Jewish Underground Leaders in France Describe How They Fought to Protect Jews
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Jewish Underground Leaders in France Describe How They Fought to Protect Jews

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In a bare drab office, in Rue Jean Jaques Rousseau here, leaders of the Jewish underground organization today described how for four years they fought to protect 3,000 Jews living in this district and during ten bitter months matched wits the Gestapo and its Vichyite aids.

They outlined to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent the complex secret organization by which they kept in regular contact with 400 families scattered in hiding throughout the Isere Department; how they maintained contact with other Jewish communities; and how Jews contributed to French resistance in this district.

They told of the underground railway through which hundreds of children were smuggled into Switzerland from Grenoble alone, and of the “Jewish army” which battled the Vichy militia and the Nazis and spirited young Jewish to the Spanish frontier en route to Palestine.

They spoke with pride of the hundreds of young Jews serving with the Maquis and who are presently with the French Forces of the Interior fighting the Germans. Above all they spoke of the young Jewish men and women who who risked their lives daily doing dangerous work of Linison or who obtained or forged so many false identification papers, rationbooks and other vital documents that Grenoble supplied other areas. These youths travelled throughout the district caring for their “charges.”

There were many martyrs and heroes among them. There is the 22-year-old German-Jewish refugee girl who was arrested in June while shepherding a party of 40 children into Switzerland. She persuaded the Gestapo to release the driver of the truck and the children under sixteen, but she and 12 children were imprisoned. She refused to avail herself of an opportunity to escape until all the children were released. It is believed she was executed. The children, who were freed by the Maquis, returned to Grenoble this week.

Then there was a 35-year-old rabbi from Tel Aviv who came to Grenoble in 1943 to direct the youth organization. He took a leading role in the “Jewish army” travelling all over the country in its behalf. He was seized together with 15 others by the Gestapo in Paris while on a mission to obtain arms and is believed to have been executed.


No one knows how many Jews in this district fought with the Maquis, since all of them used false names and papers. But it is known that a 30-year-old Paris rabbi led unit numbering 1,800 which fought the Nazis and militia in this area for months before D Day. He was arrested on June 10 and is believed to have been executed. A Jew who came to Grenoble from Lorraine commanded a large Maquis band, while another commanded a detachment of “France tireurs partisans.”

A less spectacular, but equally important task — the distribution of Maquis literature and instructions-was undertaken by a young Hungarian Jew who also acted as liaison between the Jews and the Maquis. In one of the most dangerous posts, head of the “United Committee for the Defense of Jews,” which was composed of representatives of Jewish parties and organizations was a small gone-like Lodz Jew who had been a welfare worker in paris for 30 years. This man told the JTA correspondent how his group worked with similar bodies in Lyon and Paris. The committee received funds from abroad via Switzerland, and from local collections. They gave almost regular relief to the 400 families in hiding.

“The work of defense against deportations,” he said, “was the most important job. During 1944 the committee distributed 1,200 sets of false identification documents, advised Jews to disperse when necessary, and helped them to move from one village to another.” The committee sent hundred of children to Switzerland and placed 70 in homes in the countryside. It is now trying to regain custody of children who were placed for safety in convents by parents who were subsequently deported.

One of the committee’s functions, he said, was to aid young Jews to join the Maquis. It also raised a raised a certain monthly sum for the Maquis, and was arranging for the formation of a separate Jewish unit when the city was liberated.

A most amazing aspect of the situation here is how the Jews managed to maintain communal life while every one of them was being hunted by the Gestapo and Vichy traitors. A young Zionist group met regularly and studied Hebrew, Jewish history and other subjects. Its leader was Georges Schnek, who directed the work of obtaining false documents. Schnek has a cousin in the United States named Rose Fushan, who is a lawyer in New York.

Jewish political groups also met frequently. On the anniversary of the Warsaw revolt they held a well-attended meeting here. Last year the Grenoble Jews celebrated Rosh Hashanah in a Catholic Church and Yom Kippur in a Protestant Church, since going to a synagogue was inviting arrest. The Jews here pay warm tribute to their non-Jewish neighbors who warned them of danger, hid them, and helped feed them.

At present the committee is attempting to compile a complete list of survivors, but this is a difficult task since many Jews have been using false names and moving frequently to evade detection.

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