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The Transmission of the Jewish Past in France Through the Prism of Community Organizations


This article intends to study community organizations in France that have the aim of preserving and transmitting the history of Jews. Community organizations have been an object of study for sociologists for several decades, but only recently did historians, ethnologists, and political scientists begin studying them as players in “memory policies.” The following contribution offers insights and landmarks for an emerging research framework, in the hope that the study of the organization-based transmission of Jewish heritage will be a useful addition to an interdisciplinary approach to the relationship between history and memory.

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  1. The term “community organizations” here refers to what are called “associations” in France —non-profit organizations established under the French Law on Associations of July 1, 1901.

  2. In France, the law of July 1, 1901 on non-profit organizations provides a legal framework for the creation of both formal and informal associations between individuals. In keeping with Alexis de Tocqueville’s insight, community organizations are usually perceived as proof of the vitality of a civil society. The sociologist Martine Barthélémy suggests that “the role of community organizations is part and parcel of the functioning of the broader society,” along with public policies and political parties (Barthélémy, 2000, 15-16).

  3. For example, Denis Peschanski is the head of the Franco-American project Matrice Memory, which embodies this methodological shift: Defined as a “technological platform aiming to better understand the interactions between individual and collective memories,” it gathers together historians, specialists of linguistics and textometry in particular, psychoanalysts, and neurologists. The project focuses on the study of the impact on individual and collective memories of two events—World War II and 9/11. The point is to understand how memory works from the inside, employing a cross-disciplinary approach, and to grasp the effects of collective memory on individual memory.

  4. A recent synthesis can be found in Gensburger, 2011.

  5. Since 2012, 12th-graders are even taught the historiography of the memory of World War II in France (they may opt instead for a course on historians and the memories of the Algerian War).

  6. Rousso, 1987. This perception is also shared by Annette Wieviorka (1995), but it is criticized by the philosopher François Azouvi (2012).

  7. This evolution illustrates the idea, developed by the American historian Salo W. Baron, that each generation of Jews has to write its own vision of history. On Sephardic Jews in France, see, for example, the works of G. Nahon and S. Schwarzfuchs. On Jews in North Africa, see, for example, M. Abitbol, V. Assan, R. Ayoun, J. Laloum, and P.-J. Le Foll-Luciani.

  8. See This URL gives the name of each organization, its address, the date it was registered with the state authorities, and its mission statement.

  9. As is done by the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU), the French Consistories, the Organisation Reconstruction Travail (ORT), the Œuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE) and the Comité d’Action Sociale Israélite de Paris (CASIP-COJASOR).

  10. The MAHJ, which was inaugurated in 1998, has the statute of a community organization registered under the law of 1901. A telling example of the role played by community organizations in the emergence of heritage awareness is the Commission Française des Archives Juives (CFAJ), founded in 1963 by the historian and scholar Bernhard Blumenkranz with the goal of salvaging the archives of Jewish organizations, which were at risk of neglect, destruction, or theft (see Weill, 2014).

  11. On the Science of Judaism, see Simon-Nahum, 1992. On Zadoc Kahn, see Kuperminc and Chaumont, 2007. The SEJ publishes a journal, called Revue des Études Juives (volume 176 in 2016). On the conference organized for its 120th anniversary, see Mimouni and Oszlowy-Schlanger, 2006.

  12. The analyses that follow are based on three interviews with Claude Nataf (given in June and July of 2014 and in May of 2015) and one interview with Denise Taïeb, the widow of Jacques Taïeb (who passed away in May of 2011,) given in May of 2015. I also draw on my regular attendance at the conferences of the SHJT between 2011 and 2014. Up until June of 2014, the organization’s official name was the Société d’Histoire des Juifs de Tunisie.

  13. Claude Nataf became involved in community organizing from a young age and is still very active in both Jewish and non-Jewish organizations. He is the vice-chair of the CFAJ and a member of the Société des Études Juives, the FSJU, the AIU, the CASIP, the OSE, and the ORT, in addition to participating in several committees at the French Consistory. A member of the Sciences Po Alumni organization, he had joined several other student organizations in his youth. As regards Jacques Taïeb, he joined the Union des Étudiants Juifs de Tunisie when he still resided in Tunisia, and later joined the (left-wing) teachers’ union, the SNES. The founders’ backgrounds are consistent with the findings of studies carried out on community organizations in France, which show that their members are committed to several organizations (see Emmanuelle Crenner, 1997).

  14. International conferences were held in 1998, 1999, 2003, 2005, and 2012, in addition to one-day colloquia and graduate student meetings.

  15. In addition, both men have authored books and peer-reviewed articles, and Claude Nataf states the SHJT effectively facilitated the writing of Master’s theses on the subject. See the bibliography of Jacques Taïeb’s works in Danan and Nataf, 2013, 243-248.

  16. Among the guests are elected officials from the Mairie de Paris, representatives from the French Consistory, veterans’ and deportees’ associations, the ambassador of Israel to France, and the ambassador of Tunisia to France. As Claude Nataf puts it, this tribute is the continuation of the annual ceremony of remembrance of Tunisian Jewish victims of Nazism that had been held in Tunis from 1944 to the early 1960s under the aegis of the local Jewish community and with the support and participation of French and Tunisian authorities as well as local veterans’ and deportees’ associations.

  17. The Mémorial de la Shoah, which was inaugurated in 2005, is located on the site of the Mémorial du Martyr Juif Inconnu (Memorial to the Unknown Jewish Martyr), which was inaugurated in 1956. It was built in the same spirit as the Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine (Center of Contemporary Jewish Documentation), which was founded in Grenoble in 1943 by Isaac Schneersohn, Léon Poliakov, Joseph Billig, and Lucien Steinberg.

  18. On these points, see Chouraqui, Dorival, and Zytnicki, 2006, and Laithier and Vilmain, 2008.

  19. The analyses that follow are based on an interview with Daniel Krakowski given on June 3, 2015, and on his personal testimony published in Bailly, 2004.

  20. In his teenage years just after the war, Krakowski was a regular member of the Union des Juifs pour la Résistance et l’Entraide (UJRE). He also joined the Association pour la Mémoire des Enfants Juifs Déportés du 13e arrondissement (AMEJD 13) and the Association des Anciens Combattants de la Résistance (ANACR) as well as the Société d’Histoire et d’Archéologie du 13e arrondissement. As the vice-chair of the Comité d’Entente des Anciens Combattants du 13e arrondissement de Paris, he delivered a speech in front of the war memorial of the 13th District of Paris on May 8, 2015, on the commemoration of the capitulation of Nazi Germany.

  21. In 2013, in Sauvelade, Béarn (close to the Spanish border), Daniel Krakowski organized a “republican ceremony” attended by local elected officials and representatives of state authorities, to have Jeanne and Pierre Bonnassies, his host parents during the war, recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations.” However, this ceremony had no official dimension, as the title can only be awarded in the name of the State of Israel and by Yad Vashem — The World Holocaust Remembrance Center. The bill written in 1992 by the socialist lawmaker Jean Le Garrec to advocate the creation of the title of “Righteous of France” was never signed into law. Yet, in 2007, President Jacques Chirac and Simone Veil, then chairwoman of the Mémorial de la Shoah, inaugurated in the vault of the Panthéon an inscription reading, “Tribute of the Nation to the Righteous of France.”

  22. On the promotion of witnesses in contemporary times and the limits of testimonies, see Wieviorka, 1998.

  23. Most conferences revolve around the contemporary period, but all periods are discussed, from antiquity to the 20th century. More broadly, it seems that the collective memory of Jews from North Africa has been transformed lately by the spread of books and TV programs on relations between Jews and Muslims in precolonial times and on Jewish minorities in Islamic territories.

  24. In 2006, the ANACR became the Association Nationale des Anciens Combattants et Amis de la Résistance.


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Correspondence to Valérie Assan.

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Assan, V. The Transmission of the Jewish Past in France Through the Prism of Community Organizations. Cont Jewry 37, 245–256 (2017).

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  • History and Memory
  • Jewish Heritage
  • Jews of France
  • Jews of Tunisia
  • Community Organizations
  • Shoah