Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilL’Atelier du CRH22 bisThe boundary between “Judaism” an...

The boundary between “Judaism” and “Aryanism”: Anti-Semitic logic, litigation, and bureaucratic practices relating to the classification of “half-Jews” in Occupied France (1940-1944)

Laurent Joly
Traduction de Juliette Rogers (rogers.juliette@gmail.com)

Résumés

Sous l’Occupation, le statut des juifs ne prévoit pas, contrairement à la législation nazie, un statut intermédiaire pour les individus ayant une ascendance « mixte » (nommés « demi-juifs » par l’administration). En France, pas de « métis » au premier ou au deuxième degré ; on est soit juif, soit non-juif. Or, les critères pour définir l’appartenance ou non à la « race juive » des « demi-juifs » varient selon les textes allemands et français, la jurisprudence des tribunaux et la pratique des fonctionnaires spécialisés. La frontière entre « juif » et « non-juif » est ténue, souvent arbitraire, conditionnée par l’appartenance religieuse, un divorce, un mariage... Être classé du « bon » ou du « mauvais » côté de la « barricade » (selon la formule de l’expert ethno-racial auprès de la Préfecture de police de Paris et du commissariat général aux Questions juives, George Montandon) est, bien souvent, un enjeu de vie ou de mort. L’administration (« service juif » de la PP et CGQJ pour l’essentiel) et les tribunaux ont eu à statuer sur des milliers de « cas douteux ». Plus de 11 000 « certificats de non-appartenance à la race juive » ont été délivrés par le CGQJ, au bout d’enquêtes minutieuses. L’objet de cette contribution est de réfléchir sur les catégories mobilisées par les agents de l’État pour trancher sur ces cas limites, et de comprendre les ressorts de cette quête obstinée afin de déterminer la frontière, juridique et politique, entre « juif » et « non-juif ».18 septembre 2020.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

  • 1 Marie-Anne Matard-Bonucci, “Demi-juifs, Mischlinge, misti: l’incertaine ligne de partage des perséc (...)
  • 2 This was the usual formulation of George Montandon, the “ethno-racial expert” of the Paris Prefectu (...)

1The racial laws decreed by the occupier and the Vichy regime in World War II France made no provisions for an intermediary status for individuals of mixed heritage (described as “half-Jews” by the administration charged with examining these ambiguous cases), to the contrary of active legislation in the Third Reich. France (like Italy) had no category for people of mixed affiliation: you were either Jewish or you weren’t.1 In a context of roundups and deportation, being classified on the “good” or “bad” side of the “barricade”2 was truly a matter of life or death, but the criteria for defining whether “half-Jews” belonged to the “Jewish race” varied from text to text, case law, and the practices of specialized bureaucrats. The boundary between Jewish and non-Jewish was tenuous, often arbitrary, and shaped by religious affiliation, a divorce, a marriage, and other life circumstances.

  • 3 On this face-off between the administration and “ambiguous cases” trying to prove they were not Jew (...)

2The victims of anti-Semitic legislation were aware of these criteria and requirements. Some of them had sufficient resources to work around the strict law: adopting or even fabricating a profile for the benefit of the administration with the help of lawyers, obliging doctors (certifying circumcision for medical reasons), or charitable priests (false baptismal certificates), they managed to assuage the administration with a file full of more or less authentic elements. But most found themselves trapped by family choices (such as an inter-married couple deciding to not baptize its children) and wore themselves out trying to demonstrate their good faith. To their thinking, and in the eyes of their neighbors and moral witnesses to whom they appealed for help, they and their children were not among the Jewish people singled out by the law, but good French people, even good Catholics, being unfairly bullied.3

3This social use of the norms of anti-Jewish legislation will only be mentioned tangentially in this chapter. I focus instead on the history of the State and its agents, bureaucrats and magistrates who, in very practical terms, were confronted with the question, “Who is Jewish?”

4From 1940 to 1944, in a context of occupation, political collaboration, and advanced bureaucratization that favored logics of ideological alignment and the transfer of laws from Germany to France, the administration and courts had to rule on thousands of “ambiguous cases” under the oversight of the Commisariat-General for Jewish Affairs (CGQJ), an anti-Semitic State authority created by Vichy on the demand of the occupiers in March 1941. This chapter gives an account of the categories used by legislators and then agents of the State to sort out these borderline cases. Understanding the origins of this dogged quest to set the boundary between “Jewish” and “Aryan” allows closer determination of the anti-Semitic representations that were behind racial laws and their interpretation by lawyers of the French State.

The logic of the legislator: Setting a racial and spiritual boundary

“It’s only in the case of an individual issue of two Jewish grandparents and two Aryan grandparents that the personal religion factor intervenes to shift the balance between Judaism and Aryanism. And by God, I venture to say I find that sound judgment.”
Interview given by Xavier Vallat to the press on 3 February 1942 (Municipal Archives of Lyon, Vallat collection, 21ii-44.

The 1940 definition and the problem of “half-Jews”

  • 4 Saul Friedländer, Nazi Germany and the Jews: Volume 1: The Years of Persecution 1933-1939, Harper P (...)

5In Nazi legislation the boundary between Jews and non-Jews (or “Aryans” or “individuals of German blood” in the official language of the Third Reich) was determined by two successive barriers: one separating Jewish people from those of mixed heritage, and another separating those of mixed heritage from “Aryan” people. The Nuremberg citizenship law of 1935 made a “fundamental distinction”4 between individuals of “German blood,” for whom the status of citizen of the Reich was reserved, and the rest, simple “subjects” of the Reich whose civil rights were revoked and who found themselves excluded from public-sector employment. Another Nuremberg law furthermore prohibited any sexual union between Jewish and “Aryan” people, and forbade Jewish people from employing “Aryan” domestic servants under the age of 45. The first decree to be added to the Nuremberg laws, adopted on 14 November 1935, gave the definitions of “Jewish” and “mixed”:

A Jew is anyone who descended from at least three grandparents who were fully Jewish by race. […].
A Jew is also anyone who descended from two fully Jewish grandparents, if:
(a) he belonged to the Jewish religious community at the time this law was issued or joined the community later;
(b) he was married to a Jewish person at the time the law was issued or married one subsequently;
(c) he is the offspring from a marriage with a Jew […];
(d) he is the offspring of an extramarital relationship with a Jew […]

  • 5 From the Reich Citizenship Law of September 15, 1935, and the First Regulation to the Reich Citizen (...)

An individual of mixed Jewish blood is one who is descended from one or two grandparents who were fully Jewish by race […] One grandparent shall be considered as full-blooded if he or she belonged to the Jewish religious community.5

Although Nazi lawyers had to settle on religious criteria for defining “the Jewish race,” their reasoning was ruthlessly racist:

  • 6 Hitler himself was the one to arbitrate in favor of these criteria. Ibid., p. 155.

- The boundary between Jewish and mixed-heritage concerned individuals with two Jewish grandparents. These “half-Jews” were classified in the unenviable intermediary category of “mixed,” which could disappear provided that they were not married to a Jew and did not belong to the “Jewish religious community.”6 Otherwise, they were Jewish. Everything was done to assimilate people of mixed heritage and “half-Jews” into the “Jewish race.” The decree of 14 November 1935 thus prohibits them from marrying “Aryan” Germans (except with special approval from the Ministry of Interior or a representative of the Führer).

- The boundary between “mixed” and “Aryan” was thus drawn after individuals having only one Jewish grandparent. The decree not only prohibited them from entering into union with other Jewish people but with other people of mixed heritage. They (or rather, their offspring) were called upon to become “Aryans,” since “German blood” was dominant by three-quarters, despite their sullied genealogy. This is the logic of Nazi racism: “German blood” is stronger than “Jewish blood.”

  • 7 So as to not give the impression that they wanted to impose German racist principles on the French.
  • 8 Translation from Richard H. Weisberg, Vichy Law and the Holocaust in France, OPA, 1996, p. 40.
  • 9 In addition to this primary boundary there was another, strictly religious but only having been app (...)

6Hitler’s brand of anti-Semitism as it was adapted in a vanquished France did not copy the most radical criteria of the Third Reich. The way that the German ordinance of 27 September 1940 decreed the definition of a Jewish person in the occupied zone avoided the word “race” out of diplomatic caution7: “A Jew is one who belongs or used to belong to the Jewish religion or who has more than two Jewish grandparents.”8 The “mixed” category is cast aside. Unions between Jewish and non-Jewish people were not prohibited. The boundary was set at “half-Jews”: if they were able to prove they had never belonged to the Jewish religion, they were considered non-Jewish.9

  • 10 Accused of disguised clericalism since the Dreyfuss Affair, French anti-Semites were determined to (...)
  • 11 Article 1 of the law of 3 October 1940 “concerning the status of Jews.” This English translation co (...)

7To the contrary, the statute promulgated by the Vichy government in October 1940, which was also derived from the Nuremberg laws, began with a racial definition that abstained from using the word “religion”10: “a Jew is one who has three grandparents of the Jewish race; or who has two grandparents of that race, if his or her spouse is Jewish.”11 This definition contradicted that of the occupiers, revealing that it was poorly thought through: the boundary between Jewish and non-Jewish was not considered, or more precisely, was thought to be obvious. For the legislator under Pétain, a Jew was a Jew by his name, foreign origins, and so on. The problems of “half-Jews” and “borderline cases” were evidently not thought essential. A person with two Jewish grandparents was considered non-Jewish regardless of his or her spiritual orientation, provided that he or she did not have a Jewish spouse.

  • 12 Approximately 3000 people were dismissed from the administration in application of the statute of O (...)
  • 13 “Half-Jewish” children and unmarried people were actually spared by the “Jewish Statute.”

8While State anti-Semitism took its course,12 this relative tolerance of individuals of mixed ascendency13 was challenged by the creation of the Commissariat-General for Jewish Affairs and the nomination of Xavier Vallat as its Commissioner-General in March 1941.

The “Jewish Statute” of 2 June 1941, or obsession with the “personal religious factor”

  • 14 On the dynamic of one-upmanship propelled by Vallat, see my analysis in Vichy dans la “solution fin (...)

9Born in 1891, Vallat was a Roman Catholic, a Deputy to the Assemblée Nationale representing de département of the Ardèche, and a relatively well-known political figure. Leading light of the extreme right in parliament, he made a sensation in 1936 when he attacked the Jewish origins of the head of the Front Populaire, Léon Blum. Henceforth he considered himself – and was seen by those with anti-Semitic views – as a great specialist in “the Jewish question.” A veteran of World War I (where he lost a leg and an eye), he was also a patriot who wanted to teach the occupiers a thing or two. His dream was to construct one sole set of anti-Jewish legislation for all of divided France. This futile and inane ambition (since the German authorities would never have accepted the retraction of their ordinances) had an immediate cost: from the outset French legislation had to be harder and more all-encompassing than that of the Nazis. Escalation was the condition for the harmonization of free and occupied zones. Such was the deadly spiral of collaboration.14

10On 26 April 1941, a new ordinance from the occupier broadened the definition of “Jewish” and presented a long list of “economic” jobs forbidden to them. Modeled on the 1935 Nazi decree, the categorization of “half-Jews” henceforth combined religious criteria (which was featured in the ordinance of 27 September 1940) and marital criteria (in Vichy law since 3 October 1940): people issue of “at least three grandparents of pure Jewish race” were classified as Jewish if they belonged to “the Jewish religious community” or if they married a Jewish spouse. On this basis, Vallat re-opened work on the “Jewish Statute,” and the law of 3 October was replaced by a new one on 2 June 1941.

Draft legislation to replace the “Jewish Statute” of 3 October 1940, corrected and annotated by Xavier Vallat (National Archives, AJ38 1143)

  • 15 Vallat avoided using the word “race” in his earlier plans (see illustration), but ultimately adopte (...)

11Over the month of May, numerous projects were developed by the Commissioner-General of Jewish Affairs and his team of lawyers from the Action Française movement. They had a particular passion for Article 1, defining the “Jew.” While the German ordinance did not specify the kind of evidence would prove “half-Jews” were not part of “the Jewish religious community,” the statute of 2 June 1941, signed by Maréchal Pétain and his top ministers, established a draconian division: people issue of “two grand-parents of the Jewish race”15 must not have a Jewish spouse, but even more importantly, they had to prove that they belonged to a Christian faith (Catholic or Protestant) prior to 25 June 1940. Subsequent conversions were considered insincere. Thus, all the children of intermarried couples left free to choose their religion were henceforth considered to be Jewish under the law, as were free-thinking “half-Jews” married to Catholics.

12So for Xavier Vallat, the Jewish/Non-Jewish boundary distinguished between “half-Jews” having chosen to live a Christian life and the rest, who remained “Jewish.” To his fundamentalist Catholic imagination, an intermarried couple that did not participate in Christian traditions with their children was a victory of “the Jewish spirit” (of which free thought was an avatar).

  • 16 Upon reading a letter sent to him by an unreligious “half-Jew” married to a Catholic woman who was (...)

13In practice, this punitive confessional logic ties in with the racist logic of Nazi legislators in 1935: everything was done to prevent “half-Jews” from escaping the category of “Jew.” Even if, out of concern for offending the Catholic Church, the Commissioner-General of Jewish Affairs abstained from proposing a ban on mixed marriages, this was indeed the implicit aim of the law of 3 June 1941: eliminating future “mixed unions” and setting a sharp racial and spiritual boundary between Jewish and non-Jewish people.16

Plans for a third “Jewish Statute” (November 1941-February 1942): Moving the Jewish/non-Jewish boundary to include people with only one Jewish grandparent.

14This quest was a genuine obsession for Vallat. Late in 1941, he was able to get the government to publish around fifty laws and decrees implementing systematic professional and economic “dejudification” in the Journal Officiel, the official bulletin of government publications. But he was not entirely satisfied with the “Jewish Statute” of 2 June 1941, the keystone of the system, convinced that too many unidentified Jews slipped through the net. He put his lawyers to work in November. After several week of cogitation, the CGQJ came to a sophisticated and monstrous definition that was legal in name only. People with patronymics leading one to presume that they were Jewish would henceforth be obliged to prove that they weren’t, since that would be the baseline assumption. Moreover, it only took one grandparent born into “the Mosaic religion” to get someone classified as Jewish if other indications (no membership in a Christian religion, married to a Jewish spouse, a “half-Jew” parent with a “Jewish first name,” and so on) fed suspicion of the persistence of “Jewish influence” in the family line. One of the lawyers involved in the project skeptically observed that “This would be an innovation relative to German, Italian, and Hungarian laws. Is this desirable?,” but it fell on deaf ears.

  • 17 Male or even female (the interest of the faith having primacy over patria potestas).
  • 18 See the enlightening article by Isabelle Poutrin, “La captation de l’enfant de converti. L’évolutio (...)

15This legal leap forward in anti-Semitism is reminiscent of the Vatican’s slow and gradual shift over the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries on the baptism of the children of converted Jews. Canonical law gradually developed in a way that legitimized the baptism of a Jewish child on the demand of only one converted grandparent,17 to the detriment of legitimate parents who remained Jewish.18 Xavier Vallat took a similar path to a contrary result – suspicion of Judaism ultimately extended to unbaptized individuals with only one Jewish grandparent.

16Such a reversal speaks volumes on how anti-Judaism developed following the Jewish emancipation (1791): it was no longer about forceful conversion, and now meant fighting a supposedly destructive and clandestine Jewish influence. It is also revealing of the altered position of the Catholic Church in European societies, from dominant to defensive, likely to justify the worst persecution by men like Vallat.

  • 19 National Archives, 2AG 536, note from Admiral Darlan to Minister of the State Moysset, 15 January 1 (...)
  • 20 National Archives, F37 38, note on the Jewish Statute, January or February 1942.

17The culture of fundamentalist Catholicism underlying the Commissioner-General of Jewish Affairs’ orientation was foreign to government lawyers, who were dumbfounded by the plans for a third “Jewish Statute.” Their discussions with the CGQJ were difficult. In December 1941 the Feldengendarmes, accompanied by French police, rounded up a thousand Jewish people in Paris, for the most part notables, French citizens, or decorated veterans. Flooded with petitions, Maréchal Pétain did not hide his irritation. This context made it a bad time for a new “Jewish Statute” targeting the most “assimilated.” “I have the impression that M. Xavier Vallat is pushing a bit hard and that he is not following the directives, which are to not bother old French Jews,” openly deplored Prime Minister Admiral Darlan.19 That a veteran of two wars, with a Jewish father and a “Catholic, 100% Aryan” mother, married to a Catholic and “having baptized all of his children,” could be considered Jewish “and consequently [be] exposed to being struck in his possessions and, even worse, his person,” is inadmissible, stated a lawyer for the Délégation aux relations économiques franco-allemandes (Delegation for Franco-German Economic Relations), speaking of Article 1 in the draft law.20 The text was finally sent for opinion to the Conseil d’Etat on 14 February 1942, only to be withdrawn and shelved less than a week later.

18It is significant that the break between Vallat (officially dismissed in May 1942) and his government was prompted by his plans for a third statute. In wanting to go as far as individuals with only one Jewish grandparent or Catholics with a “Jewish patronymic,” the Commissioner-General had clearly overreached the degree of State anti-Semitism that was widely accepted in Vichy.

19From then on the legislative power of the CGQJ was frozen, and the government once gain took anti-Semitic policy in hand, targeting foreign-born Jews: in the summer of 1942, over the course of a few weeks, Chief of the government Pierre Laval and his chief of police René Bousquet would deliver 25,000 stateless people and their children to the Nazis.

The logic of the courts: The search for positive criteria

“The courts convict every time that the infraction is justified according to the texts in force and when there is no doubt whatsoever.”
National Archives,
AJ38 290, internal correspondence of the CGQJ, Montpellier, December 1942).

The criminal court against “presumption based on the absence of religion”

20Since the “Jewish Statute” of 2 June 1941 and the census law that came with it made provisions for penalties in the form of imprisonment and fines, “Jewish affairs” started to flood the courts in the summer of 1941. The judges’ attitude can be summed up as simultaneously applying anti-Semitic law and neutralizing its most contestable clauses.

21The judiciary of the Occupation years supported the coexistence of established traditional law, which in principle was intended to protect the weakest, and the application of exceptional political laws (often conceived by new organizations such as the Commissariat-General for Jewish Affairs) that the magistrates helped to normalize and legitimate.

  • 21 See Laurent Joly, L’État contre les juifs. Vichy, les nazis et la persécution antisémite (1940-1944 (...)

22Until the Liberation, several hundred people were convicted of having shirked the obligation to declare themselves to the census of Jewish people decreed by the second statute, of 2 June 1941, or for being “late” to declare themselves. When presented with cases where the offense was incontestable, magistrates initially convicted with moderate penalties (50 francs and rarely prison), but after Xavier Vallat personally intervened with the Minister of Justice in October 1941, penalties got much heavier. Consequently, in Paris the most common penalty for not declaring oneself to the census rose to three years of prison and a fine of 1200 francs.21

23Subjected to considerable political pressure, ordinary judges of the French State did have some flexibility. Gradually a body of case law going counter to the letter and spirit of the statute of 2 June 1941 developed relative to “half-Jews.” As we have seen, the terms of the law dictated that concerned parties must have converted to a Christian faith prior to 25 June 1940 so as to not be considered Jewish. Starting in the spring of 1942, several arrests contradicted this position. In Aix-en-Provence, a certain Miss Weinthal was taken to court on the demand of the Commissariat-General for Jewish Affairs. The accused was discharged by the criminal court, which found that only her father was Jewish and that she had apparently been raised without any religious education. The Court of Appeals of Aix confirmed this ruling in an argument that is as lucid as it is rebellious:

  • 22 National Archives, AJ38 212, ruling by the Aix Court of Appeal (5th penal chamber), 12 May 1942.

If, at the end of the Law of 2 June 1941 concerning the status of Jews, non-belonging to the Israelite religion results from joining Catholicism or Protestantism, the §2 of paragraph 2 of Article 1 in no way stipulated that one who does not join one or the other of these faiths was necessarily Jewish. To decide otherwise would be to attribute this character to the individual who, issuing from only two Jewish grandparents, is neither Catholic nor Protestant, and thus create […] a presumption based on the absence of religion that the legislator would not have failed to formulate expressly. […]
Whereas the public Ministry reports no proof of either the Jewish religion of the defendant or the Jewish race of two of her grandparents, she cannot, as is, be considered as Jewish.
22

  • 23 Jurisclasseur 32, 9 August 1942, 1958.

24Based on this precedent, shortly thereafter the Limoges Court of Appeals discharged M. Lang, first convicted by the Brive criminal court. Married to a non-Jewish woman, he had not declared his sons Claude (born in October 1940) and Jacques (the future politician Jack Lang, born in September 1939) as Jewish, which they were according to the law of 2 June 1941. Both had been baptized on 2 April 1942, shortly after the CGQJ had instigated the procedure. Neither had been circumcised, so the Limoges Court of Appeals decided to retain this element as proof of not belonging to the Jewish religion: considering circumcision the equivalent of baptism, it was thought to be necessary for inclusion in the “Jewish community.” Lang was discharged and both of his children recognized as non-Jewish.23 Between May and August 1942, at least four other similar rulings were given.

25Thusly the criminal courts decided to assert the power to contradict the decisions of the Commissariat-General for Jewish Affairs and give their own evaluation of the boundary between Jewish and non-Jewish: for lack of any proof that they were raised in the Jewish religion, “half-Jews” had to be classified as non-Jewish, even if they were not Catholic or Protestant (provided, of course, that they did not have a Jewish spouse).

The Conseil d’Etat, supporting the Commissariat-General for Jewish Affairs

  • 24 National Archives, AJ38 145 and AL 4480, folder 131773, opinion of the Conseil d’État, 11 December (...)

26In November 1942, a request was submitted to the Conseil d’Etat for its opinion on the litigation between the CGQJ and the courts concerning the interpretation of Article 1 of the “Jewish Statute” of 2 June 1941. The rapporteur, Louis Canet, thought that the Commissariat’s position “violates freedom of conscience” but that court case law “ends up putting an end to the disposition; Jews and even more so half-Jews having a tendency to declare themselves free-thinkers, even when they are not.” Canet thus suggested using other, more positive forms of proof, like circumcision. Lastly, the opinion handed down by the Conseil d’État on 11 December 1942 specified that “it falls to the appropriate jurisdiction to evaluate in each particular case if the concerned party provides elements that adequately establish that he has never belonged, or has ceased to belong, in fact to the Jewish community.”24 

  • 25 The Conseil d’État has two main functions: guardian of the law and the supreme administrative court (...)
  • 26 National Archives, AJ38 127 and F60 1441, Conseil d’État decision, 2 April 1943.

27In its role as administrative arbitrator,25 the highest French court likewise found that “neither the text of this disposition [that is, Article 1, paragraph 4 of the law of 2 June 1941] nor the law’s intended object are the result of the legislator having understood the sole admission of this means of proof [that is, membership in a Christian religion] to the exclusion of any other.” The plaintiff in this case, a free-thinking “half-Jew” who had been dismissed from his teaching job by the Ministry of National Education in 1941, won: he was henceforth considered non-Jewish insofar as the law was concerned and his dismissal was repealed.26

28The Commissariat-General for Jewish Affairs accepted such decisions even more readily since the Conseil d’État’s intervention on the matter confirmed its theory of the incompetence of the courts. But above all, the highest court rarely pressed concerns for the protection of individuals or resisted anti-Jewish legislation. It never established precedent placing the burden of proof on the accusing administration. To the contrary, the opinion of 11 December 1942 and certain rulings in favor of the CGQJ’s position (Bloch-Favier, Maxudian) gave anti-Semitic law incontestable legal legitimacy, normalizing even the most absurd racist arguments.

29In fact, the principle of evaluating “each particular case” gradually came to be established as the only pragmatic solution. It mobilized dozens of lawyer-bureaucrats charged with resolving the many “borderline cases” that were submitted to them, according to a truly inquisitorial logic.

The inquisitorial logic of examination: The fluctuating boundaries of “Jewish influence”

“Without mentioning the fact that the Jewish husband W. was divorced too late (after 25 June 1940) for the divorce to be valid from an ethno-racial point of view. […] Finally, as the examined had no paper relative to a religion (in fact she has no religion, like the half-Jews remaining on the Jewish side of the barricade) and her morphology, however gracious its expression may be, is rather strongly Judaic, the undersigned holds in CONCLUSION that the examined is to be considered Jewish.”
(Archives Nationales, AJ
38 175, Folder Yvonne K., “Ethno-racial” report written by George Montandon, 26 February 1943)

At the boundary between “Jewish” and “Aryan”: The “non-Jew by favorable presumption”

  • 27 Over 10,000 provisional certificates of non-belonging (known as “letters of presumption”) were made (...)
  • 28 See ibid., p. 541-550.

30Lawyers of the Commissariat-General of Jewish Affairs (as well as its Status of Persons section) were soon confronted with the rigidity of the criteria of the “Jewish Statute” and the abundance of particular cases. In August 1941 a system of “Certificates of non-Belonging to the Jewish Race” (CNARJ) was created. The CGQJ would deliver 11,000 of these certificates between then and the Liberation.27 For someone of mixed heritage of with a “questionable” family name (the “Monsieur Klein” syndrome, for those familiar with the film), obtaining a CNARJ was a guarantee of his or her “Aryanness.” A whole underground economy developed (creating false marriage and baptismal certificates and the like) with the help of lawyers, profiting from hundreds of ingenious victims.28 But for most people appealing to the administration, be they indeed “half-Jews” or wrongly suspected of being Jewish, this economy was a way to extricate themselves from arbitrary laws and practices.

31Starting in September 1941, the protests of lawyers and mothers made the administration aware of the situation of children from intermarried couples who had not (yet) been baptized. The “letter of presumption of non-belonging to the Jewish race” was the idea of Jacques Ditte, director of the Status of Persons Section of the CGQJ in Paris until March 1943, to resolve such tricky situations. Intended for “half-Jews,” it takes note of the imperative terms of the law: a CNARJ may only be delivered if the concerned parties were baptized prior to 25 June 1940. But various favorable elements made it possible to presume that the “Jewish influence” had disappeared, thus creating the need for the “letter of presumption.”

From the study of the file that you have presented to me, it follows: […]

  • 29 A sample letter quoted in Joseph Billig, Le Commissariat général aux Questions juives (1941-1944), (...)

That you have not been circumcised. […]
You had a child who was baptized at birth in 1937 and who also received a certificate of non-belonging to the Jewish race.
Consequently, although it was not possible for me to deliver a certificate of non-belonging for the reason that you had not officially joined a non-Jewish religion according to the terms of the aforementioned law, I have decided to consider you as non-Jewish by favorable presumption and advise Monsieur the Prefect of the Var of my decision.
29

32In actual fact the boundary between Jewish and non-Jewish was subject to the same principle: “half-Jews” must have sincerely joined a Christian religion in order to be recognized as non-Jewish. The system of proof was simply made more flexible. The spirit of the law was respected.

Notes of an employee of the Paris Prefecture of Police on the subject of the CGQJ’s arbitrary decisions on “half-Jews” (Vayssettes Archives)

33The inescapably subjective examination of the religious behavior of “half-Jews” led to the perfecting of case-by-case analytical method that was both iniquitous and absurd. One of Ditte’s successors, the lawyer Émile Boutmy (who held the job 1943-1944), distinguished himself with his minutious and perverse investigations. The case of the L. children is edifying in this regard. Both sons were circumcised, while the three daughters were baptized. The director of Status of Persons Section classified the boys as Jewish but recognized the girls as non-Jewish:

  • 30 National Archives, AJ38 178, letter from Boutmy to the Paris Prefecture of Police, 1 December 1943.

This case is a sort of summary of the issue of half-Jews. You really have the impression that the father was opposed to the baptism of the first two daughters, born in the maternity ward, and that he was indifferent for the third. On the other hand, only the boys are counted in the Jewish religion; he kind of got his revenge by having the boys circumcised.30

  • 31 National Archives, AJ38 165, letter from Boutmy to the Paris Prefecture of Police, 23 March 1944.
  • 32 National Archives, AJ38 194, letter from Boutmy to the Paris Prefecture of Police, 30 December 1943

34In another case, the three D. children were born to an intermarried couple in 1932, 1939, and 1941, but he refused to deliver a “letter of presumption”: “They were only baptized on 20 September 1941, and their father told me that his children considered the Catholic religion to be ‘theater.’”31 On the other hand, for the three Z. children, ultimately recognized as non-Jewish on 30 December 1943, Boutmey concludes favorably: “From the religious examination to which I subjected them, it has been established that the Z. children know their prayers perfectly and know the Catholic religion well enough to allow me to consider them as non-Jews.”32

  • 33 Nathan Wachtel made a brilliant analysis of the modernity of the procedures (Nathan Wachtel, La Log (...)
  • 34 One major difference separated the two policies and periods, however. The logic of the Inquisition (...)

35Such procedures are reminiscent of those of the tribunals of the Iberian Inquisition: there are indeed analogies between the bureaucratic practices of the persecution of the “Judaizers” of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries and the persecution of Jews in the twentieth century.33 In both cases, there was no alternative to the submission of minds or the destruction of those who seemed to be opposed to the unitary order of the community. During both periods, specialized agents were trained to study genealogy, grandparents’ religious affiliations, patronymics, and the like, and create specific categories (such as “half-new-Christian” for the Inquisition and “half-Jew” for the administration of anti-Semitism). Out of professional habit, these agents were convinced that they could perceive insincerity in the declarations of “Judaizers” or Jewish people in breach of the law under interrogation. In this, it is striking that traces of the religious archaism particular to the Inquisitorial system (in this instance, the search for the sincerity of declarations and spiritual submission) are once again found in twentieth-century anti-Semitic policies. The bureaucratic objective is the same in both cases: that the case be “in order” and that the concerned parties “declare” themselves “observant of the law of Moses” or as “belonging to the Jewish race,” admitting to the “offence of Judaism” on one hand, or the offence of non-acknowledgement of one’s “belonging to the Jewish race” on the other.34

36Thus the bureaucracy of the CGQJ created a new category: “non-Jew by favorable presumption.” An insecure status, always likely to be re-examined by the administration, it was nonetheless a comfort from which thousands of individuals benefitted – approximately 10,000 “letters of presumption” were delivered by the Commissariat – while thousands of others, “half-Jews” remaining under “Jewish influence,” were classified as Jewish by the same employees and exposed to the worst persecution.

The reign of specialists, the arbitrary, and… corruption

37Since more than half of the people identified as Jewish in 1940-1941 – 151,000 individuals – were in Paris and its inner periphery (the département of the Seine at the time), the Prefecture of Police created a department within the Immigration Service charged with establishing files on Jewish residents of greater Paris and monitoring them, which it called the Service of Jewish Affairs.

  • 35 See my work on this small office and its agents: L’Antisémitisme de bureau, op. cit., p. 115-169, a (...)

38Among the hundred or so agents in this service, roughly ten of them worked with the public (mostly on “ambiguous cases”) under the authority of the section chief. These employees, many of them with a university education in law, became experts in defining race. Most of those who ended up determining who was Jewish and who was not wielded that power enthusiastically.35 In December 1942, bureau sub-chief André Broc would even go so far as to defend a dissertation in Law at the Sorbonne on “The Identification of the Jew,” published soon afterward by Presses Universitaires de France.

  • 36 André Broc, La Qualité de juif. Une notion juridique nouvelle, Paris, PUF, 1943, p. 69-79.

39A fanatical lawyer and poorly disguised anti-Semite, Broc summed up the various debates over the definition of “Jewish” in his study. Approving of court and Conseil d’Etat case law concerning “half-Jews,” he stated that it should be possible to establish non-belonging to the Jewish religion with conclusive proof, without being limited to the intangible criteria of the law of 2 June 1941 (formal membership on Protestantism or Catholicism).36 He made reference to Renan in his ultimate argument that the legal definition of “Jewish” ought to match its “sociological” reality, determined by race, ethnicity, religion, and language – in short, Jews’ “sentiment of belonging to a nation.”

  • 37 Ideally, he wrote, “any individual who, without being of the Judaic race or religion, actually beha (...)

40It would be difficult to be more vague and more ideological at the same time. In this office anti-Semite’s mind, all “half-Jews” whose behavior made them seem Jewish should be classified as such.37 This explains why he launched a general review of so-called contentious cases immediately after being named head of the Status of Persons Section of the Jewish Service in the summer of 1943.

41The expression “office crimes” has become hackneyed, but it is a perfect fit for André Broc: under his authority dozens of individuals considered to be non-Jewish were reclassified as Jewish, and some of them were deported. He would continue his career in peace after the war, however, and even publish again – a civil defense handbook – also with the Presses Universitaires de France.

Left: André Broc (1909-1997), bureaucrat in the “Jewish Service” of the Prefecture of Police. Right: the “raceologist” George Montandon (1879-1944)

42When Broc, his colleagues at the Prefecture of Police, and their counterparts at the CGQJ were unable to resolve “ambiguous cases,” they could be sent to the occupier-designated expert. Swiss-born George Montandon was a former doctor converted to learned anti-Semitism in the 1930s who became an anti-Semitic “raceologist.” Megalomaniacal and grasping, he put himself in service of the Nazi authorities in 1940, and published Comment reconnaître le Juif ? (How to Recognize a Jew; published by Nouvelles éditions françaises). In December 1941 he was officially accredited as a “ethno-racial expert.” He examined people with ambiguous ancestry or contesting their designation as Jewish on the demand of German and French authorities. The examination was to be thorough. Montandon scrutinized genealogy and patronymics, conducted anthropometric studies of the concerned parties, observed their gait, the “general expression of the facies” (“more or less Judaic”), their expressions and gestures (“mimiques”), and drew a “conclusion” from all that. He often got involved as a last resort, when the examination of evidence did not lead to a clear conclusion. His reports were thus of capital importance. The lives of hundreds of people hung on whether his conclusion was “Jew” or “Aryan.”

  • 38 National Archives, Z6 1385, exhibit 79, ethno-racial examination of 24 May 1943. Probably “half-Jew (...)
  • 39 National Archives, AJ38 3953, ethno-racial examination of Emmanuel O., 17 November 1943. The O. cou (...)

43The boundary between Jewish and non-Jewish was eminently arbitrary with George Montandon. This is because the faux scholar was not impervious to corruption. Speaking of the same person, he was able to conclude in May 1943 that one woman was a “half-Jew without a religion, and thus manifesting in a predominant way the Jewish mentality,” and then revise his opinion six months later to declare her “purely of the Aryan race.”38 On the case of a wealthy Russian man with a “Jewish patronymic” denounced as Jewish in 1943, Montandon attributed his circumcision “to a probably necessary surgical cause” before concluding: “So without denying that there was probably a little Jewishness in the examinee’s ancestry, this Judaic share is probably minimal and in any case, Aryanized.”39

44Regardless, for the vast majority of those he examined – more than 3000 referred by the CGQJ – the odious raceologist developed an implacable racist doctrine in line with the intentions of legislators: Like Vallat, Montandon believed that a “half-Jew” who had not converted to a Christian religion was still “on the Jewish side of the barricade.” This is the boundary – one that he was only willing to move, in certain instances, when lured by personal gain.

***

45Underlying Vichy’s anti-Semitism was a logic of religious intolerance spurred by the very Catholic Xavier Vallat and backed by the “Jewish Statute” of 2 June 1941, the foundation of the policy of exclusion until the Liberation. The “racial” “half-Jew” must have abandoned every trace of the “Jewish mentality” by joining Catholicism or Protestantism in order to be regarded as non-Jewish. Although case law imposed acceptance of all evidence of non-religious belonging to Judaism, the practices of specialized bureaucrats, especially those of the CGQJ, tended to reject free thought as valid and accept only evidence attesting to sincere Christianity (applying criteria that was admittedly broader than the Statute’s).

  • 40 A subtle analysis by Léon Poliakov, Sur les traces du crime, Paris, Berg International, 2003, p. 10 (...)

46In actual fact, this confessional logic was akin to the Nazi’s racist logic. It goes even further, since Vichy, while inspired by the Nuremburg laws, was trying to conserve “certain principles of natural law and Christian civilization […] to which Hitlerism had resolutely turned its back”40: if the opening definition of “Jewish” in the law of 2 June 1941 is more strict than that of the German ordinance of 26 April 1941, it is clearly because the dynamic of collaboration made normative escalation necessary, so that Vichy law would also be applied in the occupied zone and surpass the occupier’s regulations by its greater reach. But it is also because this emulation is heavily driven by the religious fanaticism of Vallat and those with whom he worked the most closely.

  • 41 This spans Jules Isaac, David Nirenberg, Uriel Tal, Jacob Katz, Giovanni Miccoli, and Léon Poliakov (...)

47When all is said and done, study of the categories and representations behind the distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish in those dark years in France reveals an undeniable porosity between “traditional anti-Judaism” and “modern anti-Semitism,” and between “religious anti-Judaism” and “racial anti-Semitism.” The boundary shifts much more than we long thought, and movement from one side to the other is much less systematic. Research from the world round has amply demonstrated this for years now: anti-Semitism cannot exist without anti-Judaism; the religious foundations are much more present in modern anti-Semitism, including its Nazi variant, than actors will admit; and inversely, pre- or proto-racist elements can already be spotted in medieval anti-Judaism (such as the fluxus sanguinis).41 Careful study of the categories mobilized by actors thus nuances certain preconceived scientific classifications.

Haut de page

Notes

1 Marie-Anne Matard-Bonucci, “Demi-juifs, Mischlinge, misti: l’incertaine ligne de partage des persécutions antisémites,” Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, no 62-2/3, 2015, p. 152-153.

2 This was the usual formulation of George Montandon, the “ethno-racial expert” of the Paris Prefecture of Police and the Commissariat-General for Jewish Affairs.

3 On this face-off between the administration and “ambiguous cases” trying to prove they were not Jewish, see some of my previous publications: Vichy dans la « solution finale ». Histoire du commissariat général aux Questions juives (1941-1944), Paris, Grasset, 2006, p. 541-550, and L’Antisémitisme de bureau. Enquête au cœur de la préfecture de Police de Paris et du commissariat général aux Questions juives (1940-1944), Paris, Grasset, 2011, p. 131-145.

4 Saul Friedländer, Nazi Germany and the Jews: Volume 1: The Years of Persecution 1933-1939, Harper Perrenial, 1998, p. 142.

5 From the Reich Citizenship Law of September 15, 1935, and the First Regulation to the Reich Citizenship Law of November 14, 1935. This translation is taken from: United States Chief Counsel for the Prosecution of Axis Criminality, Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, Volume IV, Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1946, Documents 1416-PS and 1417-PS, p. 7-10.

6 Hitler himself was the one to arbitrate in favor of these criteria. Ibid., p. 155.

7 So as to not give the impression that they wanted to impose German racist principles on the French.

8 Translation from Richard H. Weisberg, Vichy Law and the Holocaust in France, OPA, 1996, p. 40.

9 In addition to this primary boundary there was another, strictly religious but only having been applied to a very limited degree: the case of converts to the Jewish faith. The few concerned people were no longer considered Jewish by the new legislation when it took effect in June 1940.

10 Accused of disguised clericalism since the Dreyfuss Affair, French anti-Semites were determined to show that they went after Jewish people for political and “ethnic” reasons, not religious ones.

11 Article 1 of the law of 3 October 1940 “concerning the status of Jews.” This English translation comes from Weisberg, Vichy Law and the Holocaust in France, op. cit., p. 39.

12 Approximately 3000 people were dismissed from the administration in application of the statute of October 1940. The occupier’s ordinances affected more people: over 170,000 people were identified as Jewish in the census (150,000 of them in Paris) and all “Jewish businesses” were put under “provisional administration” in order to be despoiled.

13 “Half-Jewish” children and unmarried people were actually spared by the “Jewish Statute.”

14 On the dynamic of one-upmanship propelled by Vallat, see my analysis in Vichy dans la “solution finale,” op. cit., p. 183-275.

15 Vallat avoided using the word “race” in his earlier plans (see illustration), but ultimately adopted it.

16 Upon reading a letter sent to him by an unreligious “half-Jew” married to a Catholic woman who was subjected to repercussions from the persecution of her husband, Vallat angrily noted in the margin: “They shouldn’t marry Jews” (his handwriting is recognizable). National Archives, AJ38 182, letter from M. to CGQJ, 4 September 1941; annotated by Vallat.

17 Male or even female (the interest of the faith having primacy over patria potestas).

18 See the enlightening article by Isabelle Poutrin, “La captation de l’enfant de converti. L’évolution des normes canoniques à la lumière de l’antijudaïsme des xvie- xviiie siècles,” Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, no 62-2/3, 2015, p. 40-62.

19 National Archives, 2AG 536, note from Admiral Darlan to Minister of the State Moysset, 15 January 1942.

20 National Archives, F37 38, note on the Jewish Statute, January or February 1942.

21 See Laurent Joly, L’État contre les juifs. Vichy, les nazis et la persécution antisémite (1940-1944), revised and updated edition, Paris, Flammarion, 2020 [2018], p. 181-183.

22 National Archives, AJ38 212, ruling by the Aix Court of Appeal (5th penal chamber), 12 May 1942.

23 Jurisclasseur 32, 9 August 1942, 1958.

24 National Archives, AJ38 145 and AL 4480, folder 131773, opinion of the Conseil d’État, 11 December 1942.

25 The Conseil d’État has two main functions: guardian of the law and the supreme administrative court. The High Court (Haute Juridiction) counsels the government in the drafting and interpretation of laws and decrees (in such situations it gives opinions). In the Litigation Section (Section du Contentieux) it plays its traditional role as judge of common law: it gives rulings on motions for annulment on private individuals’ accusations of the abuse of power against the administration, and serves as appellate judge for judgments or decisions rendered by administrative tribunals (in which case, the Conseil d’État delivers a ruling).

26 National Archives, AJ38 127 and F60 1441, Conseil d’État decision, 2 April 1943.

27 Over 10,000 provisional certificates of non-belonging (known as “letters of presumption”) were made, and nearly 5000 “ambiguous cases” were classified as Jewish by the CGQJ, which demonstrates how widespread the problems raised by the legal definition of Jewish were. See Laurent Joly, Vichy dans la “solution finale,” op. cit., p. 531-541.

28 See ibid., p. 541-550.

29 A sample letter quoted in Joseph Billig, Le Commissariat général aux Questions juives (1941-1944), v. 2, Paris, Éditions du Centre, 1957, p. 182.

30 National Archives, AJ38 178, letter from Boutmy to the Paris Prefecture of Police, 1 December 1943.

31 National Archives, AJ38 165, letter from Boutmy to the Paris Prefecture of Police, 23 March 1944.

32 National Archives, AJ38 194, letter from Boutmy to the Paris Prefecture of Police, 30 December 1943.

33 Nathan Wachtel made a brilliant analysis of the modernity of the procedures (Nathan Wachtel, La Logique des bûchers, Paris, Seuil, 2009).

34 One major difference separated the two policies and periods, however. The logic of the Inquisition intended to eradicate Marranism, first and foremost by the subjection and absorption of Jews into Catholic unity, and secondarily by eliminating people. The policies of anti-Semitic persecution of the twentieth century took note of Jewishness, by then tolerated as a religion. Post-religious non-democratic States henceforth wanted to control the cultural specificity of Jews and limit their rights. The goal was no longer conversion and melding into the national whole, but the contrary, identification and a specific status. Jewishness was no longer fought as a religion, but as a ferment of national division.

35 See my work on this small office and its agents: L’Antisémitisme de bureau, op. cit., p. 115-169, as well as “French Bureaucrats and Anti-Jewish Persecution: The ‘Jewish Service’ of the Paris Police Prefecture, 1940-1944”, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, no 33/1, 2019, p. 39-59.

36 André Broc, La Qualité de juif. Une notion juridique nouvelle, Paris, PUF, 1943, p. 69-79.

37 Ideally, he wrote, “any individual who, without being of the Judaic race or religion, actually behaves as a Jewish national” should be considered as Jewish. Ibid., p. 24.

38 National Archives, Z6 1385, exhibit 79, ethno-racial examination of 24 May 1943. Probably “half-Jewish,” the concerned party obtained a “provisional certificate” of “non-belonging to the Jewish race” (National Archives, AJ38 175, letter from Boutmy to Denise K.-W., 25 November 1943).

39 National Archives, AJ38 3953, ethno-racial examination of Emmanuel O., 17 November 1943. The O. couple obtained a “provisional certificate” from the CGQJ in January, 1944. The corruption is obvious in this case, which was defended by an effective lawyer.

40 A subtle analysis by Léon Poliakov, Sur les traces du crime, Paris, Berg International, 2003, p. 109.

41 This spans Jules Isaac, David Nirenberg, Uriel Tal, Jacob Katz, Giovanni Miccoli, and Léon Poliakov (in the reformulated edition of Histoire de l’antisémitisme, published in 1981). See the vast historiographic analysis of Nina Valbousquet, “Tradition catholique et matrice de l’antisémitisme à l’époque contemporaine,” Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, no 62-2/3, 2015, p. 63-88, and Steven Englund, “De l’antijudaïsme à l’antisémitisme, et à rebours,” Annales. Histoire, Sciences sociales, no 69-4, 2014, p. 901-924. See also Elsa Marmursztejn, “La hantise de la téléologie dans l’historiographie médiévale de l’hostilité antijuive,” Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, no 62-2/3, 2015, p. 19-24.

Haut de page

Table des illustrations

Légende Draft legislation to replace the “Jewish Statute” of 3 October 1940, corrected and annotated by Xavier Vallat (National Archives, AJ38 1143)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/acrh/docannexe/image/12060/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 255k
Légende Notes of an employee of the Paris Prefecture of Police on the subject of the CGQJ’s arbitrary decisions on “half-Jews” (Vayssettes Archives)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/acrh/docannexe/image/12060/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 531k
Légende Left: André Broc (1909-1997), bureaucrat in the “Jewish Service” of the Prefecture of Police. Right: the “raceologist” George Montandon (1879-1944)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/acrh/docannexe/image/12060/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 201k
Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Laurent Joly, « The boundary between “Judaism” and “Aryanism”: Anti-Semitic logic, litigation, and bureaucratic practices relating to the classification of “half-Jews” in Occupied France (1940-1944) », L’Atelier du Centre de recherches historiques [En ligne], 22 bis | 2021, mis en ligne le , consulté le 28 février 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/acrh/12060 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/acrh.12060

Haut de page

Auteur

Laurent Joly

Laurent Joly is a senior researcher for the CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) at the Centre de Recherches Historiques at EHESS, Paris. He has written nearly 70 academic publications, including the monographs L’antisémitisme de bureau. Enquête au cœur de la préfecture de Police de Paris et du commissariat général aux Questions juives (1940-1944) (Paris, Grasset, 2011, 447 p.), Naissance de l’Action française. Maurice Barrès, Charles Maurras et l’extrême droite nationaliste au tournant du xxe siècle (Paris, Grasset, 2015, 377 p.), and L’État contre les juifs. Vichy, les nazis et la persécution antisémite (1940-1944) (updated edition, Paris, Flammarion/Champs histoire, 2020 (first edition 2018), 372 p.).

Articles du même auteur

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
L'Atelier du Centre de recherches historiques – Revue électronique du CRH est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 3.0 France.

Haut de page
  • Logo CRH - Centre de recherches historiques
  • Logo DOAJ - Directory of Open Access Journals
  • OpenEdition Journals
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search