The Catastrophe 1943–45

  • Norman C. Tobias


On 17 October 1942, the date of completion of Les Oligarques, the Isaacs were ensconced in their La Pergola, Aix-en-Provence, but not for long. On 11 November, in response to the Allied landings in North Africa, the German army moved southward to occupy the southern zone, and the Italian army, westward into eight departments east of the Rhône River, “ending the relative peace and quiet of our aixoise sojourn,” in Isaac’s words. Following the arrival of the German forces in the southern zone, Jules and Laure departed from La Pergola without notice to neighbors and sought refuge in the Protestant department of Haute-Loire, then a haven for Jews. By 11 December 1942, the date of adoption by the Vichy government (not the German occupation authorities) of a law requiring all French and foreign Jews in the southern zone to have their identity and ration cards stamped “Juif,” the Isaacs had arrived in Chambon-sur-Lignon (Haute-Loire). This village was home to the courageous pastor and righteous among the Nations, André Trocmé, as well as to Daniel Isaac, who had begun teaching classics at Collège cévenol in 1941. From Le Chambon, Jules and Laure were temporarily housed in an abandoned farmhouse in Ladret, pending their relocation to a hotel room in the village of Saint-Agrève (Ardèche). Shortly after settling into their permanent lodging, the Isaacs received a visit from Resistance member and rabbinical student, André Chouraqui, who remembered his first encounter with Isaac this way:

On a day in November 1942, someone told me, ‘Go to near Saint-Agrève, a man has need for false identity and ration cards so he can continue to live a clandestine existence, his name is Jules Isaac.’ I went immediately and there, before my eyes, to my astonishment (having graduated from university), was none other than the author of the books that had been a part of my secondary curriculum. We shook hands. He seated himself at a table from which he picked up a thin cahier d’écolier, which he handed me when he learned that I was a student at the l’Ecole Rabbinique de France, that I had an interest in the Bible and that I could read Hebrew. I can see in my mind’s eye this thin cahier whose pages were covered by Jules Isaac’s script, so beautiful, so clear, so firm, so honest and so solid. He had penned a title on the cover page of this thin school notebook: ‘Christians, don’t forget!’

The thoughts and reflections inside this notebook, prompted by the question of whether antisemitism might have roots in Christianity, represented the earliest stages of what would become Jésus et Israël. These thoughts and reflections would also influence the course of Chouraqui’s own life trajectory.

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© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Norman C. Tobias
    • 1
  1. 1.University of TorontoTorontoCanada

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