titre synagogue de valenciennes

History of the Jewish Communities of North and Picardy Regions

By Frédéric Viey

in Englishen français

Even if not scholarly, the "History of the Jews of North and Picardy" tells the everyday life of the sons of Israel in Northern France from the Middle Ages to the present days. Since the death of Charlemagne and the division of his Empire, the geographical boundaries of Northern part of France have always been fluctuating because of alliances between the kings of France and their vassals. It is also difficult to draw the borders of Flanders as well as those of the possessions of the Church in these regions. In reality, the history of these communities is not very well known to the wider public. There are a couple of large targeted studies but personally I preferred to select small notices or anecdotes from "charters" or "Layettes", from books on the history of the Jews of France such as the "Gallia Judaïca" or, from various newspapers of the time such as " Les Archives Israélites " or « L'Univers Israélite » and present them in the form found.

Through other documents, it is possible to notice the existence of certain Jewish communities established in the Capetian kingdom, on comtal lands and Church dependencies. They marked their presence there by providing an undeniable cultural element and a terrific toponymy.

After the expulsion of the Jews in France in 1394, there are no record of any Jewish presence in the Kingdom in archives. Yet from the XVIIth Century the presence of Jewish merchants is found in some provinces. In the North and in Picardy it is only a few years before and also during the French Revolution that the traces of a few Jews can be seen. The final integration of Ashkenazic and Sephardic people in the modern French society is realized with the promulgation of the decree of emancipation of the Jews of France dated September 27, 1791. From 1808, date of the creation of the Consistory of Paris, Northern and Picardy Jews depend from this Consistory, until 1873 date of the Creation of the Consistory of Lille and of a post of Chief Rabbi for the whole region.

In the middle of the XIXth century, industrialization is going to revolutionize North and Picardy. Unfortunately the Prefect Isaac played a harmful role in Fourmis by allowing the development of trade unionism and the politicization of the working class. After the First World War, the strong demand for white coal encourages white Christian Polish people to come and work in the mines. The Jews of Eastern Europe will provide all the goods needed by these workers, especially since they speak the same language. But the location of the sons of Israel in these regions has not been simple, anti-semitism took many forms: clerical in the case of the Jewish Baron, Liefman Calmer, economic as seen with "The indicator of the Jews of France" and social with "the free speech" of Drumont. And lets not forget the Dreyfus affair that found its premises in the articles of Edouard Drumont against the Jews in the army.

The Jews of the North and Picardy, as well as the other Jews of France, all carried out their duty regarding the three Great Wars against Germany: 1870, 14-18 and 39-45. They fought against the common enemy and earned Maurice Barrès' respect. In the different resting fields one can find many of the tombs of French Jewish soldiers as well as Americans soldiers who came to France to bring freedom.

During the Second World War, the Jewish communities in these regions paid a heavy toll in human lives: deportation and execution after a transit at the Malines Camp. Today in every community there is a monument recalling the sacrifices made by the Jewish people.

After the Second World War, the Jewish population of France is exsanguine. The survivors try to revive their religious and cultural heritage. Some will find and return to their shop, other their factories, etc… but to re-starting is very hard. It is only in the 60s, with the arrival of Jews from North Africa, that a new development is made thanks to their number and their cultural contribution. Some communities are going to re-live "The Glorious Thirty" but alas, the second and third generations prefer to move closer to larger towns or suburbs of Paris to study and find work. In sight of a new form of anti-Semitism called anti-Zionism, a lot of families also leave the North and Picardy to settle in Israel.

When writting this booklet it seemed appealing to go beyond the beaten track of writing a history by Region and then by cities. I preferred to opt for another model: building this study on the history of the two regions, split by era and by city. Though this is not simple, it is more pleasant. Indeed, history in its continuity has no meaning. We all know that the history of the Jews of France, and of those who have later settled in the "Country of Human Rights", is very chaotic. Therefore by this intellectual approach, i wanted to break patterns and to re-work them every time. Exploring these "stories" from the Middle Ages to modern day by region, department and city seemed like an easier approach for reading and understanding. At first glance, such an approach seems easier to understand for the non-initiated. One can read the book from any period and still be able to understand the vicissitudes of the Jewish people in the North of France.

These Jewish communities are a unique cultural breeding ground and have left big names in the history of France and Israel. We can start by honouring the chief rabbis Benjamin Lipman, Poliakoff, Leon Berman and Israel Levy; the Prefect Isaac, the Commander Armand Lipman, The Captain Seligman, the architect Moses Weil, Herschel Feibel Grysnzpan, Suzanne Deutsche from the Meuthe, Georges-Henri Halphen, Jules Wogue, and industrialists like J. P. Saltiel.

We also should highlight the work of great historians who worked hard to make the history of these communities known: Henri Gross, Leon Kahn, G. B. Depping, Robert Anschel, Bernard Blumenkarnz, Gérard Nahon, Danielle Delmaire, etc…The presidents or the rabbis of the different communities have also compiled information on the history of their "Kehillah". Franck d'Almeida, particularly, has made available photos of members of his family in Saint-Quentin .

Frédéric Viey

June 2009

In collaboration with Franck d'Almeida on the whole of this study.

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