Uncertain Future for Jews in French Provinces

Despite History, Signs of Trouble on Horizon in Dijon

Hold The Mustard: The Jewish population of Dijon, France, eagerly assimilated over the course of the 19th century.
Wikimedia Commons
Hold The Mustard: The Jewish population of Dijon, France, eagerly assimilated over the course of the 19th century.

By Robert Zaretsky

Published November 24, 2012, issue of November 30, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

An Uncertain Future: Voices of a French Jewish Community, 1940-2012
By Robert I. Weiner and Richard E. Sharpless
University of Toronto Press, 344 pages, $29.95

Much rarer than Dijon’s mustard and wine is the small and, until recently, vibrant Jewish community that called this small French city home. But as its title warns, “An Uncertain Future,” a series of oral interviews conducted with members of this dwindling group, suggests that while French Jewry will always have Paris, they may not have much longer such provincial cities that have made crucial contributions to their history.

In the beginning was the Revolution. The seismic tremors reached as far as eastern France, carrying dozens of Alsatian Jewish families to Dijon, where they filled the gap left by the expulsion of Jews from medieval France. Liberated and enfranchised by the events of 1789, these newcomers, mostly German or Yiddish speakers, eagerly assimilated over the course of the 19th century. In Dijon, as elsewhere, French Jews yoked their identity to their security with the republican credo introduced by the revolution. With the birth of the long-lived and secular Third Republic, the Jews of Dijon completed a majestic synagogue near the medieval center in 1879, imbuing it with love of their patrie and their patriarchs.

The patrie, however, failed them during World War II. With France’s defeat, the Republic’s collapse and the creation of the Vichy government, the Jews of Dijon, like their coreligionists elsewhere, were transformed from French citizens into pariahs. Many accounts in the book begin in 1940 with either elderly Dijonnais who survived the war years or children recalling their parents’ experiences. Albert Huberfeld, the owner of a haberdashery, remembers hiding with his family in the countryside. Not only did local Catholics help his family, but Huberfeld also recalls these years as a “happy time.”

Of course, as historians such as Richard Cobb and novelists such as Irène Némirovsky remind us, a child’s perspective of the flight from Paris or Nazis often differs dramatically from that of adults. But Huberfeld’s memories, or those of another elderly Dijonnaise, Marcelle David, also emphasize the pivotal role played by gentile neighbors in Dijon. Though Weiner and Sharpless do not pursue this question, these and similar experiences at least suggest the possibility that, compared to Paris, smaller cities and towns, where social bonds were more intimate, were more active in the face of Jewish persecution. Nevertheless, the community suffered cruelly: About 150 community members were arrested and murdered by the Nazis or Vichy’s paramilitary police, the Milice (whom the authors misleadingly call National Guardsmen).


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.