Republicanism on the Borders: Jewish Activism and the Refugee Crisis in 1930s Strasbourg and Nice

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 4:10 PM
Thurgood Marshall Ballroom West (Marriott Wardman Park)
Meredith Scott, York College of Pennsylvania
During the refugee crisis of the 1930s, thousands of foreign Jews fled persecution and sought safe haven in France.  France, long known for its republican legacy, was no longer the land of asylum that these refugees had hoped to find.  Escalating anti-Semitism and fluctuating immigration policies created an environment inhospitable to those seeking resettlement.  In Paris, national refugee relief organizations and political figures clashed over how to best deal with the crisis while the police sought to arrest new arrivals. Yet, far outside of Paris, in Strasbourg and Nice, a different scenario was unfolding.  In these two border cities, both of which acutely experienced the refugee crisis, French Jews persistently worked through diverse social and political connections to provide refugees with aid, support, and the tools necessary to survive.

With the close focus that local-level analysis affords, the cases of Strasbourg and Nice provide historical insight that diverges from the often-portrayed circumstances in Paris and reveal new details about the nature of Jewish activism and the refugee crisis.  By the 1930s, French Jews had forged networks of social and political contacts through years of engagement in republicanism, civil rights, and the fight against anti-Semitism.  These contacts, both Jewish and non-Jewish, supplied valuable resources to aid foreign refugees in spite of ever-increasing obstacles.  Drawing from extensive archival research in Strasbourg, Nice, and Paris, this paper will underline that while activists in both cities did appeal to national institutions or political officials in Paris, they most often invested their energy in local connections and grass-roots efforts, which in the end bore more fruit than national alliances.  Further, it will argue, their activities did not cease with the onset of war in 1939.  Rather, they intensified into the first months of war and, ultimately, prewar Jewish activities influenced survival techniques during the war.

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