Administrative archival documents date the presence of Jews in Toulouse to the 800s. The city of Toulouse is part of this flourishing Jewish life from the Middle Ages close to Spain and Languedoc. As confirmed by the presence in the 11th century of Moses Hadarshan (originally from Narbonne) and his son Judah, whose pupil, Menahem Bar Helbo, will introduce Rashi to Mediterranean Jewish science.
There was then in Toulouse a Jewish quarter of which the synagogue was the center. It was located between the south of the Place des Carmes and the Place Rouaix and between the rue des Filatiers and the rue Saint-Rémésy. The Jewish cemetery was located near the Château Narbonnais, then when the king took possession of the place, at the end of the 13th century, it was relocated to a field bought by the Jews near the Porte de Montoulieu.
While they enjoyed a relatively good understanding with the local authorities, the Pope sent a letter to Count Raymond Vi, urging that Jews no longer participate in public life. From Alfonse de Poitiers, the brother of Saint-Louis, seizing Toulouse in 1249 until the expulsion of the Jews from France ordered by Philippe le Bel in 1306, their situation gradually deteriorated. During the 14th century, some of the expelled Jews will be allowed to return and then expelled again. This on several occasions. A crusade of adolescents from Paris raged in the country in 1320, with devastating effects in the southwest.
Francisco Sanchez, born in a Jewish family in Portugal, studied in Bordeaux and Montpellier. He moved to Toulouse in 1581, where he practiced medicine. He became dean of the Faculty of Medicine in 1621 but was best known for his skeptical philosophical work: Quod nihil scitur (1580). A work published at the same time as the Essais de Montaigne, a philosopher also linked to Toulouse.
In the 17th century, when a group of Marranos attempted to settle in Toulouse, they were tried by an Inquisition tribunal in 1685. In the spirit of the emancipation granted by the French Revolution and Napoleon, the situation of the Jews improved in France in the 19th century. In the 1807 census, there were 87 Jews in Toulouse. Mainly traders from Avignon or working as a peddler.
Rabbi Léon Oury, originally from Alsace, was the first, in 1852, to officially practice in Toulouse for several centuries. Other Jewish personalities in Toulouse include Jassuda-David Musca, who in 1867 created a committee of the Alliance Israelite Universelle in Toulouse. But also Léon Cohn, the prefect of the city (from 1886 to 1894) and one of the founders of the labor exchange, the philosopher Frédéric Rauh and the poet Ephraïm Mikhaël, close to Bernard Lazare with whom he will write a play La Fiancée de Corinthe.
In 1887, there were only 350 Jews in Toulouse. Waves of migration from Alsace-Lorraine following the war of 1870 and between the wars in Eastern Europe and Turkey will increase this number. Among them, students from Poland and the Balkans attracted by the good study conditions at the University of Toulouse.
At the start of World War II, Toulouse welcomed refugees such as Léon Blum. Many Jews fleeing the German army ended up in the south and were interned in camps in the region, such as Gurs, Noé and Récébédou. Monsignor Saliège sent a letter of protest concerning the fate of the Jews which was read in all the churches of the diocese. In August 1942 the first deportations began to the camps in the East. The free zone was occupied from November and the deportations accelerated.
The Resistance is very active in Toulouse and Jews are joining its ranks in large numbers. Among the groups in place, the 35th FTP-MOI brigade which, under Marcel Langer, carried out numerous attacks. But also the Jewish Army, led by Abraham Polonski and Aaron-Lucien Lublin, the Israelites Scouts of France and the Jewish Combat Organization. The latter organized numerous convoy attacks and passages of combatants in the areas of struggle.
On July 17, 1944, several senior officials of the OJC, including Rabbi René Kapel, André Amar, César Chamay, Jacques Lazarus, Henri Pohoryles, Ernest Appenzeller and Maurice Loebenberg were trapped by the Gestapo. There were also women among the great figures of the Resistance. In particular Sarah-Ariane Fixman-Knout. While her husband took refuge in Switzerland with their children, she took up arms and was murdered on July 22, 1944.
Among the other figures of the Toulouse Resistance, Rabbi Moïse Cassorla and his successor at the synagogue of rue Palaprat, Rabbi Nathan Hosanski. This strong presence of Toulouse Jews in the Resistance was reflected after the war in the will of these fighters and survivors of the camps to rebuild Jewish life there.
In 1960, Toulouse had more than 3000 Jews. During this decade, the arrival of many Jews from North Africa allowed the community to grow, reaching 20,000 Jews in 1969. A relatively stable number since in 2020 there were between 15,000 and 20,000 Jews in Toulouse.
The city of Toulouse now has around ten synagogues, in addition to that of Palaprat mentioned above. Among them, the Adath Yéchouroun synagogue, Hekhal David, Beth Habad, Chaaré Emeth and the Association of Liberal Jews of Toulouse. The cultural association Hebraica accomplishes a lot of work in Toulouse, participating in the organization of the Days of Jewish Culture and the Spring of Israeli Cinema.
Toulouse today brings together one of the most dynamic communities in France. More than 20 years ago, it acquired the Espace du Judaisme (EDJ) which brings together the main associations (CRIF, ACIT and FSJU) and which is one of the largest European community centers.
The city has been marked, like many places in France, by an anti-Semitic wave since the turn of the century. The assassinations at the Otzar Hatorah school in Toulouse and those committed by the same terrorist against soldiers in Montauban deeply moved the nation in 2012.
Interview of Gilles Nacache (member of the CRIF Midi-Pyrénées’ steering committee), Yves Bounan (President of the ACIT) and Pierre Lasry (Secretary General of the Hebraica cultural assaciation).
Jguideeurope: From the great participation in the Resistance to the reconstruction of the post-war community, how do you explain the strong attachment of the Toulouse Jews to their city?
Gilles Nacache, Yves Bounan and Pierre Lasry: Toulouse Jews arrived in successive waves of immigration: Tsarist Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Germany, Poland, North Africa: from a few families at the start of the 19th century, we became one of the first communities in France and this mosaic of itineraries is undoubtedly the secret of our legendary cohesion and of the attachment that Toulouse Jews have for this somewhat Spanish-looking city, dynamic and rather young, with more than 100,000 students.
Toulouse was a bastion of the French and Jewish Resistance and the assassination of Marcel Langer, beheaded in Saint-Michel prison because he was a Jew, a foreigner and a Communist, is one of the outstanding episodes. Georges Cohen, one of the founders of the Jewish Army, the father of Monique Lise Cohen, an important figure who has just passed away, was also an example of the Jewish resistance in Toulouse.
Which place linked to Toulouse’s Jewish cultural heritage has particularly marked you?
The Palaprat synagogue is an emblematic place of Toulouse’s Jewish heritage. It was built in 1857 and it remains today the oldest synagogue, the one reserved for great patriotic ceremonies and official receptions. It has historically been the center of Jewish resistance in the south of Toulouse. It represents with its many wall plaques, a center of memory for more than a century for the regional Jewish community. A plaque in memory of Cardinal Saliège is also remarkable. The rabbinate of Toulouse extends its area of influence over 9 departments around Toulouse.
What events are organized in Toulouse to highlight this heritage?
The European Heritage Days are an opportunity to show a non-Jewish audience the Palaprat synagogue. An exhibition is set up in the adjoining courtyard to explain Jewish practice and the liturgy. Approximately 100 to 150 people show up every hour to attend the tour and lecture given at Palaprat. On Sunday in total, nearly 1,500 people visited it in 2018 and 2019. In addition, two festivals, the Spring of Israeli cinema and the Days of Jewish Culture, organized by the Hebraica association in Toulouse and around Toulouse , are an opportunity to receive lecturers, artists, authors, directors in the rooms or the synagogue of the Espace du Judaisme and in many other places as far as Albi and Montauban. We must also talk about a seminar “Teaching the Shoah” and intended for teachers of History and Geography and teachers of literature, which has been held in Toulouse every year for 3 years and gives the opportunity to teachers to visit a number of heritage places such as the old Gestapo, the Museum of Resistance and Deportation, and to end their seminar with a conference at the Palaprat synagogue.
What educational and cultural approaches were put in place following the 2012 attacks?
A memorial ceremony takes place every March 19 at the Ohr Torah school, it is an opportunity to recall the events that took place there, often in the presence of a minister and sometimes a head of state. The educational approaches are less known to the public but they probably exist in several establishments and with certainty at the Ohr Torah school. Last year, an alley in a public garden was named after the victims in the presence of Nicolas Sarkozy and several ministers. A delegation of imams led by Marek Halter was also received at Ohr Torah, as well as many visitors from marks such as the Conference of American Association Presidents or the Prime Minister of Ukraine and the CEO of the El Al Company.