Union Générale Des IsraéLites de France

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UNION GÉNÉRALE DES ISRAÉLITES DE FRANCE

UNION GÉNÉRALE DES ISRAÉLITES DE FRANCE (ugif), official body created by the Vichy government under German pressure, to represent French Jewry during the German occupation. Soon after the occupation of France (June 1940) the Germans unsuccessfully tried to organize a representative body in Paris, to be directed by consistorial leaders who remained in the city. In connection with relief work, a Comité de Coordination des Oeuvres de Bienfaisance du Grand Paris was organized on Jan. 30, 1941, and officially declared in April 1941 as a French association. French officials had long resisted the German pressure, mainly led by Theodor Dannecker, Eichmann's representative in Paris, to organize a centralized Jewish organization that could serve as a German tool to implement antisemitic measures. The French government finally accepted the setting up of such a body, under the threat of a purely German organization. By a law of Nov. 29, 1941, the Vichy government created the ugif, which became an official French body representing both French and foreign-born Jews, with two divisions, one in the occupied and one in the Southern zone. The ugif was officially to be controlled by the Commissariat Général aux Questions Juives, then headed by Xavier Vallat. Like the Germans in Paris, the Vichy authorities also tried to choose veteran Jewish leaders to direct the affairs of the new body. Vallat frequently discussed the ugif with Jewish leaders, since its creation separated French Jewry into two sharply divided groups: those willing to participate in the ugif in order to retain some form of independence for Jewish relief activities and to be able to pursue them, as they became ever-more necessary, and to prevent the takeover of the new body by less responsible Jews; and those willing to stick to the traditional Jewish organizational scheme, set up by the Republic, mainly the Consistory. The fight against the ugif was conducted in the free zone mainly by the Consistoire Central (Central Consistory) which protested against the creation of such a quasi-political organization with its own juridical and fiscal structure. The Consistoire Central stated that such a body would be called upon to give indirect or even direct approval to anti-Jewish measures; traditional voluntary Jewish relief would have to give way to forced relief controlled by the government and financed by funds from confiscated Jewish properties. Jacques Helbronner, president of the Consistoire Central, stated in a protest to Vichy that the creation of the ugif was based on legislation of a racial character and of foreign inspiration, and the basic idea of which stood in contradiction to the spirit of French legislation. Albert Lévy, a member of the Consistoire Central, became the ugif's first president, with André Baur, vice president for the occupied zone, and Marcel Stora as administrators, respectively, of the free and occupied zones. Among the members of the board, the majority were former members of the Comité de Coordination. They were all French Jews, coming from a professional or upper-class background, who had been active in relief organizations. The first task of the ugif, almost immediately after it was set up, was to collect the levy of 1 billion francs imposed by the German Military Command in Paris (Majestic) on the Jews of France as "reprisals" for the first attacks by the French Resistance. This levy was imposed on December 12, 1941. As the money available was not sufficient, and as the threats of deportation and the shooting of hostages became stronger, the ugif had to organize a loan from the main French banks, of 250 millions francs, to pay the first installment. Then, it could use money raised by the selling of Jewish-owned stocks on the Paris stock exchanges to pay the rest of the levy. All pre-war Jewish organizations, according to the law, would be disbanded and merged into the ugif, the only authorized Jewish body in France. The ugif took over the properties of these defunct organizations, and also all their relief tasks. In the spring of 1942, the ugif was helping half of the Jews in France, mostly through payments, as the aryanization policy had struck severely and impoverished the Jewish population. In the occupied zone the ugif had no fewer than 24 offices (for services in the free zone there were seven directorates, each of which was a former association that had been absorbed by ugif). In the French Jewish circles which were opposed to involvement in the ugif, the old enmity to foreign-born Jews played an important role. Many French Jews did not favor a plan which forced all Jews, foreign as well as French, to belong to the ugif. Participation in the ugif indicated not only acknowledgment of the anti-Jewish legislation, but also a recognition of separate Jewish identity, which repudiated the established tenet that Jews were to be regarded solely as a religious group. The ugif never became strictly an organization of collaboration with the Germans, although the ugif leaders were forced to negotiate constantly with the Gestapo, the Sipo-sd. Leaders of the ugif had to acquiesce to some of the logic of the perpetrators, for example in giving more attention to French Jews in comparison to foreign Jews. Raymond-Raoul Lambert proved, however, more sympathetic to foreign Jews, people he had tried to help in the late 1930s who had entered prior to the beginning of the German Occupation, in contrast to the French Consistory. When negotiating with the Germans, the ugif tried to use its margin of maneuverability, always very small, to have French Jews released or not deported. The Union hired many Jews as employees, to serve the needs of a growing despairing population. Officially, employees of the ugif were exempt from deportation though the protection proved unstable. For example, a roundup in the office of Lyons, organized by Klaus Barbie, led to the arrest of the employees, later deported to Auschwitz. On July 21, 1943, André Baur, then the president of the Union in the northern zone, was arrested. He was deported, together with his family, to Auschwitz. In the days before his arrest he had protested, once again, directly to Marshall Pétain, on the poor conditions of Jews in the Drancy camp. In September 1943, Raymond-Raoul Lambert was also arrested, then deported with his wife and children. The question, raised as early as February 1943, became then whether or not to maintain the activities of the ugif or to dismantle it. Such a decision was never made, and the ugif continued officially to work till the very end of Occupation. The support it provided for Jews, whether in freedom or imprisoned in camps in France, proved to be necessary. Underground activities developed then rapidly, not organized by the leaders of the ugif but under the cover and with the financial help of the Union. The most notable was the underground fight of the Eclaireurs Israélites, officially absorbed into the 6th department of the ugif, which led to the purchase of weapons and the organization in the Southeast of France of a maquis, a group of youth that fought for the liberation of the city of Tarbes. The policy of the ugif was always to negotiate in order to keep as many Jews as possible on French territory, whatever the German conditions might be. This led to the creation of agricultural colonies in the northern part of France, and to three camps in the heart of Paris, annexes of Drancy for "privileged Jews," mostly spouses of Aryans. These persons were entirely fed and taken care of with the finances of the Union. The leaders were not able to make the necessary steps to go underground nor to disperse children's homes that sheltered youngsters whose parents had already been deported. Numerous such houses were raided by the Gestapo, such the one in La Verdière or Izieu. On July 21, 1944, the houses in the suburbs of Paris were raided; 242 children and 33 ugif employees were arrested and immediately deported to Auschwitz. Soon after the Allied invasion (June 1944) in Normandy, members of the Comité Général de Défense, an underground Jewish body consisting of representatives of all Jewish groups, discussed the possibility of closing the ugif offices. At a secret meeting held on July 13, 1944, in Paris, the ugif leaders of the former occupied zone adopted a resolution against the voluntary dissolution of the ugif because it would induce immediate reprisals against the Jews in both zones. Raymond Geissmann, who was then director general of the ugif in the former free zone, strongly defended the record of the ugif. As early as July 1944, the newly (clandestinely) created body representing all Jews in France, the crif, considered the fate of the ugif and possible trial for its leaders. In October 1944, a commission set up by the crif started to investigate the activities of the Union. This led only to a reprimand that was even not made public. The debate continued within the crif until 1947 but its president, Léon Meiss, avoided any further determinations. The debate about the ugif started anew in 1980, with the publication of a book by Maurice Rajsfus, Des Juifs dans la collaboration. It lasted more than 10 years, with the judgment on the ugif remaining equivocal: the Union was seen as either a body whose leaders, French bourgeois Jews, were ready to deliver foreign Jews to the Germans to save the French Jews, or as a Resistance body. Further research, and comparison with other countries, could clarify both versions of history and give a more accurate, balanced description of this tragic episode.

bibliography:

Z. Szajkowski, Analytical Franco-Jewish Gazetteer 19391945 (1965), 39–65, 125–46; idem, in: jsos, 9 (1947), 239–56; R. Billig, Le Commissariat Général aux Questions Juives (19411944), 1 (1955), passim; J. Adler, Face à la persécution: les organisations juives à Paris de 1940 à 1944 (1985; Eng. edition, The Jews of Paris and the Final Solution: Communal Response and Internal Conflicts, 19401944 (1987)); V. Caron, Uneasy Asylum. France and the Jewish Refugee Crisis, 19331942 (1999); R. Cohen, The Burden of Conscience (1987); D. Epelbaum, Aloïs Brunner (1990); G. Kohn, Journal de Drancy (1999); M. Laffitte, Un engrenage fatal. L'ugif face aux réalités de la Shoah 19411944 (2003); R.R. Lambert, Carnets d'un témoin, preface by R. Cohen (1985); M. Rajsfus, Des Juifs dans la collaboration (1980); idem, Des Juifs dans la collaboration, vol. 2: Une Terre promise? (19411944) (1989); S. Schwarzfuchs, Aux prises avec Vichy. Histoire politique des Juifs de France (19401944) (1998); C. Steur, Theodor Dannecker ein Funktionnär der Endlösung (1987); the archives of the ugif are deposited with yivo in New York.

[Jean-Marc Dreyfus (2nd ed.)]