From the Writings of Rabbi Nadich: September 1944 – Shabbat Service in Paris

On the day after my arrival in Paris, I called upon the chief rabbi of the city, Julien Weill, who had miraculously returned from a German concentration camp but a short time before. I wished to pay my respects to him. In addition, hours after my coming to Paris, I received a message delivered by hand, inviting me to speak the very next day at the service of the Parisian Jewish community celebrating the liberation of the city from German occupation and I wanted more information. Besides, I needed to ask the chief rabbi if American soldiers would be welcome to attend synagogue services in Parisian synagogues throughout the city during the approaching High Holy Days, if they could not make it to American army services. Lastly, my plan was to conduct services weekly in different parts of Paris and I wished to use his own synagogue. La Grande Synagogue, known more familiarly as the Rothschild Synagogue, as one of the weekly locations. Rabbi Weill looked frail and gaunt and showed the effects of lack of food for a considerable period of time. He had a wispy white beard and spoke in gentle soft tones. He explained the program of the liberation service to take place on the morrow and my role in it and quickly agreed to my other requests. Then he asked me, “How is it that you speak French so freely?” I replied, “Monsieur le rabbin, it is because your brother was my French teacher in America.”

Strangely enough, that was the fact! Although I had started learning French in junior high school in Baltimore and had continued through high school and college, my last French teacher at the College of the City of New York was Professor Felix Weill, who had come to America from France many years before.

Rabbi Weill told me of what had happened during the period of the High Holy Days three years earlier. The Germans had heard that Jews come in crowds for the Kol Nidre service on Yom Kippur evening. Fortunately, however, the Germans were not aware of the fact that in the Jewish calendar the day begins at sundown the evening before. So on Kol Nidre evening in 1941, the synagogues were crowded with Jews at prayer. On the next evening, after the Day of Atonement had ended and the Jews had all returned home, the German-placed bombs exploded in the lobbies of all the synagogues of Paris. The nefarious plan was for the bombs to go off as the worshippers were exiting from their houses of worship on Kol Nidre night. The bombs exploding on the wrong night hurt no one but did do damage to the synagogues. Two were totally destroyed. The lobby of la Grande Synagogue had to be completely rebuilt.

Upon my return from my meeting with Chief Rabbi Weill, I went to the adjutant general’s office to have a notice sent to all staff sections about the liberation service the next day. A circular was widely distributed listing all the places where Jewish soldiers would find religious services on the High Holy Days, those to be conducted by Jewish army chaplains and those at French synagogues.

The service marking the liberation of Paris was held at five o’clock in the afternoon of the next day, September 7, 1944 at la Grande Synagogue. Services had not been held in the synagogues of Paris for three years, ever since the explosions of the German bombs. The reopened la Grande Synagogue was crowded with some two thousand people filling the main floor and the balcony and American soldiers in battle uniforms standing in the aisles, among them French soldiers and a lone British officer. It was to be a service of thanksgiving but the atmosphere was tense and laden with sorrow. Two cantors participated in the service, one chanting the memorial prayer for all the victims of the German occupation. Le Grand Rabbin Weill spoke with emotion, as did a French army Jewish chaplain. I then spoke, first in French, next in English for the American soldiers. As I would come to the end of a sentence and pause, I could hear the weeping of the women, all of them dressed in black. I choked, up, but managed to conclude my remarks. There was a surprising and spontaneous burst of applause when I finished, surprising, because applause should not be heard during a religious service. After the service people surrounded me as I tried to leave the synagogue, wringing my hands, kissing me, all while tears were rolling down their cheeks. Outside, on rue de la Victoire, people showered me with invitations to their homes.The experience was one of great emotion for the Jews of Paris. All of the feelings pent up within them, fear, grief, despair under the Nazis, mixed now with elation, relief, hope because of the liberation, burst forth at the sight of an American rabbi – he could have been any American Jewish chaplain – speaking to them in a service of liberation from German rule.


3 Responses to “From the Writings of Rabbi Nadich: September 1944 – Shabbat Service in Paris”

  1. 1 Dov Silverman September 24, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    I am using the Rabbi’s description as background for a story told tome by former army Sergeant Edyth Geiger. 38 Days after D-Day (the Normandy landing) the first service was held in La Grande Synagogue. It was Erev Rosh Hashanah. Edyth and three fellow U.S. Army women soldiers entered the synagogue. They were about to go up to the balcony with the women when word spread they were there. They were rushed to the front of the synagogue and given the prestigious seats near the Ark as an honor and way the French Jewish community said thank you to their liberators. I have published nine books in six languages, live in Israel as Edyth does and hope to include this in a book of short Jewish stories. Shalom dov Silverman

  2. 2 Anne Sharnoff Kasper April 10, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    Where can I find a reading of Rabbi Nadich’s words spoken that day in Sept 1944 in Paris in La Grande Synagogue? They must have been incredibly moving. Anne Sharnoff Kasper

  3. 3 Nigerian Arts and Culture NYC June 5, 2017 at 5:40 am

    I have read so many posts regarding the blogger
    lovers except this piece of writing is truly a pleasant
    post, keep it up.

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This is a tribute to Rabbi Judah Nadich z"l and Martha Hadassah Ribalow Nadich z"l, created and maintained by their family. If you have a memory or thought to share, please submit it to nadichblog at gmail dot com.

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