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Dictionnaire testimonial et mémoriel

The Righteous

Les Justes
De Rechtvaardigen
Sarah Gensburger
Traduction de Sarah Voke
p. 191-192
Cet article est une traduction de :
Les Justes [fr]

Texte intégral

1For more than ten years now, the “Righteous of France” regularly receive the highest honours from the State. Considered today as vernacular, the term “Righteous” however only appeared recently within national vocabulary.

Wall of the Righteous.

Wall of the Righteous.

Wall of the Righteous, inaugurated on 14 June 2006). Mémorial de la Shoah. Paris (2014).

© Philippe Mesnard.

2On 19 August 1953, in Israel, the members of the Knesset voted for the creation of the Yad Vashem Institute in order to preserve the memory of the martyrs and the heroes of the genocide; borrowing an originally Talmudic expression, they entrusted it with the commemoration of the “Righteous Among the Nations”, “non-Jews who risked their lives to help Jews”. Due to the material difficulties the Yad Vashem met, this mission however went unheeded until the Eichmann trial and the creation of a department dedicated to the Righteous in 1963. Since then, a commission presided by a Supreme Court judge gives a ruling on the basis of two testimonies from Jewish people who considered to have been saved. The nominations were occasions to present a medal and a diploma during an official ceremony led by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign affairs.

3Until the mid-1980s, few French people were recognized as Righteous. From 1985, however, former Jewish Resistant fighters mobilized to make the title known in France. On 1 January 2014, France counted 3,760 Righteous. During the initial period, ceremonies awarding medals were rare and most often organized in a community or an Israeli place, they now take place nearly systematically in town halls and benefit from extensive publicity. The national Assembly celebrated for the first time the saviours in 1995. During his historical speech dating from 16 July, the President of the Republic, Jacques Chirac, recognized the “Righteous Among the Nations” as new national heroes.

4This speech marked the beginning of the progressive recovery of the Israeli honorific category by the French State. On 10 July 2000, the Parliament thus pronounced 16 July as the “Day of commemoration of racist and anti-Semitic crimes committed by the French State and of tribute to the ‘Righteous’ of France”. In January 2007, at the request of the Foundation for the Remembrance of the Shoah, Jacques Chirac inaugurated a plaque in the crypt of the Pantheon to signify the “Homage of the Nation to the Righteous of France”. The grand ceremony received a political consensus. While widening the Israeli notion in order to include all those who still are, and who shall forever remain, “anonymous”, this commemorative text succeeds in including those who from now are qualified by the term “‘Righteous’ of France” within national historical memory.

5These new heroes serve the same rhetorical function as the former Resistant fighters did. Indeed, it is a proven historical fact that three quarters of the Jews present in France in 1940 did not face deportation. The few thousands of Righteous recognized by the Yad Vashem then merely constituted a small part of the saviours, who were a majority within the French population. The second part of this reasoning has but few historiographic foundations. If it is certain that the records established within the frame of the procedure of awarding the Israeli title only list some of the individuals that indeed helped Jews, there are very few works by historians that explain the reasons for the survival of three quarter of French Jews, and they are most often incomplete and present gaps. Among the hypotheses considered today by researchers, are the relative diversity of the French society, the vastness of the territory and its rural space, the differed occupation of the Southern Zone or furthermore the existence of borders with neutral countries, to only cite a few. Here, as is often the case, memory precedes history.

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Cabanel, Patrick, Histoire des Justes de France, Paris: Armand Colin, 2012.

Gensburger, Sarah, Les Justes de France: Politiques publiques de la mémoire, Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2010.

Sémelin, Jacques, Persécutions et entraides dans la France occupée, Paris: Le Seuil, 2013.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Wall of the Righteous.
Légende Wall of the Righteous, inaugurated on 14 June 2006). Mémorial de la Shoah. Paris (2014).
Crédits © Philippe Mesnard.
Fichier image/jpeg, 112k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Sarah Gensburger, « The Righteous »Témoigner. Entre histoire et mémoire, 118 | 2014, 191-192.

Référence électronique

Sarah Gensburger, « The Righteous »Témoigner. Entre histoire et mémoire [En ligne], 118 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 octobre 2015, consulté le 11 avril 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Sarah Gensburger

CNRS/ISP (Université Paris Ouest Nanterre)

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