Menu JTA Search

Only 1,200 of 6,200 Jews in Bordeaux Survived Nazi Occupation; Synagogues Pillaged

Twelve-hundred of the 6,200 Jews who complied with the order of the German occupation authorities to register as Jews survived the Nazi terror in Bordeaux and the vicinity , the Grand Rabbi of Bordeaux, Josef Cohen, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent. He estimated that practically all the Jews who did not flee the area when it was announced that the Germans would occupy the coastal zone registered.

French authorities have turned over to the remaining Jewish leaders all registration cards and they are seeking to establish the fate of the men, women, and children listed in these files. They are also forming a relief committee to aid the needy. The city of Bordeaux gave the Jewish community 100,000 francs to help the destitute.

Among the victims of the Gestapo were 15 residents of the community’s home for the aged, including M. Aaron, 94-year-old councillor of the court of Nancy. The home itself was completely pillaged. Nothing is left but the bare walls.

Sixty-eight-year-old Rabbi Cohen was marked for arrest and deportation. On the night of December 17, last year, three members of the Gestapo and Vichy militiamen came to the building adjoining the synagogue, which houses the consistory offices and the rabbi’s apartment, and demanded the rabbi’s children. When he told them that he did not know where they were, they told him that he as their father was responsible and would be arrested. The rabbi’s son, Michael, 20, who is now a lieutenant in the French Forces of the Interior, had joined the Maquis as soon as the resistance began.

CHIEF RABBI FLED WHEN GESTAPO CAME TO DEPORT HIM

The Gestapo men told Rabbi Cohen to pack a bag, and prepare to accompany them. When he returned to the hallway where they were waiting for him, they told him to remain there for a while they rounded up the concierge and his family. But the rabbi did not wait. Instead he dropped his bag and fled. He reenacted the episode for this correspondent with grim intensity in the semi-darkness of the debris strewn synagogue from which every single interior fitting had been removed or destroyed by the Nazis, tip-toeing hastily through the small synagogue, fumbling with the locks of the doors as he did that December night when seeking agrees. Then all around the great synagogue, stopping for a moment to show me where he fell over the pulpit steps.

Finally, he found one unlocked door, which led to a small courtyard from which there was a gate to a back street. He fled that way to the home of a non-Jewish friend who sheltered him and brought him to a safe refuge in the residence of the Catholic bishop where he remained until the city was liberated.

A few hours after the rabbi escaped, a whole crew of Gestapo men and militiamen came to the synagogue and began systematic devastation. They removed all the furniture, all the installations, including the ark and scrolls of the law and the pulpit, pulled down the balconies, cut down the huge chandelier, and tore down tapestries. They broke off the bronze handles of the door and even smashed a marble plaque commemorating Bordeaux Jews who died for France in World War I. Some time later, when the Nazis had erected barbed wire enclosures in the synagogue and were using it as a detention pen for Jews awaiting deportation, some prisoner carefully collected the fragments of the plaque and piled them neatly in a corner where they still remain.

The small synagogue was treated similarly. Nothing remains there except the bare walls. The consistory offices were completely wrecked. All furniture was taken, and all community records, dating back nearly a century, were dumped onto the floor, knee-deep in utter confusion. The Nazis didn’t bother trying to open the safe. They simply removed it.

They did such a thorough job, both here and in the rabbi’s residential quarters, that they even removed basins, toilets, and towel racks from the lavatories, yanking out the plumbing. They carefully removed a large oil painting depicting the Sanhedrin from its heavy frame and took it with them. Everything in the rabbi’s apartment was taken including chandeliers, mirrors and personnel effects, Most of his library was left, but books were torn from the bindings and thrown to the floor where they ware trodden on .The whole place is a litter of books and small articles the Nazis did not deign to take.

NEXT STORY