Rue des Rosiers and other streets

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

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.

Rue des Rosiers

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)

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. 

Wine store « La Vendangeuse »
rue des Rosiers,
at the corner with rue des Ecouffes,
in 1910 by Atget

In his book the Parisian pedestrian, published in 1939, the writer Leon-Paul Fargue described the district, saying that it was not a ghetto like in Poland or Romania; it was rather like a small country bordered by the streets: rue du Roi-de-Sicile, rue Ferdinand-Duval, rue Vieille du Temple; its center was located at the corner of rue des Ecouffes and rue des Rosiers, with the bookstore Speiser, where all the Jewish were meeting.
Wolf Speiser, born in Odessa in 1869, published by 1910 a book for  newcomers providing different information, like the spelling of street and station names.
For instance, Saint-Lazare station, Gare Saint-Lazare was spelled “gar san lazar” and translated into Yiddishvogsal san lasar”.
Next to the bookstore, 34 rue des Rosiers, was a wine store, la Vendangeuse (the grape picker). Today, these two shops have been transformed into one shop famous for its  falafel rolls. Living side by side in harmony, the Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews (originating from eastern Europe) and Sephardic Jews (from Spain, North Africa and the Middle East) are perpetuating the Jewish community established since a long time.

Rue Ferdinand-Duval

Rue Ferdinand-Duval
At the back rue des Rosiers
Atget
(Musée Carnavalet)

In the past, this street was named Rue des Juifs - The street of the Jews; its name changed during the Dreyfus affair, a political scandal which divided France. It was changed in 1900 into the name of Ferdinand Duval (prefect). Today, there are still traditional shops which can be found in this street, like this general store selling menorahs and religious items, but they are more and more replaced by trendy stores like in rue des Rosiers.

The hotel de Cormery, 20 rue Ferdinand-Duval was built during the 16th century. At the back of the yard, the building is also from the 16th, except the small pavilion added in 1846. In the past it was called the Jews House because the owner of the first house built in the 14th century was Manessier de Vesouls, Attorney of the Jews Community.

  • "Hôtel des Juifs"
    20 rue Ferdinand-Duval
    1910 Atget
    (Musée Carnavalet)

  • "Hôtel des Juifs"
    20 rue Ferdinand-Duval
    1910 Atget
    (Musée Carnavalet)

Rue des Ecouffes

Rue des Ecouffes
(At the back rue des Rosiers)
Atget
(Musée Carnavalet)

It seems there was a sign board representing a popular poem written in the 13rd century by Jean Renart, l'Escoufle (“The Kite”) which gave this name to the street. The kite is a bird of prey which name is also used as a reference to Jewish moneylenders who were living in the street in the Middle Ages …

© Copyright Year 2016 - Martine Combes author for text and photos of today Paris