Jewish district around rue des Rosiers

When we walked in the Temple district around Carreau du Temple, the second hand clothing market, we passed by streets where many Jews were working. They arrived in 1880, from central and eastern Europe running away from poverty and above all from persecutions. Other Ashkenazi Jews settled also in the district around rue des Rosiers and rue des Ecouffes  where they could find cheap rent. Traditionally, Jews were living in this area since the 13th century. Expelled from France in 1394, they were authorized to come back during the French Revolution. This  modest community was heavily impacted by the Holocaust from which very few survived.
We will start our tour rue des Rosiers,  which is still today the main street of the Jewish district. However, the street has been changing; it is today a pedestrian street where the traditional Jewish shops are standing alongside trendy shops and high-priced clothing stores. We will walk along the near-by rue des Ecouffes, rue Ferdinand-Duval and rue des Hospitalières-Saint-Gervais.

Corner rues des Rosiers et Ferdinand-Duval
 Atget  
(Musée Carnavalet)

Rue des Hospitalières-Saint-Gervais, 
Rue du Marché des Blancs Manteaux (on the right)
and rue des Rosiers (at the back).
1910 -  Atget
(Musée Carnavalet)

Rue des Rosiers

The Marquis de Rochegude ‘s Paris guide, published in 1910, was describing rue des Rosiers in those times as following:
Nowadays, nearly only Jews are living there as shown by many Jewish signboards, Hebrew writing in shop windows, Jewish butcher's shops, unleavened bread shops, etc. It is better to go there on Saturdays: you will hear many foreign languages  and you will see Semitic faces. It is the Parisian ghetto.


Let's now read some harrowing lines, full of humanity, from the poem Zone written by the poet Apollinaire:  

 And now you are crying at the sight of refugees
Who believe in God who pray whose women nurse babies
The hall of the train station is filled with the refugee-smell
Like the Magi refugees believe in their star
They expect to find silver mines in the Argentine
And to return like kings to their abandoned countries
One family carries a red eiderdown you carry your heart
Eiderdown and dreams are equally fantastic
Some of the refugees stay on in Paris settling
Into slums on the rue des Rosiers or the rue des Ecouffes
I have seen them often at dusk they breathe at their doorways
They budge from home as reluctantly as chessmen
They are chiefly Jewish the women wear wigs
And haunt backrooms of little shops in little chairs

From Alcools by Guillaume Apollinaire, translated by Donald Revell.

As mentioned by the poet, the center of their district was around rue des Rosiers and rue des Ecouffes that they used to call the pletzl, Yiddisch for "little place". Everywhere in these streets, many historical markers on buildings and schools remind us that most of them were deported and exterminated during the Second World War. This one on a school is telling that 165 children were deported to Auschwitz. An other reminds the courage of Joseph Migneret, a headmaster who saved many Jewish children at the risk of his life. His name is inscribed on the Wall of the Righteous,  that borders the Shoah Monument, which we passed by when we walked rue du Grenier-sur-l'Eau.  Reading these sad and harrowing markers everywhere in this district, make the stroll a little bit melancholy. When walking in these streets, it is as if those people who lived there are walking with you in silence;  all the sounds of the past like a homesick fiddle and Yiddish voices were swallowed by the asphalt recovering the pavement stones.