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Chief Rabbi of France, Believed Dead, Returns from Hiding; Marseille Jew Destitute

September 26, 1944
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Chief Rabbi Issaye Schwartz of France, who disappeared in December, 1943, and who was believed to have been deported by the Germans, succeeded in escaping from the Gestapo and has returned to Lyon after hiding in the mountains for eight months, it was learned here today.

Rabbi Schwartz, who is over 60, had been in ill health even before he was seized by the Germans. He is reported to have arrived in Lyon in a complete state of exhaustion and hardly recognizable as a result of his ragged appearance and the fact that he shaved off his beard in order to protect himself while a fugitive.

Jewish defense leaders here report today that as many as 15,000 Jews may have escaped the Nazis in the Marseille area. They told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent that almost 7,000 Jews, half of whom are foreigners, are definitely known to be in the Bouches-Durhone department, which takes in Marseille. From the information coming into Jewish committee offices in the area they estimated that at least double that number will be found here eventually. There were about 30,000 Jews living in the department prior to the German occupation.

Local Jewish leaders estimate that about 3,000 Jews were deported from the Bouches-Durhone department, while many hundreds fled the district. Relief for the Jews who remained was administered by the “Union of Jews for Resistance and Relief” which was the central organization functioning on a nationwide – although underground – scale throughout France. Head of the Marseille branch was Maxim Cremieux, grandson of Adolphe Cremieux, father of the law granting. citizenship to Algerian Jews.

At present this organization is the only functioning Jewish group in Marseille, with the exception of the local branch of the Jewish Consistory, whose head is 82-year-old George David, dean of the Marseille bar, David remained in the city all during the occupation and was relatively unmolested except for an interrogation by the Gestapo last July.


The Jewish defense group saved the lives of thousands of Jews by a daring raid on the Marseille office of the Vichy-created “Union of Jews of France,” during which all records of Jews residing in the department were destroyed, preventing them from falling into the hands of the Gestapo. The raid was made on New Year’s eve in 1941 by a band of five armed Jews led by a former Paris journalist whose name must remain secret. In addition to destroying the files they seized several typewriters and mimeographing machines which were used subsequently to turn out underground Jewish anti-Nazi propaganda.

As in the other cities of France, hundreds of Marseille Jews fought in the ranks of the French Forces of the Interior. In addition to these individuals there was a completely separate Jewish unit composed of 60 men and 40 women. In the last day of the battle for Marseille this unit lost five killed and seven wounded. At present there is another Jewish unit in the “Marseille Division” of the FFI which is batting the Germans.

An important job being done by still another Jewish FFI unit is the rounding up of traitors and collaborationists, especially officials who administered the anti-Jewish laws and administrators of confiscated Jewish property. This unit has already recovered Jewish property worth 500,000 francs which is being held by the authorities for the owners.

The Jewish defense group is now housed in the sumptuous quarters of the Vichy commissariat for Jewish Affairs, which was furnished with loot seized from Jewish homes. In fact, many persons who come there to seek relief recognize valuable objects which were taken from their own homes.


When the building was captured the FFI found intact 25 cases containing dossiers on various Jewish businesses and properties. These will be of immeasurable help in restoring property to its rightful owners. A brief study of these files by the JTA correspondent indicated that the Gestapo and its Vichy henchmen had undertaken the expropriation of Jewish property and the destruction of the Jewish community on an amazingly systematic plan.

The hope that the Jews of America will provide the urgently needed relief requirements of the Marseille Jews was voiced by Jewish leaders today. They pointed out that the local Jews, who were mainly small businessmen, and professionals and artisans, are destitute and in no position to resume even a semblance of their pre-war existence, while the refugees here are in even a worse position. They are unable to return to the parts of France from which they fled until transportation facilities are reestablished and the government permits free movement.

Many of the Jews are in such a had physical and mental state as a result of the hardships that they have undergone that even if jobs can be found for them, it is doubtful whether they can fill them until they are rehabilitated.

Another problem facing Jewish groups is the staggering burden of maintaining hundreds of children who were orphaned when their parents were deported. Jewish leaders fear that in coming months their problems will be increased rather than lessened.

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