A North African Jew is behind a new movement of French Jews who wish to revert to their original, ‘Jewish-sounding’ names: their forefathers had been persuaded by la Republique, exerting its usual pressure on newcomers to assimilate, to change their names after World War 2. But will French law allow them to do so?
In a surprising reversal of that historical trend, a group of Jews in France whose parents took on French-sounding surnames after World War II are now seeking to return to their original Jewish names and reclaim their lost heritage.
La Force du Nom represents about 200 French Jews whose parents and grandparents adopted French last names after the war.
“Between 1945 and 1947, many Jews who were fed up with Polish names changed them to French ones,” explained Regine Weintrater, who serves as an acting spokeswoman for the group.
“They did so in various ways, altering or shortening them in various ways. They were not forced to do so, but there was creeping prejudice. They did not want to lose their Jewish identity, only to avoid sticking out and protect their children from the anti-Semitism they experienced.”
Celine Masson, the founder of the group, says she was inspired to start it due to her own background.
“My father changed his name from Hassan, a traditional Jewish name, to Masson when he moved to France from North Africa,” she said. “I started to hear about more Jewish families who did the same and would like to return to their original names. That’s when I decided to form this collective.”