December 5: The Grand Rabbi of France
Jacob Kaplan, Grand Rabbi of France from 1955 until 1981, died in Paris at 99 on this date in 1994. Born in Paris in 1895 and ordained in 1921, Kaplan was a wounded veteran of World War I and a participant in the anti-Nazi Resistance in Lyon between 1941 and 1944 (a park in that city was named for him in 2009). Kaplan was outspoken about French Jewish support for Israel after the Six-Day War, while the French government was, at best, reserved about Israeli policies. At the same time, he identified strongly as a Frenchman and wrote and published his sermons in French. A lecturer at l’Institut d’Etudes Politiques and a member of the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques in Paris, Kaplan wrote several books, including Judaism and Social Justice (1937), Racism and Judaism (1940), and French Jewry under the Occupation (1945–46), among others.
“French Jews! We are familiar with the history of France, the France to which we have devoted ourselves wholeheartedly and whose joys and sadness . . . we feel deeply, the France of human and civil rights . . . emancipator of the Jews. But we are being brutally confronted with a different reality; we are becoming acquainted with a different history. . . .” —Jacob Kaplan regarding Vichy France
October 4: Rose Warfman and the French Resistance
Rose Warfman (Gluck), a heroine of the French Resistance who survived internment in Auschwitz, was born in Zurich, Switzerland on this date in 1916. A direct descendant of the Magid Dov Ber of Mezeritch (1704–1772), the hasidic leader who was successor to the Baal Shem Tov, she lived with her Orthodox family in Paris from 1921 and worked as nurse for a Jewish social service organization alongside Lucie Dreyfus, the widow of Captain Alfred Dreyfus. During World War II, Warfman worked with Edmond Michelet, a future senior government minister under Charles de Gaulle, in Combat, one of the eight large arms of the French Resistance, under the nom de guerre Marie Rose Girardin. Arrested in 1944, she was taken to the Drancy internment camp and then to Auschwitz. Arriving there in a nurse’s uniform that her sister had smuggled into Drancy, Warfman caught the attention of Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous Nazi doctor, who spared her the gas chambers but later subjected her to medical experiments. She nevertheless survived three selections before being transferred to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp and then liberated by the Red Army in June 1945. After the war, she made false identity papers for passengers aboard the Exodus transport ship, enabling it to leave port and sail for Palestine. In 1959, Warfman was awarded the title of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French Government for her work in the Resistance. Fifty years later, she was made an officer of the Legion of Honor. Warfman is still alive today, in Manchester, England. It is estimated that Jews, who made up only 1 percent of the French population, constituted between 15 and 20 percent of the Resistance.
“In Birkenau, she was assigned to a group of 50 women who were knitting. A kapo made them knit undershirts for German newborns. She worked hard, and was given as a role model. Then winter came, they were asked to knit socks for men (Germans). Her vengeance was to make big knots inside to render them unusable.”—Wikipedia
February 3: Simone Weil
Simone Weil, a French philosopher and social activist who fought against fascism in the Spanish Civil War and then turned to Christian mysticism (although she never converted from Judaism), was born in Paris into a secular Jewish family on this date in 1909. She lived only thirty-four years, but her writings became widely known in the 1950s and ’60s. In her teens, she was a Marxist and a pacifist; in her twenties, she became critical of communism, and conducted a debate-in-print with Leon Trotsky, who had stayed in her parents’ home in 1933. After Hitler’s rise to power in Germany that year, she became deeply involved in helping German leftists flee the Nazi regime. Also in that year, she participated in the French general strike, and took a 12-month leave of absence from her teaching position to work as a laborer in two factories. Weil narrowly escaped being killed in the Spanish Civil War, and then had a series of religious awakenings that convinced her of the reality of mystical experience. The ascetic lifestyle she adopted may have helped bring about her early death by cardiac arrest, at which time she was working for the French Resistance in London. Pope Paul VI called Simone Weil one of his three greatest influences; Albert Camus called her “the only great spirit of our times.”
“It is an eternal obligation toward the human being not to let him suffer from hunger when one has a chance of coming to his assistance.” —Simone Weil
November 19: Alter Mojze Goldman and the French Resistance
The French Legion of Honor admitted Alter Mojze Goldman on this date in 1988, in recognition of his role in the French Resistance in the south of France during World War II. Goldman was a Polish Jew who had sought a home, during the rise of fascism, in France, Germany, and Spain. In 1939 he joined the French military and was a decorated soldier. Once discharged, he joined the communist-oriented FTP-MOI partisan movement and served as an urban saboteur. Goldman became the father of the French singer-songwriter star, Jean-Jacques Goldman, and another successful songwriter, Robert Goldman, as well as Pierre Goldman, a leftwing activist, writer, robber, and assassin who was himself assassinated in 1979. Alter Goldman died at age 79, one month after his induction into the Legion d’Honneur. For an interview with him (translated by Mitchell Abidor, a contributing writer to our magazine), click here.
“I was charged with military work and the organization of combat groups. It was in this way that I met the woman who was to be Pierre’s mother. She was the organization’s secretary for the region of Lyon. She was a militant. After the liberation she was called ‘The Jewish Passionaria.’ 1944 was a terrible and difficult year in Lyon. There were attacks every day. For every one of us death could arrive at any moment. She said, ‘I want to have a child.’ And when she became pregnant she said ‘I want to have this child no matter what.’ What reason could there be for such conduct? To be sure, there was in her the conviction of fighting in this way against the death that threatened all of us at that time. But in my opinion there was also the fact that this militant, who had always lived the life of a militant, wanted to be a woman in all meanings of the term.” —Alter Goldman
June 27: Dodo Donoff, Resistance Fighter
David “Dodo” Donoff, 24, one of seven Donoff siblings involved in resisting Nazi rule in France through the Sixth Jewish Scouts of France, was shot near Lyons by the Gestapo on this date in 1944 while carrying false identity papers and food stamps. Donoff (alias André Donnet) died in the hospital but managed to protect his contacts. Earlier, he had helped several internees escape from the Gurs concentration camp, where he worked as a volunteer, and helped provided false documents and hideouts for some 110 children and young people in the south of France. He had also masterminded the transport of money, false id, and equipment for the British secret service and Swiss support networks. The two Donoff brothers were killed in the course of the war, while five sisters survived. The Jewish Scouts were one of the key groups in the Organisation Juive de Combat, which was dedicated not only to the liberation of France but to the rescue of French Jews.
“Out of a community of about three hundred thousand Jews in France on the eve of the war, 75,721, including 10,147 children, were deported. Most perished in the camps. Only about 3 percent returned. The consequences could have been even worse if not for the Jewish Resistance.” —Dr. Tsilla Hershco, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
July 16: “Operation Spring Breeze”
“Operation Spring Breeze,” the round-up of Jewish refugees and non-citizens by the government of Vichy France, was inaugurated on this date in 1942. Over the course of two days, in close cooperation with the Gestapo, French police grabbed 13,152 Jews, 31 percent of them children, and held them under harsh conditions at the Winter Velodrome, a stadium for bike races and other sporting events in the center of Paris, and at nearby internment camps, before deporting them to Auschwitz for extermination. Some people were warned by the French Resistance or hidden by neighbors and escaped being rounded up, but more than 75,000 Jews were deported to concentration camps over the course of the war, of whom only 2,500 survived. Pierre Laval, the minister who signed the deportation orders, was found guilty of high treason and executed at the end of the war. In 1995, President Jacques Chirac publicly apologized for the “Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup.”
“These dark hours soil forever our history and are an injury to our past and our traditions . . . The criminal folly of the occupier was seconded by the French, by the French state.” —Jacques Chirac