It can happen anywhere: The French syndrome

French Jews were sure of their safety, confident in their country's democracy. HItler and Petain changed that overnight. A lesson. Op-ed.

David A. Frankel ,

New Olim from France arrive in Israel
New Olim from France arrive in Israel
Olivier Fitoussi

For the 10th of Tevet, Yom Hakaddish Haklali, when Israel's Chief Rabbinate decreed that Kaddish is said for Holocaust victims whose date of death is unknown.

The mindset of many American Jews can be summed up as: We are safe in America. America is good for Jews and is strongly against antisemitism.

Not only is this mindset lethal and false, it has happened before. In 1939, Hitler's Germany nvaded Poland, marking the beginning of World War II. England and France allied to fight the Nazis. America only joined the Allies in 1941 after the Pearl Harbor Bombing.

Slowly, over the course of two years, the Nazis brought Europe's countries to their knees; Norway, The Netherlands, Denmark, just to name a few, were easily defeated. Finally, in 1940, they came to the borders of France as they captured Luxembourg, the country keeping Germany and France separate geographically.

France's citizens- especially the Jewish citizens- began to panic as France met Germany in a fierce battle at the border. People began to doubt the strength of the French Army and fled, while unfortunately, many others stayed beause of that same mindset: "France is strong, France is a democracy, they will defeat the Germans!"

Then, in June of 1940, a new prime minister was elected to head the newly incorporated French Vichy government, a Nazi puppet entity: Maréchal (Marshal) Philippe Pétain.

Petain was known to be a Marshal in his younger years during World War I, but little did France know that it was his election that would be their downfall.

Marshal Petain, a Nazi puppet, wasted no time in surrendering to the Nazis and letting them "occupy" a greater part of France. Now the Nazis could do as they pleased to the French Jews. They rounded them up and sent them to their doom.

Just weeks after the German occupancy, Petain, under German command, instated the antisemetic Nuremburg Laws, the same ones passed in Nazi Germany in 1935, banning Jews from work and forcing them to 'Register' . Around the same time, France's motto - the one since the time of Napoleon Boneparte- was changed from "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" to "Work, Family, Fatherland."

Now, the French Jews were in immense danger. The French Resistance helped save many Jewish lives, but many, many Jews were lost .

In our time, us Jews may think that we are safe. A good term to define America is 'the eye of the storm.' As many may know, the eye of a hurricane is the middle of the storm, and is surprisingly peaceful and safe- at least when compared to the actual hurricane. But as the hurricane slowly moves further, the ones who have just enjoyed the serenity of the eye are now within the rampaging storm.

One can say that after the Emancipation, Western Europe was 'The Eye of the Storm' for Jews,but during the Holocaust, that 'eye' moved to America, and finally, the 'eye' has moved to its final resting place, Israel. But we are lucky; because the 'eye' this time seems to be moving slowly, and there is still time to follow it to its destination.

We hope that America does not turn into another France. But as we know, "History repeats itself." and we cannot be too sure of ourselves. We must be cautious and learn from the past - and the mistakes that were done then.

David Frankel is a recent immigrant to Israel who lives and attends school in Netanya.



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