Following is the first of a series of twelve specially prepared articles reviewing the present status of Jewry in the world’s most important nations, with the coming of the New Year. Another one will appear tomorrow.
The year just ended has been a significant one for the Jewish community of France. During that year French Jews faced many difficult problems which remain still far from solution and have to be met in the coming year.
After a considerable interval the Jews of France have again come up against the problem of extensive Jewish immigration from the East.
During the past year the reign of Hitler in Germany was accompanied by a wave of German-Jewish refugees. In the beginning the French government made no difficulties for them when entrance permits were being issued, and was not niggardly with respect to the issuance of “permits de travaille.” Thus it came about that in a short time a completely new Jewish colony was createdâ€”a German Jewish conlony which posed a difficult problem for French Jewry: how to receive and digest this new body numbering over 30,000.
PROBLEM BADLY HANDLED
Now, in taking stock, it must unfortunately but openly and clearly be stated that the Jewish community of France did not succeed in handling the problem in a very satisfactory manner.
It would be unfair to assert that the French Jews were ungenerous with their money. On the contrary, they raised quite considerable sums for the refugees, and much money came from abroad. Both on the part of the French Jews and of the French population generally much good will and many kind feelings were exhibited for these “unfortunate victims of the barbarous Hitler regime.”
And yet, now, more than a year after the influx of refugees began, those working for the relief of these unfortunates stand before a broken trough. More than 12,000,000 francs have been spent for the German refugees, yet today all the relief institutions are closed. The refugees wander about aimlessly, storm the relief agencies, go hungry and are helpless.
During this time there has been little success in creating a more or less significant degree of work possibilities for them. All the beautiful plans for the professional-restratification of the refugees have been left on paper. All the projects for agricultural colonization of the German Jews on idle French farms have remained on paper.
“JEWISH QUESTION” RENEWED
In only very few cases did the refugees succeed in joining some enterprise or establishing their own businesses. The overwhelming majority, during this time, simply used up the slight sums they managed to bring with them.
In France the problem of the German refugee has become sharper and more tragic than ever.
And it is not only a purely humanitarian or purely economic problem. It is at the same time also a very complicated political problem. For during the past year ### old “Jewish question” has ### again in France in a unique ### form. The fate of the ### and German Jews who were added by immigration intensifies this problem.
It would certainly be an exaggeration to say the year 4694 “created” the Jewish problem in France. In a latent form it existed in this free French republic even during the days of the post-war period. But in this year it began to take on a more concrete, politically crystallized form.
For the first time this century French chauvinist groups, which have a definitely anti-Semitic leaning, and political organizations like the “Francists,” which carried over to French soil all the theories of the German National Socialists, have been organized. There are also the “Solidarite Francaise,” which was created by the late perfume king, Francois Coty, whom it outlived (it now counts tens of thousands of members) and others, which, indeed, deny anti-Semitic tendencies but are very close to leading anti-Semitic circles.
EFFECT OF STAVISKY AFFAIR
As a result of events around the Stavisky affair the violently anti-Semitic royalist newspaper Action Francaise suddenly became very popular. And the speech of Leon Daudet on the Jewish question attracted a great audience despite the fact that the address was empty and superficial. The bankruptcy and death of Coty had no effect whatever upon the anti-Jewish tendency of the newspaper Ami du Peuple. Even now that it has changed hands it still continues its chauvinistic anti-Semitic policy.
The League against anti-Semitism, at the head of which is the energetic Berger Lecache, long ago departed from its purposeâ€”to combat anti-Semitism as suchâ€”and has become an extreme leftist organization which fights Fascism and reaction generally and participated in the general political demonstrations and manifestations of the Socialist-Communist “United Front” even when they have no relation whatever to Jewish interests. There is, therefore, no one body to carry on a systematic and consistent fight against anti-Semitism. The Jewish question, this year, has been placed before the French public in a very one-sided mannerâ€”in the anti-Semitic light.
And it is here that we find the difference between this year and former ones. There was once a time when the “Jewish question” was the “height of fashion” in France. But during those years (1927-1930) the question was treated in French literature and in intellectual circles in its national aspect: much interest was centered in the “Jewish soul,” the historic fate of the Jewish people, Zionism and Palestine. That interest was positive and creative. The attempt was made to understand the Jewish mentality and the Jewish national-political hopes. Now the interest is a more negative one. The leading Jewish circles of France did not know enough to take advantage at once of the sympathies of those years and to establish them soundly, and today we witness a definite and deep change in the whole character of the reigning attitude towards the Jewish question on the part of important and influential French circles.
During the year there was a period of several months during which even quite progressive French groups generally friendly toward the Jews began to speak of them in bitter tones. That occurred during that relatively short period when a certain part of French pacifist society went about with illusions about a “direct agreement” with Hitler in order to avoid the danger of a new war between Germany and France. The German-Jewish refugees as well as some Jewish political figures and journalists in France tried, naturally, with all their powers of persuasion, to make clear the illusory character of all these hopes and did everything possible to reveal the true warlike nature of Nazi Germany. In a number of newspapers and among certain leading political persons this created great dissatisfaction. They did not stop at saying that the Jews, because of their hatred of anti-Semitic Germany and their egoistic Jewish interests, were prepared to betray the interests of France.
NO IMMEDIATE DANGER
These accusations, which also came occasionally from quite progressive French elements, affected the French Jews particularly adversely.
Nevertheless it certainly would be irresponsibly exaggerated to declare that the year 5694 witnessed the rise of a real and serious anti-Semitic movement in France and that the French republic is one of those countries where the danger of anti-Semitism is on the program of Jewish life. This has not yet come to pass in free France, fortunately. But to anyone who has eyes to see it certainly is no longer a secret that the idyllic times when French-Jewish notables were able to assert with naive pride that “no Jewish problem exists in France” have definitely gone. The Jewish question also is quite plainly on the program of French Jewish life.
The “really French” Jews, who are grouped about the Consistory and the Alliance Israelite Universelle, are obviously not at all enthusiastic about such a state of affairs. To them it signifies the ruin of their whole systemâ€”that of subduing the Jewish question, of smothering everything which might draw the attention of the non-Jewish world to Jewish problems, of forgetting there are any Jews in France. But seeing that they cannot succeed in this fashion, even these assimilationist and well assimilated circles have begun to alter their tactics in this connection to a certain extent.
NEW BONDS FORGED
First of all they began to seek closer association with the newly arrived Eastern Jews, from whom they for so many years had stood at a distance and estranged.
Between these two divisions of the French Jewish community there has for many years been a great divide â€” cultural, national, psychological, social. The Eastern Jews created a network of societies (landsmanschaften) which they united into one federation counting about 20,000 members, and took no part in the social life of the “local” Jews. These, on the other hand, regarded the immigrants as creatures of a second level. Of late, however, a decided approachment has been noticeable. Mutual consultations occur, mutually supported institutions are being created, social contacts are being established. Naturally, this process goes ahead slowly and with difficulty. But it can already be positively asserted that modest progress has been made.
Characteristic of the slowly maturing change in the whole mentality of the leading local French Jewish circles is the decision, just adopted by the French rabbinical conference, to conduct a census of all the Jews in France.
CENSUS NEED SEEN
Heretofore no one has known the exact number of Jews in France. In French official population statistics there is no question concerning the religion of the individual. Only the country of citizenship is recorded. Thus it is that all French Jewish citizens are enumerated as Frenchmen, all Jewish immigrants as Poles, and so on. Therefore fantastic notions as to the actual number of Jews in France are circulated. There is talk of 100,000 Jews in France and of 250,000. Both estimates are quoted as equally “certain and reliable.”
Official leaders of French Jewry up to the present have opposed the taking of a census of French Jewry. They believed that the less said and known about the sons of Israel in France, the better. Now, however, realizing that the matter cannot be suppressed and that it is the anti-Semites whose cause the lack of definite statistics serve, they have assumed that the truth is the best lie and have decided upon the census.
To a certain extent this is a symbolic gesture. It signifies the end of a definite stage of remaining in hiding and of believing that the Jewish question can be silenced if the Jews will not mention it. French Jewry now enters the new year under the sign of a clearly posed Jewish question and of a definite tendency toward a closer union of all the various parts of the Jewish community of France.