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The beginning of the war, the persecution of Jews, and the necessity to struggle against the occupation in both violent and non-violent ways produced a number of groups that pertained to the global movement of resistance. In a monograph dedicated to the Jewish resistance in France, Lucien Lazare points out the fact that in the context of European resistance, Jewish resistance for many years was not considered worthy of being mentioned as a separate movement because of the statistical scarcity of the participants. However, he continues, we have to remember that the price that people had to pay for participating in the resistance was indeed different for Jews as opposed other nationals of the occupied countries. While for the general population, going underground and joining the Resistance meant the danger of being caught and executed, for Jews the very same act increased the chance of survival. Therefore, “the Jewish organizations found it necessary to try to bring an entire population into the underground. This meant arranging their 'Aryanization,' and finding lodging and means of subsistence while all of France suffered from shortages in these areas. Jewish resistance operated systematically in this direction beginning in 1943, gradually improving its methods and effectiveness.”[*]

The Diamant collection holds a number of documents written by Jewish youth groups, such as Comite D’action et de la Défense de la Jeunesse Juive (Committee of Action and Defense of the Young Jews), Eclaireurs Israelites de France (Jewish Scouts of France), Mouvement de Jeunesse Sioniste (Movement of the Zionist youth, and Union de Jeunesse Juive (Union of the Jewish Youth). The complex relationship between the Jewish resistance and the general French resistance is reflected in almost every document of this collection, as well as the VHA interviews. The participants of the Jewish groups keep asking themselves, "what is our status within the Resistance? Are we French or Jewish? Do we have to regard ourselves as separate movement, or are we just a small section within the French resistance? What are we trying to achieve, the complete integration with the rest of the resistance fighters, or the separation?" Not all of these issues are expressed directly but rather can be read between the lines in the letters and leaflets that constitute a part of our collection.

According to the VHA testimonies, young people joined Resistance units in the area where they were living or hiding at the moment, most often the French resistance groups called “The Maquis” (the generic name for the French resistance). The Jewish groups often consisted of refugees from Eastern Europe. These refugees were mostly in the dire situation of being constantly chased by the Nazi or Vichy authorities, having no civil rights, and were the first candidates for deportation. As already mentioned, joining the Resistance was often the only means of survival.

Ensuring the connections between different resistance groups was vital, since the French underground at a certain point started receiving ammunition from the British and U.S. armed forces. As Maurice Asa states, “We were all against Germans but there were conflicts about who would get more arms, who would do this or that. There was no clear cut organization.” [*] Another member of the resistance notes that the coalition of the refugees with the local Jews provided the organizations more help with weapons:

At that moment, the French resistance was helping us more and more, the more we got French Jews, the more help we received; they were not too forthcoming to begin with;  we had many refugees in the beginning.  As the French Jews also got in danger, a lot of them joined us, and they established the connections with French underground. We got some weapons from them. I transported the weapons in suitcases. [*]

This tension between resistance units is also visible in a leaflet issued by the L’Union de la Jeunesse Juive de France (The Jewish Youth Union of France). This text addresses French youth (Jeune Francais) and goes through the different Anti-Semitic clichés encouraged by the Nazis, together with the Vichy government. The document cites Philippe Henriot, a Vichy politician that directed the propaganda broadcasts during the occupation:

Henriot wanted the French people to believe that the national war of France was a Jewish war. The repulsive servant of Goebbels wanted to detach the people of France from his heroic battles in annihilating the resistance.

He claimed to isolate the Jewish youth from the French youth, to destroy the Jews first and then the others after. The sword that the enemy used against us, we will use against him, and we will say: We are proud of these Jews who fell as heroes.

The French youth should not be fooled by the lies, she did not reject her community; the racist poison should not contaminate them. The admission of the Jewish Youth Union (l’Union de la Jeunesse Juive) to the united forces of the Youth Patriots (Jeunesse Patriotiques) is proof.[*]

The leaflet, furthermore, elaborates on the theme of Jewish people who fought and died together with the French; the emphasis is on “defending our French quality, the symbol of our dignity as free men.” They have fought alongside France in 1870 and 1914, and say that this country is “our home and it has always embraced the moral cause of those persecuted.” The foreign Jews that were “willing to fight for France” were also admitted into the ranks.

The solidarity with the French resistance was vital; but the necessity to be acknowledged as a distinct force was equally important. One of the former resistance fighters tells the story of the unit called Marc Haguenau that was organized by Robert Gamzon and Gilbert Bloch, the EIF leaders.  In the VHA interview, Michael Taylor explains that Marc Haguenau was a Jew who was arrested by the Gestapo. In prison, he was questioned and tortured but still revealed nothing. He died, and the resistance unit took his name. When asked why the unit took this name, Taylor says that “[We wanted] to show to France that there were Jews fighting in the war.”[*]

This unit was involved in acts of sabotage, and even in real battles. While affirming their position and claiming the right to exist, the Jewish organizations also drew everyone’s attention to the fact that the Nazi terror was aimed at them at the first place:

More united than ever, the French youth, Catholics, Protestants or Jews, we will redouble our efforts every day to drive the German invader out. And we, the French Jews, we have set an example of courage and self-sacrifice because in the deadly France, we have been those who have been hit the most viciously.[*]

Another letter coming from the Mediterranean Branch of the Jewish Youth Action and Defense Committee and addressed to the United Forces of the Patriotic Youth of the Maritime Alps also appeals to the young Jews, regardless of their political or religious views, “to present themselves as united in the battle against the barbaric Hitler regime.” The letter ends with the statement that, “We who suffer the most from Nazi occupation, we proclaim our determination to fight for the liberation of France, and for our freedom and rights.” [*]

The active position of Jewish groups within the general French resistance movement is now acknowledged by historians, although the percentage of their involvement was relatively small when compared to other groups, and many Jews participated in the Maquis units. Lucien Lazare reminds us in his monograph that the Jewish movement was the first to respond to the Nazi occupation and terror. These groups saved the lives of many people, especially children. Thanks to their active involvement, the hideous plans to deport thousands of Jewish children were never fulfilled. They were hidden, guarded and educated by the combined efforts of Jewish groups and French people that dared to participate in such rescues. The Diamant Collection at McMaster adds another component into this history, and shows how real and important these groups were.


[1] Lazare, Rescue as Resistance, 29

[2] Asa, Maurice, Interview 1405, Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute. 2013. Web 28 May 2013

[3] Wiener, Renee, Interview 7199, Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute. 2013. Web 28 May 2013

[4] 0332 Jeunes Français. L'ennemi exécré de la France...Leaflet of the Union de la Jeunesse Juive (U.J.J.)

[5] Taylor, Michael, Interview 19695, Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute. 2013. Web 15 April 2013

[6] 0332 Jeunes Français. L'ennemi exécré de la France...Leaflet of the Union de la Jeunesse Juive (U.J.J.)

[7] 0035 Le Comité d'Action et de Défense de la Jeunesse Juive de la Région méditerranéenne aux Forces unies de la Jeunesse Patriotique des Alpes Maritimes. Chers amis... 19 juin 1944