“France is one of the Western European countries where the Jewish community best survived Nazi extermination: Whilst three quarters of the Jewish population in the Netherlands was deported to concentration camps, only a quarter - if we may dare say so – that is to say 76,000 out of 310,000 of French Jews met the same fate.” This paradox is the starting point of Yagil Limore’s study, reports Vatican Insider.
The Israeli historian and researcher who works at the Sorbonne University in Paris is the author of three powerful volumes titled “Chrétiens et Juifs sous Vichy, sauvetage et désobéissance civile”. The work is based on a series of new documents from a number of archives and analyses the ways in which French Jews were rescued during the Holocaust. Vatican Insider interviews herabout her newly published work,
How do you explain France being an exception?
“It is indeed a paradox because unline Italy, the French were accused of being influenced by a strong anti-Semitism which was reignited in the 30’s. One must also bear in mind the anti-Semitic laws that existed at the time of the Vichy regime, which actively took part in the deportation of Jews.
During my research I discovered a link between stories of Jewish rescue: a marked ability for civil disobedience. In essence this involved helping persecuted individuals by preventing their arrest, supplying them with false Ids and fake birth certificates. Jewish children were taken in by families and convents and the persecuted were assisted in reaching the Swiss o Spanish borders.”
What characterised this phenomenon of “civil disobedience”?
“It was a moral more than a political phenomenon and was based on criteria set by individual conscience. So many people decided to disobey the law and the authorities in order to stay true to their conscience. And one clearly needs to distinguish between resistance and the patriotic struggle for liberation.
I have tried to give a general picture of the Jewish rescue phenomenon in France between 1939 and 1944. Apart from all the families in a number of French villages, I would like to mention the contribution of medical and nursing staff as well as of artists like Jacques Prévert, Maurice Chevalier, Alfred Cortot, Sacha Guitrya and Serge Lifar.
But there were also prefects, vice-prefects and policemen whose contribution is also worth mentioning. Individuals serving the State, who disobeyed the law in order to save the lives of innocent people. Without the contribution of the latter, the rescue of Jews in areas such as the Upper Loire region in France cannot be explained.
What discoveries did you make during your research into the attitude of the French Catholic Church?
“The French Catholic Church opened up its convents, religious colleges and accommodation in villages and rural areas to Jews. Despite the silence of a number of French bishops we must not forget that the help and encouragement they personally gave to the various rescue initiatives launched in their dioceses.
These efforts cannot be understood simply by evoking the Catholic Church’s tradition of welcoming people. The study I carried out in 45 out of 80 French dioceses in existence at the time proves that from 1940 onwards, bishops did encourage Jewish rescue operations.
Bishops were aware of the various initiatives priests were involved in. Although some bishops did not approve of the resistance shown by certain priests towards the “established power” of the Vichy regime, they still encouraged them to rescue Jews and help them flee to Switzerland or Spain.”
FULL STORY The role of French bishops in the rescue of Jews (Vatican Insider)