IV was unhappy with the revenue he received from the Jewish communities, and they were expelled once again.

Over the next 73 years, the Jews slowly moved back to southern France and re-established their businesses, until they were expelled for good by Charles VI in 1394

Jews did not return to France until the seventeenth century. Even then, Jews continued to suffer under severe legal restrictions (notably the infamous tax levied by Colmar, in Alsace, on all Jews and heads of cattle entering the town). And they remained few: only 40,000 at the start of the French Revolution in 1789.

In September 1791, the National Assembly had granted Jews full citizenship, making France the first country in Europe to give them civil rights. This was not done entirely in the spirit of liberty, equality and fraternity. The hope was that by unlocking the ghetto gates and removing all restrictions on employment and movement, Jews would stop acting like a separate nation within France and ineluctably become French.

Napoleon, reconvened what he called the Great Sanhedrin — a name taken from the governing body of the Jewish community under the Roman Empire. This council of French Jewish leaders was summoned to resolve a series of issues left unsettled since the French Revolution (see New York Times)

Today, France has the worlds third largest Jewish population (after Israel and the USA) of an estimated 485,000 (HULIQ).

ELIMINATING JEWS                                                                      TOP

Historian Salo Baron deemed it a “somewhat more civilized way of eliminating Jews.” Expulsion, he argued, certainly appeared legitimate, as it often amounted to the simple failure to renew an existing temporary residence permit. Baron also points to the medieval conception of Jews as permanent “exiles” as another way to understand the phenomenon of expulsion. While the exiles were tolerated in Christian communities as examples of Christian truth, this toleration could cease at the discretion of the local rulers.  This was often compounded by false rumors such as Jews killing Christians in mockery of the crucifixion (ritual murder), desecrating the host (communal wafer) and poisoning wells.

Thus expulsion provided a “legitimate,” less violent way of eliminating the Jews from a region. But why eliminate them at all? The rationale for group expulsion was complex, but the most common reasons for doing so were economic and religious. When raising taxes failed to produce enough revenue for a local ruler, expelling a group and taking its land and possessions was often the next best alternative. (However, expulsion for economic gain proved counterproductive, as the loss of regular Jewish revenue depressed the economy in the long run.)

Popular anti-Jewish sentiment also fuelled expulsions.

Baron adds his theory of nationalism and intolerance. He noticed that all of the regions that expelled the Jews during this period were evolving national states.  In defining the national self, these states eliminated the most obvious “other,” the Jews. The expansion of two multinational states at the time--Poland-Lithuania and the Ottoman Empire-- provided refuge for the exiles.

Taken from and for more detail see David A. Bell in Trapped by History: France and Its Jews )

MARRANOS                                                                                      TOP

The Jewish Virtual Library states that the Marranos had to maintain some semblance of Catholicism for more than two centuries, but they were seldom molested in their secret practice of Judaism. Though they were called "New Christians" or "Portuguese merchants," their Jewishness was an open secret. In the large settlements they lived in their own quarters, had their own burial grounds, developed their own schools and communal institutions, and even trained their own rabbis after first importing them from abroad. In the course of time they gradually reduced their Catholic practices and eventually abandoned Church marriage and even baptism. In 1730 they were officially recognized as Jews. Their more formal communities were situated at Bordeaux and Bayonne and there were numerous lesser settlements in such places as Toulouse, Lyons, Montpellier, La Rochelle, Nantes, and Rouen. Bayonne was the center of a cluster of communities, including Biarritz, Bidache, Peyrehorade, and Saint-Jean-de-Luz. In this last town the Marranos had the misfortune of being expelled in 1619, and then, after a partial return, seeing the town captured by the Spaniards in 1636.

David Ferdinando has reproduced the The Marranos of Rouen  by Cecil Roth which describes how a group of Marranos organised themselves and were regarded by the local community.

JEWISH SETTLEMENT IN FRANCE                              TOP
Ernest Kallmann


Jews have been documented in France since ancient times. Jews lived in Phoenician Marseilles before the Romans invaded Gaul. During the Middle Ages, they were periodically expelled and again allowed to return, until 1384, when some 100,000 Jews had to leave France, mostly to German speaking areas. For instance, Rashi spent a great part of his life in the town of Troyes around 1100 CE, growing wine grapes, teaching and commenting. Thereupon, there were no Jews any longer left in the Kingdom of France.

But the Kingdom did not control the Papal states around Avignon, in the South West of France, where Jews could survive. Also, after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and then Portugal in 1492, a number of "New Christians" emigrated to the southWest of France, mainly around Bayonne and Bordeaux. Though apparently assimilated and christianized, this "Portuguese Nation" maintained a hidden Jewish faith and practice. Besides these two French speaking communities, the largest number of Jews living on the territory of present France, the so-called German Jews, lived in Alsace, initially under the control of principalities of the Holy Roman Empire, and in Lorraine, around Metz.

When France progressively took control of these provinces, a certain status quo was respected, though Jews were no citizens, not allowed to live in towns and were subjected to discriminatory taxes. On the other hand, Jewish communities could live according to their own rules, as long as the relations with the civil and Christian authorities remained as imposed.

In 1791, during the French Revolution, Jews at once became citizens with the same rights and obligations as all other Frenchmen. They were allowed to settle where they wanted, mainly in larger cities where they could more easily earn a living. There have been two major waves of Jewish immigration, from the 1880ies to World War II, Eastern Europeans, and from 1950 to 1962, North Africans. The present Jewish population in France, estimated as 600,000 persons, includes a majority of people originating in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.


In each major zone of settlement, different conditions prevailed, each providing specific tools for genealogy research. For the sake of comparison, around 1789 some 5000 Jews lived in southwest France, 1800 in the southeast, and 1700 in various other cities, including Paris. In Lorraine, in and around the city of Metz, there were about 7000 Jews, and in Alsace about 23000.

The early settlements in the SW and SE of France, though in limited size, played an important role in the history of French Jews. Having adopted French habits for a long time, they were able to rise both socially and economically. Their family histories have been kept over time, inasmuch as most families had a well-known personality within their ranks.

The Jews in the Comtat Venaissin ("The Pope's Jews")

These Jews lived mainly in 4 towns in the southeast: Cavaillon, Carpentras, L'Isle-sur-Sorgue and Avignon. The A.D., as well as the municipal archives, holds documents dating back to the 16th century. This rather limited population has been studied in great detail. A rich literature is available, mainly in French. The ancient documents, written in Latin or old French, are difficult for non-specialists to read.

The Portuguese Nation

The Jews who left Portugal after 1496 (many had originated in Spain and had fled to Portugal shortly before) had to convert to Catholicism, and settled in southwest France as Catholics. They were called "new Christians" and often continued undercover Jewish practices. Church registers exist, mainly from the 17th century, with various documents similar to vital records for the 18th century. Additional information is available for those with connections to the Amsterdam Sephardic.

In the Departement de la Gironde, the A.D.(in Bordeaux) and also the municipal archives hold various documents, mainly from the 17th and 18th century. In the Departement des Pyrenees Altantiques, the A.D. (in Pau) and the municipal archives also hold various documents (mainly 17th and 18th centuries). These documents have been catalogued.


The French kingdom, after conquering the "three bishoprics" (Toul, Verdun and Metz) in the mid-16th century, favored the settlement of Jews in Metz. These Jews did not generally reach great wealth, but the community was a center of attraction for Jewish scholars. In the course of progressive conquest of the region, several communities were founded in small places, part of them speaking French, the other part German.

Vital registration documents, as well as tax registers and notary deeds, are available for periods since the 18th century. In particular, marriage contracts (tenaim) registered with the Royal Notaries have been indexed. They are held in the A.D. du Departement de la Moselle (Metz) and also in municipal archives

Choose Their Own Names

From ‘The Times of Israel’ By REBECCA BENHAMOU April 3, 2013, 4:15 am

After a historically charged legal fight, Jewish families can revert to their foreign ancestors’ last names

last names to their original Jewish ones, the French Ministry of Justice recently revised its position.

Fearful of anti-Semitism, many French Jews decided to adopt French surnames in the late 1940s and ’50s.

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“Even though the French administration never forced them to adopt less foreign-sounding names, they were highly encouraged to do so,” says Céline Masson, a lecturer in psychoanalysis at Université Paris-Diderot and a co-founder of La Force du Nom (“The Strength of the Name”), a Paris-based organization that lobbies for the right to reclaim old names.

Nearly 70 years after World War II, many descendants of both Holocaust survivors and Jews from North Africa have decided to reconnect with their roots by taking back the names of their ancestors.

French law, however, stipulates that once changed, a last name is considered “immutable.” It also prohibits citizens from reverting to a “foreign-sounding name.”

Céline Masson says changing one’s name can be a “trauma.” (Courtesy of Céline Masson)

In 2010, the debate entered the national spotlight when Masson and co-founder Natalie Felzenszwalbe submitted their first name-change requests to the State Council, the relevant government agency.

“We’re talking about a very small minority here,” Masson told The Times of Israel. “So far, we’ve had about 30 cases or so. But in a country where 76,000 Jews were deported [during the Holocaust], it’s bound to be a powerful debate.”

In their applications, both advocates argued that allowing the reversion to previous names constitutes a “symbolic reparation” that France owes its Jewish citizens.

“Reparation has been achieved at every level in France: when Nazi collaborators Klaus Barbie, Paul Touvier and Maurice Papon were brought to justice in the 1980s and 1990s; when President Chirac made his famous 1995 speech and became the first French politician to recognize France’s responsibility in the July 1942 Vel d’Hiv Roundup; and of course financial reparations. What’s missing is the right of name reversion,” Masson said.

Even though she and Felzenszwalbe were initially told the law wouldn’t be repealed, the French Ministry of Justice has revised its policy, adopting a case-by-case approach.

In an op-ed entitled “Stranger to One’s Name,” published in the daily Libération newspaper Feb. 28, 41-year-old David Forest — now renamed Fuks — explained how he was finally allowed to revert to his Polish-born grandfather’s name in October 2012, more than 60 years after the family changed it.

“When I was asked about the origins of my name, even people with the best intentions never failed to ask what my ‘real name’ was,” he wrote. “In fact, I often heard my parents say that our current name wasn’t a ‘real one’.”

“The truth lay within the name we abandoned — the only one that truly said where our family came from and who we were.”

In her 2012 book, “Rendez-nous Nos Noms! Quand des Juifs Revendiquent Leur Identité Perdue” (“Give Back Our Names! When Jews Reclaim Their Lost Identities,” Masson writes that the number of name changes within the French Jewish community peaked between 1945 and 1957 — a total of 2,000 requests.

Originally from Tunisia, Masson’s family — the Hassans — changed its name when it immigrated to France in the ’60s, like many other Sephardic families from Morocco and Algeria.

‘Sometimes family members don’t agree on what their name should be and what it represents’

“My name has been changed, and it’s not difficult to pronounce it,” she wrote. “It is cut off from its history and its original language; it has lost its flavor, its accent.”

In her book, Masson also interviews Tunisian-born Magali Taillé — originally Taieb — whose family emigrated to France at the same time.

“Changing one’s name is like changing jurisdiction,” said Taieb. “Magali Taieb was a young Jewish girl raised in the values of Tunisian society of the 1950s. She stopped growing up in 1970. Magali Taillé was born in the same year and studied in Parisian universities. Between the two, there’s a gap, a distance, a duality, an incompatibility. Until they were finally reconciled.”

Backed by years of experience as a psychoanalyst and her personal history, Masson explains that changing one’s name can represent a “trauma,” especially for younger generations that now want to reconnect with their Jewish roots and family past.

In some cases, certain family members choose to revert to their old Jewish names, while others maintain the newer one.

“Sometimes family members don’t agree on what their name should be and what it represents,” Masson said. “I’ve seen cases where children feel like having a Jewish name, and the parents or the grandparents don’t, or vice versa.”

“This is the kind of problem we didn’t think we would encounter at first,” she continued. “But this is definitely something we ought to analyze more in the years to come. It is yet another interesting aspect of how complex a Jewish identity can be, even today.”


The Marranos of Rouen

Trapped by History: France and Its Jews

Jewish Virtual Library

Jewish History Sourcebook: The Expulsion of the Jews from France, 1182 CE

Expulsion of Jews from France in 1306 (BBC)