A historian from the northern French town of Mantes-la-Jolie has taken on the major task of reviving the memory of his hometown’s “forgotten Jews” who were deported and perished in the Holocaust, almost without being noticed.
Roger Colombier’s new book The Forgotten Jews of Mantes-La-Jolie remembers the story of three Jewish families from the picturesque town in the western suburbs of Paris, located within the Occupied Zone of wartime France.
The account of the families’ fate symbolizes the destiny shared by many other Jewish families from small towns in the wider Mantais region.
According to Colombier, unlike mass round-ups of French Jewry in major cities, the persecution of Jews in small French communes was carried out quietly and barely noticed by local residents.
“I am neither Jewish, nor affiliate to any other religion. But I always have my heart set on fighting against discrimination where my fellow citizens are the victims,” Colombier told The Jerusalem Post.
“I also wanted to show the commitment of the Jews against the occupying Nazis and the French collaborators who ran France at the time,” he added.
Colombier tells the story of Moszek Zolty, a Polish saddler who found his death following deportation to Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. Zolty’s wife and two children escaped thanks to the efforts of the French Resistance.
Another family, the Mittelchteins, fled town to Saint-Girons in the Pyrenees to avoid deportation. The father joined the Free French Forces after escaping France. His wife and three children, who believed they had escaped the danger after reaching Nice, were later rounded up by Nazi forces and perished at Auschwitz.
Finally, Colombier details the fate of Albert Schimianski, his wife and two children. They were all deported to Auschwitz and murdered in 1944.
“Three Jewish families, different in their everyday life and fate, but all persecuted by the same racial ideology of the Nazi regime,” says Colombier.
“In my work I also mention the Affiche Rouge (“Red Poster”) members of the resistance who were condemned to death, of whom the majority were Jewish immigrants.”
The historian was assisted in his research by local school students and their professor who obtained testimonies and scoured a range of archives for information on the town’s former Jewish residents.
“Last June, as a result of my research, the Mantes-la-Jolie municipality vowed to honor all the persecuted Jews and those deported to their deaths,” Colombier told the Post.
“I am in favor of a monument in their honor in our town, alongside those of the many patriots in the field of honor who fell in the ranks of the local Resistance.”