Jewish Marais tour with Livia

Some time ago, on a whim, I typed “7 rue des Rosiers Paris” into Google Maps, just to see the building where I had lived for two months in 1962 and for a month and a half in 1966. I was surprised to find a listing at this address for “Flora Goldenberg – Jewish Tours Paris – Tour Guide”. From her website I learned that she is a granddaughter of Jo Goldenberg, who ran a famous Jewish restaurant at this address for over half a century.

She offers a variety of Jewish tours in several Paris districts and in three major museums, but the one I booked was the first one on the list, the three-hour “Jewish Walking Tour in Le Marais Neighborhood of Paris”, with a group of five to nine people.

In our case, they relented and accepted a young American couple who had been on the plane all night from New York and only had one day in Paris, so we were eleven altogether, but that was still only half the size of the groups I knew from other Paris tours.

The tour on this particular day was led not by Flora herself (whom I still haven’t met in person), but by her colleague Livia, who turned out to be an excellent, knowledgeable guide. Livia was born in Israel to an American father and an Israeli mother, and has been living in Paris for more than 30 years. She has a PhD in history; her dissertation topic was the history of the Jewish Portuguese Diaspora.

Meeting point at the entrance to the Métro station Cité

Paris tour guides often meet their groups at small Métro stations with only one entrance, so nobody can go to the wrong one. In our case, it was the station called Cité, on the island of the same name. After introducing herself, Livia asked if any of us knew who had designed the elaborate cast-iron decorations at this and many other Paris stations. Some of us did in fact know that it was the Art Nouveau architect Hector Guimard who had designed the first generation of Métro entrances at the beginning of the twentieth century. Livia said we should remember Guimard, since at the end of the tour we would see a building he had designed.

She then led us to the nearby cathedral Notre-Dame, saying it might seem strange for a Jewish tour to stop at a Catholic cathedral, but a few of the many statues at the front of the cathedral were meant to represent Jews, as was shown by the special hats that Jews were forced to wear in 13th century Paris.

Since the disastrous fire of April 15, 2019, the cathedral and its surroundings have been fenced off as a gigantic re-construction area, so we couldn’t get close enough to see the actual statues. Fortunately, Livia had photos to show us.

Île Saint Louis

Besides wearing special hats, Jews in medieval Paris were sometimes forced to wear yellow cloth patches, so they would be instantly recognizable. Livia told us about this at our next stop, on the island of St Louis. She also told us that the Jews were expelled from Paris at various times during the Middle Ages (for instance during the reign of King Philippe Auguste starting in 1180), but usually allowed to return after a few months or years.

Someone asked where they went in the meantime, so Livia got out a map showing that the Kingdom of France in those days was much smaller than the Republic of France today. The Jews could move to a neighboring duchy or principality and wait for the rules in Paris to be changed.

Pont Louis Philippe

From the St Louis Island, we crossed the Louis Philippe Bridge to get to the Marais district on the right bank.

All eleven in the group were Americans, I believe. Most were from New York or had at least lived there for a while. (Even me, as I had spent four years in New York City as an undergraduate — over sixty years ago.)

Memorial to the Shoah

Our first stop in the Marais district was at the Memorial to the Shoah, aka the Holocaust. The wall in the background in this photo is the Wall of the Righteous, listing the names of people in France who risked their lives to rescue persecuted Jews.

The entrance to the memorial is at 17, rue Geoffroy l’Asnier, 75004 Paris. The street in the photo, running parallel to the memorial, is called the Allée des Justes de France.

Wall of Names in the Memorial to the Shoah

This wall is engraved with the names of some 76,000 Jewish men, women and children who were arrested — mainly by the French police — and deported from France between 1942 and 1944.

The people listed on this part of the wall were all rounded up, deported and murdered in the same year, 1942.

The notorious card file

In 1940, shortly after the occupation of Paris by the German army, French authorities started making a card file of Jewish people living in Paris and vicinity. The Jews were not suspicious of this at first, because up to then the French had always taken good care of them. But then in 1942, French police started using this card file to locate and round up Jewish residents and deliver them to the Nazis for deportation.

This entire card file, along with thousands of other documents about the Shoah, is now preserved in the Memorial and is available for consultation by scholars.

Photos of the murdered children

To ensure that the murdered children are not forgotten, the Memorial lists not only their names, but also shows photos of them whenever possible. Thousands of these photos are on display, but for some of the children no photos have yet been located.

Plaque on the school on Rue Hospitalières St. Gervais

After leaving the Memorial, Livia led us through the streets of the Marais district, pointing out Kosher and non-Kosher Jewish restaurants and bakeries along the way. On the street called Rue Hospitalières St. Gervais she bought us each a Jewish sweet roll (sorry, I’ve forgotten the name) from her favorite bakery, and pointed out this sign on a nearby school. The sign reads:

Arrested by the police of the government of Vichy, accomplice of the Nazi occupants, more than11,000 children were deported from France from 1942 to 1944 and assassinated at Auschwitz because they had been born Jewish. More than 500 children lived in the 4th arrondissement, among them the pupils of this school
15 December 2001.                                     We must never forget them.

In other posts, I have included similar signs on schools in other parts of Paris, for instance at the Square of the 44 Children of Izieu at the foot of the Chambord Tower, and at the Paul Gervais primary school on rue Corvisart.

Roger Fleischman Foundation from 1931

The next stop on our guided walking tour was at the entrance to 18, Rue des Ecouffes. Livia explained that when groups of Jews moved to Paris from Eastern Europe, those who came from the same town or region often wanted to have their own place of worship, a synagogue or at least an “oratoire”. Many of these were established over the decades, and some still exist today.

Rue des Rosiers (my photo from 2011)

From Rue des Ecouffes it was just a few steps to Rue des Rosiers (Street of the Rose Bushes), which Livia described as “the Jewish Champs Élysées”. This struck me as being a droll comparison, considering the difference between the two streets: the Champs Élysées is a ten-lane cacophony of cars, trucks and motorcycles, while Rue des Rosiers is a short, narrow street that is mostly free of motor traffic.

In the Synagogue at 17, rue des Rosiers

A big surprise for me was that there is a synagogue at number 17, rue des Rosiers. I never knew this, as it is in an unmarked building, two flights up. Here we were allowed to go inside, and Livia told us various things about it. Like many others in the neighborhood, this synagogue was founded before the Second World War and has managed to survive ever since.

7, rue des Rosiers in 2011, still with Jo Goldenberg’s red awnings

When we got to number 7, rue des Rosiers, Livia told the group about Jo Goldenberg’s restaurant that had been there for over half a century (though by 2022 his famous red awnings had long since disappeared).

She also mentioned that I used to live in this building — she had read my blog post about it after Flora sent her the link.

Another thing Livia mentioned was that and she and I had attended the same course for foreigners at the Sorbonne. This is true, but I was there thirty years before she was.

Livia and the tour group at 7, rue des Rosiers

She also showed us the sign commemorating the anti-Semitic terrorist attack on the restaurant in 1982, and pointed out something I had never noticed before, namely that the first name on the list of those killed in the attack was a Muslim name, Mohamed Benemmon. He was apparently an employee in the restaurant, because Jo Goldenberg hired not only Jews, but anyone he thought would work well with his team.

Livia also told us how it happened that Jo Goldenberg himself was not killed or injured in the attack, “because of the mayonnaise.” He always insisted on making the mayonnaise himself, even though his cooks were perfectly willing and able to do it. By chance, he was back in the kitchen making mayonnaise when the attack occurred. From then on, he always maintained that the mayonnaise had saved his life.

Entrance to the Garden of the Rosiers-Joseph-Migneret

The entrance to house number 10, rue des Rosiers, now serves as an entrance to a public garden, named in honor of Joseph Migneret (1888-1949), the principal of the elementary school we had seen a short time before. When French police started rounding up Jews for deportation to the death camps, Migneret joined a resistance group and started hiding Jews in his home or providing them with forged documents so they could avoid arrest. After his death, he was recognized by Yad Vashem as “Righteous among the nations”.

In the Garden of the Rosiers-Joseph-Migneret

This public garden was formed from 2007 to 2014 by merging three historic gardens that had traditionally belonged to three nearby private mansions.

The back of the primary school Hospitalières St. Gervais is also nearby. The plaque in my photo dedicates the garden “to the director, the employees and the pupils of this school, arrested in 1943 and 1944 by the police of Vichy and the Gestapo, deported and exterminated at Auschwitz because they were born Jewish.”

Synagogue on rue Pavée, by Hector Guimard

The last stop on our guided walking tour was a bit of a let-down, at least for me. I have never been a huge Guimard fan, but I wouldn’t have thought he could design such an off-putting building as the Synagogue on rue Pavée.

This is a building that I often used to walk or ride past, during the time I lived just around the corner. Back then, I thought it was abandoned, because I seldom saw anyone going in or out.

One thing I learned this time from Livia was that the Star of David over the front door was not part of the original design, but was added later. Originally, the building was recognizable as a synagogue only by the two stone Torah rolls up at the top of the façade. This was perhaps because anti-Semitism was again a huge problem in the years before the First World War, when the building was being built.

Livia and the group on rue Pavée

Aside from Hector Guimard, I was very satisfied with this tour, even though it was by far the most expensive walking tour I have taken in Paris thus far. The cost was € 85, but I did not find the price excessive, considering the qualifications of the guide and the specialist knowledge required, and that it was in English and limited to eleven people.

For comparison, I used to pay € 12 for three-hour general-public French-language walking tours of Paris neighborhoods in groups of twenty or more. The going rate for such tours has since gone up to € 15, because of inflation.

I told Livia afterwards that I had learned something new at every stop of her tour — which I was able to confirm while writing this blog post.

In addition to their Marais tours, Flora and Livia and their colleagues also offer Jewish tours of the Louvre and other major museums. They even offer a tour specifically about the Dreyfus affair, which I must say I find very tempting. Registration for all their tours is via Flora’s website.

My photos in this post are from 2011 and 2022. I wrote the text in 2022.

See more posts on the Marais district of Paris.
See more posts on guided walking tours.
See also: The Rabbi’s Cat.

16 thoughts on “Jewish Marais tour with Livia”

  1. The synagogue on Rue des Rosiers which you have pictured is so well hidden away that it actually survived all of WW II without having been discovered by the Gestapo.

  2. Hallo Nemorino, What a great post! Yes, the Marais is full of history, a lot linked to the Jewish story. Have you been to the Villette park, near Gare de l’Est, where hundreds of Jewish children were taken from ?

    1. Thanks for your nice comment. I’m glad you liked the post. The only Villette park I know is the one in the northeast corner of Paris, where the Paris Philharmonie is located.

      1. No, it’s small one, not far from the gare de l’est and the Canal du St Martin. It has a playground and a bandstand. The other one in the north is much bigger

        1. Perhaps you are thinking of the Jardin Villemin? If so, I have walked and cycled past it a number of times, but never stopped for a closer look.

          1. Yes, you are right, that’s it. If yo are ever there again, there is a special board near the entrance, telling about the Jewish children who were deported from around here.

  3. That’s really cool; I’ve never heard of this tour before, but I think it’d be a great experience to learn more about the history of le Marais…one of these days, I’ll have to check it out!

  4. What an interesting tour, especially as I have just recently visited this area (as you know!) It doesn’t sound cheap but for three hours of learning and a sweet roll I guess it isn’t unreasonable 🙂

    1. For this very specialized market, I think Flora’s name alone would be enough to convince potential customers — I know it was for me.

  5. This was very interesting. The Jews of Spain and Portugal would sometimes go to the Netherlands and from there some would emigrate to Curaçao or Aruba. Where I think they fared better ultimately than the Jews in France who would just move out of town for a bit. 🙁

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