The Kids of Oberlin Street: The Mercaz Ha’Noar and Strasbourg’s Interwar Jewish Renaissance

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 3:30 PM
Thurgood Marshall Ballroom West (Marriott Wardman Park)
Erin M. Corber, University of Maine
The Mercaz Ha’noar, Strasbourg’s first Jewish Youth Centre, was inaugurated in the spring of 1938, just over a year before the evacuation of Alsace, and two years before the Nazi annexation of the eastern French provinces. While one demographer of Alsacian Jewry asserted in the same year that Alsatian Jewish life was deteriorating, the Mercaz suggests a different narrative.[1] One of the first of its kind, the centre, meant to house all of the city’s Jewish youth organisations, also aimed to provide a safe, healthy, and controlled environment for the development of young Jews in a rapidly transforming city on the border between France and Germany. The Mercaz became the physical centre of all of Strasbourg’s flourishing youth culture, from Zionist pioneers, to the Maccabi sporting club, and Orthodox “traditionalist” groups, and, at the top of the ladder, the local branch of France’s thriving Jewish girl and boy scouting movement, the Éclaireurs israélites de France.

Annexed to the German Empire between 1871 and 1918, the Alsacian provinces serve as a counterpoint to the more developed scholarship on Paris. The uniqueness of regional identities, the influx of German Jewish refugees to eastern France, the rise of local right-wing politics, and the bourgeois nature of Strasbourg’s community of Jews were all major contributing factors in the construction of an alternate version of urban Jewish public life and sociability in the 1930s. Using local press sources, organisational archives, and oral historical testimony, this paper locates the Mercaz Ha’noar as both physical location and a symbolic focal point of an evolving, not declining, community on the eve of the Second World War.

[1] D. E. Schnurmann, “La mortalité de la population juive en Alsace,” in REVUE ‘OSÉ’, April 1938, pp. 1-8 (Archives de l’OSÉ, Paris).

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