The new President of France has strong Jewish ethnic origins and understands the roots of Zionism and the case for the existence of Israel. Below, I have excerpted parts of an article written by Raanan Eliaz in the European Jewish Press that outlines the Sarkozy family’s origins and experience during the Holocaust. There is plenty of debate over whether Sarkozy’s Jewish ethnicity will materially influence French policies in the Middle East.
Puting this question aside, but drawing on my own family history and my father’s negative experiences with French anti-Semitism, in my view it’s a big deal that someone of Nicolas Sarkozy’s background, who is also a vocal supporter of improved relations with the United States, is the new leader of France. Bonne Chance, Monsieur President!
From the article:
"In an interview Nicolas Sarkozy gave in 2004, he expressed an
extraordinary understanding of the plight of the Jewish people
for a home: "Should I remind you the visceral attachment of
every Jew to Israel, as a second mother homeland? There is
nothing outrageous about it. Every Jew carries within him a fear
passed down through generations, and he knows that if one day he
will not feel safe in his country, there will always be a place
that would welcome him. And this is Israel." (From the book "La
République, les religions, l’espérance", interviews with Thibaud
Collin and Philippe Verdin.)
Sarkozy’s sympathy and understanding is most probably a product
of his upbringing; it is well known that Sarkozy’s mother was
born to the Mallah family, one of the oldest Jewish families of
Salonika, Greece. Additionally, many may be surprised to learn
that his yet-to-be-revealed family history involves a true and
fascinating story of leadership, heroism and survival. It
remains to be seen whether his personal history will affect his
foreign policy and France’s role in the Middle East conflict.
In the 15th century, the Mallah family (in Hebrew: messenger or
angel) escaped the Spanish Inquisition to Provence, France and
moved about one hundred years later to Salonika. In Greece,
several family members became prominent Zionist leaders, active
in the local and national political, economic, social and
cultural life. To this day many Mallahs are still active
Zionists around the world.
Sarkozy’s grandfather, Aron Mallah, nicknamed Benkio, was born
in 1890. Beniko’s uncle Moshe was a well-known Rabbi and a
devoted Zionist who, in 1898 published and edited "El Avenir",
the leading paper of the Zionist national movement in Greece at
the time. His cousin, Asher, was a Senator in the Greek Senate
and in 1912 he helped guarantee the establishment of the
Technion – the elite technological university in Haifa, Israel.
In 1919 he was elected as the first President of the Zionist
Federation of Greece and he headed the Zionist Council for
several years. In the 1930’s he helped Jews flee to Israel, to
which he himself immigrated in 1934. Another of Beniko’s
cousins, Peppo Mallah, was a philanthropist for Jewish causes
who served in the Greek Parliament, and in 1920 he was offered,
but declined, the position of Greece’s Minister of Finance.
After the establishment of the State of Israel he became the
country’s first diplomatic envoy to Greece.
In 1917 a great fire destroyed parts of Salonika and damaged the
family estate. Many Jewish-owned properties, including the
Mallah’s, were expropriated by the Greek government. Jewish
population emigrated from Greece and much of the Mallah family
left Salonika to France, America and Israel. Sarkozy’s
grandfather, Beniko, immigrated to France with his mother. When
in France Beniko converted to Catholicism and changed his name
to Benedict in order to marry a French Christian girl named
Adèle and Benedict had two daughters, Susanne and Andrée.
Although Benedict integrated fully into French society, he
remained close to his Jewish family, origin and culture. Knowing
he was still considered Jewish by blood, during World War II he
and his family hid in Marcillac la Croisille in the Corrèze
region, western France.
During the Holocaust, many of the Mallahs who stayed in Salonika
or moved to France were deported to concentration and
extermination camps. In total, fifty-seven family members were
murdered by the Nazis. Testimonies reveal that several revolted
against the Nazis and one, Buena Mallah, was the subject of
Nazis medical experiments in the Birkenau concentration camp.
In 1950 Benedict’s daughter, Andrée Mallah, married Pal Nagy
Bosca y Sarkozy, a descendent of a Hungarian aristocratic
family. The couple had three sons – Guillaume, Nicolas and
François. The marriage failed and they divorced in 1960, so
Andrée raised her three boys close to their grandfather,
Benedict. Nicolas was especially close to Benedict, who was like
a father to him. In his biography Sarkozy tells he admired his
grandfather, and through hours spent of listening to his stories
of the Nazi occupation, the "Maquis" (French resistance), De
Gaulle and the D-day, Benedict bequeathed to Nicolas his
Sarkozy’s family lived in Paris until Benedict’s death in 1972,
at which point they moved to Neuilly-sur-Seine to be closer to
the boys’ father, Pal (who changed his name to Paul) Sarkozy.
Various memoirs accounted Paul as a father who did not spend
much time with the kids or help the family monetarily. Nicolas
had to sell flowers and ice cream in order to pay for his
studies. However, his fascination with politics led him to
become the city’s youngest mayor and to rise to the top of
French and world politics. The rest is history. "
Raanan Eliaz is a former Director at the Israeli National
Security Council and the Hudson Institute, Washington D.C. He is
currently a Ph.D. candidate at the Catholic University of
Leuven, Belgium, and a consultant on European-Israeli Affairs.
Original article: ejpress.org/article/16491