LYON (Sep. 8)
The Jews of Liberated Lyon, which now has the largest Jewish population in France after Paris, today held their first open, legal meeting since the commencement of Nazi persecutions in France, and tonight celebrated their new freedom at special synagogue services.
Some 50 men and women, composing the Lyon United Jewish Defense Committee, assembled at meeting, attended by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent, to discuss the present Jewish situation here and the various problems facing them in the future course of their work. Illustrating the difficulties under which they worked in the past few years was the fact that many of these committee members had never before met each other.
It was obviously difficult for them to accustom themselves to the new situation, and most of the speakers pointed out how hard it was to act again as free men, to walk the streets without apprehension and to reveal their right names and religion without fear. Following the speeches it was easy to see the difficult psychological problem faced by many of them in thinking in terms of open actions instead of the secret work of the past, under penalty of death if discovered.
Many speakers expressed the fear that the complete unity which had developed under persecution, in which all parties and factions sank their differences to work together, would now be lost. perhaps the most moving scene occurred when a delegate from Villeurbanne, a working-Class suburb, made a plea for continued unity, reminding the meeting of the sufferings the Jews here had undergone and evoked the names of slaughtered comrades. He recounted how the Gestapo had killed an aged Jewish woman of 100, and with tears in his eyes, pleaded that the unity achieved at such cost must not be lost.
“The Jewish tragedy in France is just beginning,” he said. “Lyon has been free only a few days, but already children are coming to the committee and asking: Where are our parents? Where is my brother? Where is my home? What shall we tell them. What shall we do with them?”
COMMISSIONS ESTABLISHED TO RETURN JEWISH LIFE TO NORMALCY
The meeting decided to establish four commissions: first, to continue social work, including relief and social services, job placement and other necessary measures; second, to gather information concerning the number of Jews deported and executed, attempt to arrange reunion of families, and secure other information concerning missing Jews; third, to handle legal questions, such as the repossession of confiscated property, the status of foreign Jews, of whom there are a great many here; and fourth, to deal with questions of children, such as the care of a great number whose parents were deported, arrange for the return of those sent into Switzerland for
safety and gather those placed in homes in the countryside, convents and other places of refuge.
The chairman of the committee, Simon Bornstein, a former leader of the Jewish Socialist Bund in Paris, warned the meeting of the grave financial situation, pointing out that hundreds of Jews coming cut of hiding are flooding the committee with appeals for help. He disclosed that during the period of underground activity the committee financially aided 600 families regularly, while in the weak that the city has been freed, this figure has risen by thousands with more coming in daily.
Although the Lyon Jewish community numbered about 500 families before the war, the Jewish population increased tremendously after the French capitulation in June, 1940. Thousands of refugees from occupied France, Belgium and Holland flooded the area. It is estimated roughly that there are about 25,000 Jews now in Lyon and the vicinity, but it will be impossible to get any exact figure for several weeks.
JEWS SEEK TO SECURE VALID IDENTITY PAPERS; PROBLEM OF SCATTERED CHILDREN
Among the legal questions now occupying the committee is first, the question of obtaining valid papers for the majority of the Jews here. Ironically enough one of the committee members was arrested on the first day the city was liberated for carrying false papers, but was released when it was established that he was a Jew who had been compelled to conceal his identity.
The second question is the status of the foreign Jews. They are considerably alarmed at present by an order issued by the local authorities requiring all nationals and natives of enemy countries to register with the police, owing to the bitter experience they had with previous registrations. The committee representatives are presently discussing this situation with Senator Justin Godart, acting mayor of Lyon.
The Community is greatly preoccupied, also, with the question of the thousands of children scattered, in French homes in the countryside, in convents and other refuges. Many of these are orphans, and the parents of others have been missing since they were deported. They also want to arrange for the speedy return of the children smuggled into Switzerland.
During the discussion on this problem, one speaker, referring to the fact that an American Jewish correspondent was present, appealed to American Jewry to “make mother great gesture and open their arms to thousands of Jewish children in France whose parents have been slain by the Nazis, We hope that America’s 4,000,000. Jews will take these victims of Hitler to their bosoms,” he added. However, when a subsequent speaker rejected this suggestion and declared that “we will work and provide for the future of these children in France,” he was greeted by cheers and applause.
The meeting asked the Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent to convey to the Jews of America, Britain and Palestine greetings and gratitude for the financial and moral help given then during their darkest hours. They paid tribute to the activities of the Joint Distribution Committee. All Zionist and Labor groups also asked that their greetings be sent. Theses included the Right and Left Peale Zion and the Jewish fund, which greeted the Jewish Labor Committee and the Yiddish newspaper the “Forward.
JEWS PLAYED PROMINENT ROLE IN RESISTANCE MOVEMENT IN LYON REGION
The full story of the fiendish treatment of the Jews by the Nazis and their Vichy henchmen will not be known for months, but it is known that in addition to hundreds- if not thousands – executed in this district by the Gestapo and the Vichy.
Jews played a prominent part in the insurrection in this suburb at that time. In addition Jews fought in units of the French Forces of the Interior. One special company of 115 young Jews participated as a unit of the FBI and helped rout the Vichy militia defending a building on the west bank of the Rhode which was occupied by the Vichy Commissariat for Jewish Affairs. This building, incidentally, is now the headquarters of the Jewish Committee.
It was recalled today that when, in response to an appeal by Cardinal Gerlier, on August 25, the Germans released 700 political prisoners from the Fort Montlue prison, they did not release 80 Jews held there, but immediately executed them.
Yesterday, the authorities began the exhumation of two mass graves at the Bron airport, just outside of Lyon, where the Germans buried some of the Montluc prisoners who were killed on the spent after working at repairing damage done by Allied bombers. Today, five of the first victims exhumed were identified as Jews.