08 March 2024

A small square in front of
a school in the Marais
remembers the children
of the Holocaust in Paris

The school on rue des Hospitalières-Saint-Gervais in the Marais … 260 Jewish children from the school rounded up and murdered during the Holocaust (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Le Parvis des 260-Enfants or the Square of the 260 Children is a tiny square or small open area in the Marais in Paris, in front of the elementary school of Hospitalières-Saint-Gervais, rue des Hospitalières-Saint-Gervais.

The Marais is the historic centre of the Jewish community in Paris and I spent some time a few weeks ago, visiting synagogues, shops, cafés and other sites associated with Jewish life and history in Paris, and the two museums that document the history of Jews in France: the Shoah Memorial, the Holocaust Museum of Paris, and the Jewish Museum of Art and History (mahJ).

The name of Le Parvis des 260-Enfants recalls how 260 Jewish children from the school on rue des Hospitalières-Saint-Gervais were deported during the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup on 16-17 July 1942 and then murdered in the Nazi death camps.

The school stands on the site of the former Marché Blancs-Manteaux market. The courtyard is housed in the old cut stone hall that once served as a butchery pavilion, first opened in 1823. This explains the twinned fountains on the façade with ox-heads whose horns and cheeks are decorated with fruits and pendants. The sculptures were made in an ancient Assyrian style in 1819 by the sculptor Edme Gaulle and were listed as historic monuments in 1970.

The school was founded in the Marais in 1844 and opened in 1847 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The school was founded in 1844, when Paris City Hall decided to provide a secular school for children in the Jewish community, with boys on one side (No 6) and girls on the other (No 10). Although financing was mainly from public or municipal sources, extra support came from the Consistory representing Jewish communities in Paris. Due to support from Baroness de Rothschild, the school was sometimes known as ‘the Rothschild school’ at the end of the 19th century.

An inscription above the boys’ door reads: ‘Communal Primary School for Young Israelite Boys – Mutual School – Municip Fund. June MDCCCXLIV’ (1844). A similar inscription above the girls’ entrance reads: ‘Communal Primary School for Young Israelite Girls – Mutual School.’

The school opened in 1847, with 338 boys and 370 girls in its early years. The first schoolgirl was five-year-old Sophie Léopold, the daughter of a shoemaker. Unlike other schools in Paris, the school closed on Saturday, and instead opened on Thursday, the day off in other schools. There was no religious instruction and neither teachers nor students were required to be Jewish.

During the Nazi occupation, Jewish people in France were forced to wear the yellow Star of David and were banned from certain professions and public places. Some deportations to the concentration camps began in 1940, and group roundups began in 1941. During the occupation, 76,000 of France’s 330,000 Jews were deported – and only 2,500 or so survivors returned.

On 16 and 17 July 1942, 13,152 Jews were rounded up. Of these, 8,160 people, including 4,115 children, were first taken to the Vél’ d’Hiv, the Vélodrome d’Hiver, an indoor bicycle racing track and stadium near the Eiffel Tower. They were held there for five days with little food and water and with no sanitary facilities, and eventually were deported to Auschwitz. The Vel’ d’Hiv roundup is recounted in the film La Rafle (2010).

Most schools in the Marais have placards recalling the Shoah or the Holocaust (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Most schools in the Marais have black placards with gold lettering recalling the Shoah or the Holocaust. Outside the school on Rue des Hospitalières Saint-Gervais, however, the placard is white with gold lettering. In all, 260 children from the school were deported during World War II, including 165 children in the Vél’ d’Hiv roundup. When the summer holidays came to an end, only two pupils on the school roll turned up when term commenced in October.

A plaque on the school reads: ‘To the memory of the children of this school deported between 1942 and 1944 because they were born Jewish. They were innocent victims of Nazi barbarism and the active complicity of the Vichy Government. They were exterminated in the death camps. May we never forget them.’

The stark language is haunting. The phrase ‘who were born Jewish’ is not the same as ‘who were Jewish.’ Under the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, the Nazis developed a ‘mixed-blood test’ to determine who was officially Jewish. The test defined as Jewish someone with one Jewish parent or one Jewish grandparent. To be Jewish was not necessarily about faith, culture or chosen identity, but was defined using pseudoscientific ideas based on the racist concept of multiple human ‘races.’ In all, over 11,000 children were deported from France to the east and the concentration camps ‘because they were born Jewish.’

The twinned ox-head fountains on the façade were made by the sculptor Edme Gaulle and are listed as historic monuments (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The head of Ecole des Hospitalières-Saint-Gervais, Joseph Migneret (1888-1949), watched as his pupils were almost totally nearly wiped out. At the start of the new school year on 1 October 1942, only four children turned up.

Migneret, who was not a Jew, joined an underground network to help children and their families to escape. He was actively involved in the Resistance, forging papers and hiding children in his home. Through the effort of Migneret and people like him, the lives of dozens of people were saved.

Migneret died shortly after World War II ‘of sadness at seeing what was done to his students’, according to one of the survivors. He was recognised as one of the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, thanks to the testimony of Milo Adoner a former Jewish deportee. His name is inscribed among the 2,693 ‘Righteous of France’ on the Allée des Justes Monument.

A plaque remembers his actions: ‘To Joseph Migneret, teacher and director of this school from 1920 to 1944 who, through his courage and at the risk of his life, saved dozens of Jewish children from deportation. His grateful former students.’

A commemorative plaque was on the façade was unveiled on 7 May 1971 in memory of this tragedy. Two additional commemorative plaques nearby remember Lyon Léopold, a teacher at the school from 1853 to 1900, and Fernand Lévy-Wogue (1867-1944), founding president of the association of former students of the schools on rue des Tournelles and rue des Hospitalières-Saint-Gervais.

The square in front of the school was renamed the 260-Enfants square in 2018 at a ceremony attended by Anne Hidalgo, the first woman Mayor of Paris, the politician Patrick Bloche and Ariel Weil, who has been the Mayor of Paris Centre since 2020 – his wife Delphine Horvilleur is France’s third female rabbi.

Shabbat Shalom

The square in front of the school was renamed the 260-Enfants square in 2018 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Lent with
early English saints:
24, 8 March 2024,
Alcuin of York

A woodcut image of Alcuin of York by Kreg Yingst

Patrick Comerford

The Season of Lent began on Ash Wednesday (14 February 2024), and this week began with the Third Sunday in Lent (Lent III, 3 March 2024).

The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today (8 March) remembers Edward King (1910), Bishop of Lincoln, Saint Felix (647), Bishop and Apostle to the East Angles, and Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy (1929), Priest and Poet.

Throughout Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on the lives of early, pre-Reformation English saints commemorated in Common Worship.

Before this day begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, A reflection on an early, pre-Reformation English saint;

2, today’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Alcuin’s library in York was destroyed by the Vikings in 866 … York Minster Library has been housed in the 13th-century Archbishops’ Chapel since 1810 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Early English pre-Reformation saints: 24, Alcuin of York

Alcuin of York is commemorated in the calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship on 20 May. Alcuin was descended from a noble Northumbrian family. Although the date and place of his birth are not known, he was probably born in 735 in or near York.

He entered the cathedral school in York as a child, continued as a scholar and became master. In 781, he went to Aachen as adviser to Charlemagne on religious and educational matters and as Master of the Palace School, where he established an important library.

Although not a monk and only in deacon’s orders, in 796 he became Abbot of Tours in 796, and he died there in the year 804. Alcuin wrote poetry, revised the lectionary, compiled a sacramentary and was involved in other significant liturgical work.

The old library at York Minster now houses the gift shop (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Mark 12: 28-34 (NRSVA):

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ 29 Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” 31 The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ 32 Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; 33 and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbour as oneself”, – this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question.

The library at York Minister is regarded by many as the most important cathedral library in Britain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayers (Friday 8 March 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘International Women’s Day Reflection.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by the Right Revd Beverley A Mason, Bishop of Warrington.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (8 March 2024, International Women’s Day) invites us to pray with these words:

Let us pray for women throughout the world. May they know dignity, equality and fullness of life, and courage and solidarity in the face of oppression.

The Collect:

God of peace,
who gave such grace to your servant Edward King
that whomever he met he drew to Christ:
fill us, we pray, with tender sympathy and joyful faith,
that we also may win others
to know the love that passes knowledge;
through him who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls,
Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God, shepherd of your people,
whose servant Edward King revealed the loving service of Christ
in his ministry as a pastor of your people:
by this eucharist in which we share
awaken within us the love of Christ
and keep us faithful to our Christian calling;
through him who laid down his life for us,
but is alive and reigns with you, now and for ever.

Yesterday: Saint Boniface of Crediton

Tomorrow: Saint Swithun of Winchester

York Minster … Alcuin entered the cathedral school in York as a child and later became master (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org