Thursday, 5 August 2010

French Jews Fight for their Names

After witnessing the fervour with which their countrymen turned on them (or just turned a completely blind eye) and helped the police round up their families to be shipped off in les "Convois" to their deaths, many Jews decided to change their family name as a form of protection. Some of them had assumed Catholic names and identities during the war (especially children who were in hiding) and simply kept these names, others changed their names after the war and even into the 1960s fearing that 'it could happen again.' Not only did many survivors change their names, they also hid or completely distanced themselves from their Jewish identity as a form of self-preservation. Even recent interviews with the Second and Third Generation indicate that a number of survivors' descendents living in France feel they would have been limited in their career paths and faced discrimination if they had Jewish sounding last names. These individuals who lived through unspeakable horrors, many of whom lost their families, thought the best way to ensure their safety and that of their children was to erase their Jewish identity. And now they want it back:

But their children and grandchildren see their old names as a trail of their family history. The problem is, French law doesn't allow someone to revert to a former name. And on the rare occasions requests are considered, officials insist that the whole family must agree.

"I started by filing requests at the State Council 25 years ago, before my daughter was born. I wanted to give her my real name," said Olivier Rubinstein, now Raimbaud.

"My parents changed our name in the sixties because they did not want us to be subjected to antisemitism. They'd been through the war. After my first request, I was told I cannot reclaim what's considered a foreign name."

For 200 years French law has stipulated that family names are "immutable" and must be continued. People can change their last name if it sounds ridiculous or foreign. They can also claim another name if it's about to disappear. But this only applies to "French" names.

About a dozen people formed an association called The Strength of the Name and were received at the justice ministry and filed four new individual requests for name changes.

"We're waiting to see how this procedure goes before we decide how to move forward," said founder CĂ©line Masson. "We insist that we're not asking to change names but to get our names back. It's completely different."

Yes, it is completely different. There are many families where only a few people survived - and if their names are not restored to this generation they will be gone from history forever. Eradicated as though they never existed - as was the original intention.

These names must be restored.