French Jews Knew To Expect Worst After Kristallnacht

Alsace-Lorraine Region Saw Gathering Nazi Storm Firsthand

Coming Storm: Raymond-Raoul Lambert, seen in his Strasbourg office in the 1930s, founded the Committee for Assistance to Refugees.
Yad Vashem
Coming Storm: Raymond-Raoul Lambert, seen in his Strasbourg office in the 1930s, founded the Committee for Assistance to Refugees.

By Cnaan Liphshiz

Published November 05, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(JTA) — His hearing isn’t what it used to be, but Georges Loinger still remembers Adolf Hitler’s voice emanating from the radio at his Strasbourg home.

Growing up in the heavily Germanic Alsace region of eastern France, Loinger and his family tuned in regularly to broadcasts of Hitler’s speeches. They heard his “electrifying voice” and the plans he had in store for the Jews of Europe.

So when the Nazis’ anti-Jewish propaganda turned to deadly violence on Kristallnacht, the pogrom unleashed on the Jews of Germany and Austria 75 years ago next week, the Jews of Strasbourg were ready.

“We had read Nazi propaganda,” said Loinger, 103, who fought in the French resistance. “We spoke to hundreds of Jewish refugees from Germany. We knew what was coming.”

Historians say the knowledge, unusual for Jewish communities outside Germany and Austria, made the 20,000 Jews of Alsace and nearby Lorraine better prepared to face the forthcoming Nazi occupation.

The community was able to help German Jews, hide heritage assets and private possessions and, most important, survive. Ten percent of the Jewish population of Alsace and Lorraine perished in the Holocaust, compared to 22 percent elsewhere in France.

“From testimonies and the wealth of material we have, we see that Alsatian Jews were much more aware of what was happening in Germany than Jews in Paris,” said Serge Klarsfeld, a Nazi hunter and one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Holocaust in France.

A key figure in the effort, according to Klarsfeld, was a Strasbourg physician named Joseph Weil, who used a vast network of contacts to help Jews flee Nazi Germany for Switzerland and southern France. One of the groups, OSE, is credited with rescuing 5,000 Jewish children.

Weil also began sounding the alarm as a volunteer instructor at Strasbourg’s Merkaz Hanoar youth center, telling his charges that Hitler was much more powerful than they had been told. Weill’s warnings went unheeded by Parisian Jewish leaders, who believed Hitler to be no match for the mighty French army.

Between 1934 and 1941, Alsatian Jews launched other groups to protect themselves and help others, including the Committee for Assistance to Refugees led by Raymond-Raoul Lambert.

Meanwhile, the Strasbourg-based Jewish magazine Tribune Juive “warned against the rise of Hitler to power – much more frequently and forcefully than Paris Jewish publications,” said Lucien Lazare, a historian at Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.


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!
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • 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.