Jewish Heritage Tour of Nice

Jewish Heritage Tour of Nice – This three hour walking visit is of Jewish Heritage in Nice which has a long and rich history in both the medieval period as well as during the Second World War. As a part of the County of Savoy, unlike those in France or Italy, the Jews of Nice were particularly impacted by changing territorial borders. On this tour, led by a Medieval Historian, we will visit the Grand Synagogue, the underground areas of the medieval Jewish ghetto, the Jewish Cemetery, well known Jews in Nice historically as well as examine the contradictions between anti-semitism and the reality of the experience, both historically and today. We will also discuss many of the causes of anti-semitism which arose during the middle ages. If there is time, we can visit the Hotel Excelsior and/or the Ashkenazi synagogue, Ezrat A’him. It is also possible to visit some of the communities in Nice which still speak the Judeo-Espanol dialect, spoken in Spain in the Middle Ages.

The Grand Synagogue was opened in 1886, taking the place of a theater of comic opera and serves as the primary synagogue in Nice for Sephardic Jews. The main facade presents a Roman-Byzantine composition. During the Second World War, the building was used as a place of internment before the deportation. The interior is decorated with a richly decorated sanctuary. A series of twelve stained glass windows on biblical themes.

The Ghetto in Nice was designated in 1732 and effectively opened in 1733, with the doors being locked at night. The ghetto doors were unlocked subsequent to 1750, although Scottish Dr. Tobias Smolett in his travel guide of 1763 still indicates the ghetto gates were closed at night. While the intention of many Catholic religious leaders at the time was to separate Jews from Catholics, the placement of the ghetto in fact is just in front of the Cathedral of Nice demonstrates that the ghetto was more for pleasing the pope than due to the motivation of local leaders. The ghetto has a series of underground tunnels which have been closed off by the city of Nice due to possible injury, but we can still go down into the tunnel area where we find carving on the walls of the Star of David and a Menorah. Carvings likely date to WWII.

The Jewish Cemetery was opened in 1786, although we can find tombstones from the 16th century as tombs from the older cemetery were transferred to the new. Of the more famous chapels in Nice we find that of Alfred Van Cleef who created the famous jewelry company Van Clef and Arpels. Among famous names often sought out are René Goscinny (1926-1977) the most famous cartoon writer and creator of Asterix but also Petit Nicolas and Iznogoud. His tomb is adorned with the Star of David and the word “Writer”. We also find the tombs of the resistant Simone Benhamou-Ducloux (1914-2002) who was deported to Mathausen, the architect Aaron Messiah (1858-1940) who built the Villa Masséna in Nice and the Renaissance style villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, as well as the Greek temples of the Auerbach and Landau families.

The Hotel Excelsior speaks to Nice during WWII. The capitulation of Italy, in September 1943, marked the end of the Italian occupation of Nice, but the beginning of the German occupation, which was particularly brutal for Jews. Under the Italian occupation, the French Riviera had been one of the last places of refuge for Europe’s Jews. From September 10, 1943, following the armistice signed between Italy and the Allies, the Gestapo entered Nice. The SS Alois Brunner arrived in Nice on September 10, 1943. He organized, until December 15, 1943, the deportation of 1820 Jews to Drancy. After his departure, another 1129 people were deported until July 31, 1944. Until December 14, 2,500 Jews were arrested and detained at the Excelsior Hotel where Dr Abraham Drucker, a Jewish doctor from Drancy camp, was transferred to Nice for three months to examine the Jews arrested. The filming of an adaptation of Joseph Joffo’s memoirs, A Bag of Marbles, was in Nice, however, the Hotel Excelsior in the film was not the actual hotel but the former Ducal Palace.

There is a rich history of Jews in Nice. This tour requires advanced notice and passports will be required to be submitted by email in advance for security reasons. Certain areas we will visit are privately owned and access cannot be guaranteed at all times.