Israeli Holocaust survivors fear for French Jews


Jerusalem (AFP)

Like other Holocaust survivors who left France for Israel, Samy Gryn has watched with a sorrow a resurgence of anti-Semitism in the country where he was born.

"The situation in France reminds me of the 1930s. I'm really worried," says Gryn, 78, one of the few survivors of a notorious roundup of Jews in Nazi-occupied Paris.

Anti-Semitic acts in France rose by 74 percent in 2018, according to government data.

The country "seems to be facing a resurgence of anti-Semitism unseen since World War II," French President Emmanuel Macron said last month.

The trend is continuing in 2019, with the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in the northeast of France, swastikas scrawled in areas around Paris and Jewish academic Alain Finkielkraut verbally abused in the street after the philosopher ran into "yellow vest" demonstrators.

Macron and his government have linked the appearance of swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti on artworks, shopfronts and headstones to far-right and far-left elements within the yellow vest protest movement.

Gryn was two years old when he was seized with his mother and sister, in the Vel d'Hiv roundup of Jews in July 1942 by French authorities acting on German orders.

Thousands were deported to concentration camps and only a few dozen ever returned.

His father, of whom he has no memory or photograph, was gassed in the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, in occupied Poland.

Young Gryn escaped deportation and was hidden by a Christian family until the end of the war. His mother and sister also survived.

"I was saved. I still do not know why," he says.

- 'Dirty Jew' -

Gryn has been living in the Jewish state for almost 50 years.

He says he made the decision to leave France when his young son was called "dirty Jew" at school. But, he adds, the events there still strike an emotional chord.

Other Jewish Holocaust survivors who have immigrated to Israel from France spoke to AFP of their indifference to events in a country from which they have broken ties or of their anger at what they see as its failure to learn the lessons of the past.

Their concerns are fuelled by the 2006 murder of Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man who was tortured to death near Paris, and the 2011 fatal shooting of a rabbi and three children in front of a Jewish school in Toulouse.

Then in 2015, an extremist claiming allegiance to the Islamic State group killed four people at a kosher supermarket in Paris, while last year an 85-year-old Jewish woman was stabbed in her home and her body set alight in a crime believed motivated at least partly by anti-Semitism.

Such incidents stoke the feeling in Israel, a state born in the aftermath of the Holocaust, that Jews are in jeopardy in the country which is home to Europe's biggest Jewish community.

"History is not repeating itself but we are going in the wrong direction, that's for sure," said Gryn.

"The Jews of France do not see the danger coming."

- 'Again and again' -

Shlomo Balsam is president of Israel's Aloumim association of Jewish children who survived the Holocaust in France in hiding and is a guide at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

"The increase of anti-Semitic acts in France brings back many things to the survivors," he says.

"They are very, very sensitive to what is happening.

"For some of our members, the yellow vests evoke the yellow star ... each incident brings them back to their past.

"It comes back again and again," he says.

"An old Jewish lady was killed because she was Jewish, again our cemeteries are vandalised, today's images are superimposed on those of the past."

A volunteer at Yad Vashem for more than 20 years, 87-year-old Berthe Badehi tells her story several times a week in Hebrew, English or French to visitors to the memorial.

"My parents, of Polish origin, were both in the Communist resistance and in 1941 they packed a small suitcase for me and sent me to a non-Jewish family," in France's Savoy region.

"I have no anger towards the French. I owe them my life," she said, showing pictures of her "French family", the descendants of Marie Massonnat, who hid her.

She was 12 years old when her father came to fetch her in September 1944.

At Yad Vashem there is an image of the "Red poster" propaganda that the German occupiers put up across France showing members of the Communist resistance condemned to death.

Her parents "could have been on this poster," she says. One of their friends, Boria Lerner, was shot in 1943.

Making her home in Israel since 1956 Badehi says she is "disappointed to see the hate returning, hatred of Jews, like during my childhood."

"I am worried but I do not think that what happened during the war can happen again," she adds.