France And Jews, Then And Now

James McAuley interviews Anne Sinclair, who recalls a challenge when renewing her French identity card in 2010:

The bureaucrat that day… demanded that she prove her citizenship in the following way: “Are your four grandparents French?” he asked. In New York this week, Sinclair told me that this was precisely the moment she decided to write My Grandfather’s Gallery: A Family Memoir of Art and War. “As you know,” she said, “this question is particularly … tricky.”

Sinclair’s grandfather was none other than Paul Rosenberg, the legendary Parisian art dealer who was among the first to showcase masterpieces by Braque, Léger, Matisse, and Picasso in the 1920s and 1930s. In June 1940, during the German invasion, Rosenberg and his familyJews who dealt in what the Nazis had dubbed entartete Kunst, “degenerate art”fled for New York, and were subsequently “denationalized” by the Vichy government. Their beloved Galerie Rosenberg at 21, rue la Boétie would be sequestered by the Nazis and transformed into the Institut d’Étude des Questions Juives, a virulently anti-Semitic propaganda organization. The gallery’s wallswhich had once bravely displayed a seminal transition in twentieth-century artwere then made to bear witness to the organization of “Le Juif et La France,” the infamous 1941 Palais Berlitz exhibition that encouraged viewers to “identify the Jew and protect themselves against his actions.”

Sinclair also gives her thoughts on the current status of French Jewry:

[M]ore French Jews are making aliyah to Israel in 2014 than ever before. The reasons for their departure, of course, are complex, and not easily explained by the desire to escape an anti-Semitic environment. But the fact remains that more than 2,000 Jews have left France, compared with only 580 from the same period last year. “There’s been a lot of fuss everywhere about that,” says Sinclair, “and it’s not always accurate. … I’m concerned, of course, by the anti-Semitic revival. There is one. Not only in France, in Europe, everywhere.”

“And,” she adds, “there’s a new anti-Semitism, which is not one of the ’30s or the ’40s, which is more related to the conflict in the Middle East. In some suburbs in France you have people coming even in the third generation from the Maghreb, who are living in very bad conditions, and they feel they are rejected, well, by the whole community. … This sense of being rejected is a social despair, which can mutate into anti-Semitism when they want to protest for something.”

“But don’t believe that the French Jews are fleeingit’s absolutely untrue,” she said, emphasizing the complicated nature of the statistics often used in the reports. French Jews may be leaving France in greater numbers than before, but so have many other French citizens, seeking friendlier business climates and lower tax rates overseas.