Jewish Leaders Estimate Less Than 150,000 Jews Remain in France; 120,000 Deported
Menu JTA Search

Jewish Leaders Estimate Less Than 150,000 Jews Remain in France; 120,000 Deported

Download PDF for this date

Leaders of French Jewry today told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent that they believed that possibly 120,000 to 150,000 Jews survived the German extermination drive in France. They placed at 300,000 the number of Jews, including foreigners, who resided in the country prior to the outbreak of the war.

Additional thousands, they said, escaped the Nazis by crossing the Swiss and Spanish frontiers. About 12,000 Jewish children were saved by being smuggled into Switzerland where they were maintained with funds supplied by American Jewish relief groups.

These officials estimated that 120,000 Jews were deported from France to Poland. They hold out little hope that those deportees have survived. The larger put of the deportees, they said, were foreign refugees, who, because of language and other difficulties, were not able to disguise themselves and conceal their identity.

Local Lyon Jewish officials say that in the last few months before France was liberated their main enemy was not the Gestapo, which seemed to be weakened, but the French fascist formations such as the Vichy Militia and the Parti Populaire of Jacques Doriot .The latter, the officials revealed, desecrated the Lyon Synagogue Qunti Tillsit, destroying Forans, smashing the furniture, and leaving the building a shambles.

Most of the synagogues in France have been destroyed, the leaders of the Jewish Ministry said, but services are being resumed in liberated territories as soon as possible.

It is difficult to comprehend how Jewish organizations functioned under the German terror, even when these quiet un-heroic looking people describe the methods they employ. I was shown the small, flimsy, easily-swallowable pieces of paper on which all records were kept. I was told that the meek, bashful girl who helped interpret Breneth the Jewish leaders had taken several parties of children into Switzerland through Gestapo and militia cordons, and had lost a sister who was captured while thing the name type of work. I also saw a typical “East Side” tailor from the villeurbanne suburb who risked his life daily serving as contact man between the Jews of Lyon and those living in communities to the south.

Illustrative of the way the Jewish organization functioned is the fact that Jewish officials in Grenoble, 50 miles away, were unable to give me the names and addresses of leaders here. They gave me the address of a Frenchwoman living in villeurbanne and she brought me to the tailor through whom I met the leaders of the local organization.

It is doubtful that many Jews could have survived, if not for the hundreds and thousands of people like this French working-class woman whose life would have been forfeited if the Gestapo or militia had discovered Jews in her house.

The Jewish defense groups maintained activities on a surprisingly large scale. Their primary activity was helping people to live by providing them with funds, forged papers and finding them hideouts. However, as one official explained, “it wasn’t necessary only to give them means to live, but, also, the will to live – the hope and belief that our enemies would be overcome,”


Thus, at a time when religious services were held secretly in backrooms of houses, when Jews ran the risk of death if caught in the streets, Jewish organizations provided a full program of cultural, educational and communal activities

One effect of the persecutions was to knit the Jews closely together. All Zionist groups, while retaining their individuality, combined to form a central body. Jewish youth groups combined into one large organization. Both those and all other Jewish organizations and groups joined to create a central defense body whish set the pattern for the newly formed Representative Council of the Jews of France, in which all elements are participating.

Jews fought not only in their own defense, but as individual members of special Jewish units of the French resistance forces. Jewish officials said that they early recognized the importance of the resistance movement, and joined in large numbers. Organized units followed two principal groupings; nationalist and Zionist elements, including the Jewish Scouts, in one, and Communist youth in another. At first they were badly handicapped by lack of arms, but later they received from the Maquis weapons which had been parachuted into France from Allied planes.


The United Jewish Youth Organization was formally recognized by the French Forces of the Interior, and its representatives were in direct contact with the FFI on all military questions affecting Jews. Jewish fighters, whether as individual members of Maquis bands, or in Jewish units, participated in sabotage, ambushes and other Maquis activities against the Germans and Vichy militia. Jewish fighters also had another function: They gave special attention to traitors and anti-Semites and gave protection to Jewish institutions. Armed fighters of the Zionist and Scout formations convoyed groups of Jews into Spain.

In areas like Villeurbanne, local leaders say, Jews were represented in the fighting forces out of all proportion to their numbers and Jewish Communist and Socialist Bund youth took a leading role in the bloody fighting there.

The Jewish leaders paid special tribute to the assistance given the Jews in France by the Joint Distribution Committee, and particularly thanked the JDC’s European chairman, Dr. Joseph Schwartz.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund