French Jewry’s Dilemma on the Orientation of its Leadership: from Polemics to Conciliation: 1942-1944
France’s Jewish community was long led by the Central Consistory from the time of its establishment by Napoleon in 1808. The Consistory espoused assimilation and considered Judaism a religion to be preserved within this framework. When Vichy France was declared, the secular Union Générale des Israélites de France (UGIF) was compulsorily imposed to join together all the Jews of France. The Consistory considered this a threat to its existence and while not boycotting it, the two organizations were at loggerheads. Both attempted, mostly unsuccessfully, to pressure the Vichy and German authorities to treat the Jews in the same way they treated non-Jewish French citizens. However, subsequent to the massive deportations from both the Northern and Vichy (Southern) zones, coupled with severe economic restraints, there was a delayed rapprochement between the organizations. Despite the difficult times, the Consistory only agreed, very late in the day, to the unification of the two bodies into an umbrella organization for the whole of French Jewry — Conseil Représentatif des Juifs de France (CRIF), the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions.