Isaac Schneersohn

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Not to be confused with Joseph Isaac Schneersohn.

Isaac Schneersohn (1879 or 1881 ?-1969) was a French rabbi, industrialist, and the founder of the first Holocaust Archives and Memorial, born in Ukraine.

On April 28, 1943, He founded, under the Nazi Occupation at Grenoble,[1] in collaboration with the philosopher Jacob Gordin,[2][3][4] the futur Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation [Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine (CDJC)] which will be integrated into the Shoah Memorial [Mémorial de la Shoah] in 1997.[5][6][7][8]


Court Rabbi[edit]

Isaac Schneersohn was born at Kamenetz-Podolsk,[9] currently in the Ukraine, in 1879[10] or in 1881?[9]

According to Heilman & Friedman (2010):[11] "This man [Isaac Schneersohn] had served as a Crown Rabbi in Gorodnya (Gorodnia) (Horodnia (in Ukrainian: Городня) or Gorodnia (in Russian: Городня)) and later in Chernigov (Tchernihiv (in Ukrainian: Чернігів) or Tchernigov (in Russian: Чернигов; in Polish : Czernihów), both in northern Ukraine. He had been active in Russian Jewish community affairs and education, as well as later serving as a council member and deputy mayor in Ryazan in the western region of Russia, not far from Moscow, representing the moderate liberal party."

Industrialist at Paris[edit]

Originally from Russia, Isaac Schneersohn immigrated to France in 1920.[10][12] He was naturalized as a French citizen during the inter-wars years.[9]

At Paris,[13] "His home became a place where Jewish leaders, many of them Zionists, mostly right-wing Revisionists, as he had become, met."

Isaac Schneersohn[14] had three sons, Boris,[15] Arnold, and Michel,[16] who were mobilized as reserve officers in the French Army. The first two, captives, were internees at the disciplinary camp of Lübeck. The last one was liberated in August 1940. He took part then in the fight in the Maquis of Dordogne.[17]

Isaac Schneersohn was Director Delegate of the ‘’’Société Anonyme de Travaux Métalliques (SATM)’’’ [Limited liability company of Metallic Work], located at 10 rue Marbeuf at Paris).[18]

World War II[edit]

When World War II broke out, he left Paris for Bordeaux, with his family. In 1941, he settled at Mussidan,[19] in Dordogne.[18]

He was active in the ‘’’Union Générale des Israélites de France (UGIF)’’’. As such, he made numerous trips at Grenoble, where in 1942 the idea grew to create a Center of Jewish Documentation.[18]

The work of the CDJC was interrupted by the German invasion of the Italian zone in September 1943. The members of the CDJC took refuge in the underground. Isaac Schneersohn and Léon Poliakov got back at Paris at the time of the insurrection of August 1944. They succeeded to seize the archives of the Commissariat général aux questions juives, of the archives of the German Embassy at Paris, of the staff headquarters, and especially of the AntiJewish department of the Gestapo.[20]

The CDJC[edit]

The Centre de documentation juive contemporaine[edit]

In 1946, Isaac Schneersohn became President of the Centre de documentation juive contemporaine (CDJC) and director of the Revue published by the center, until 1969.[18]

On October 8, 1958, the future Nobel Peace Prize laureate René Cassin presented him with the Croix of Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur in the lounge of the hotel Plaza Athénée.[18]

His son Arnold Schneersohn will be, after the war, treasurer of the ‘’’Centre de documentation juive contemporaine (CDJC)’’’, on an honorary basis. Captive in an Oflag, he had organized a pocket of resistance, which earned him a transfer to the discipline Oflag of Lübeck.[21]

A descendant of a une long lineage of rabbis, and a rabbi by training,[22] Isaac Schneersohn decided to become an industrial. Then to dedicate his life to the Centre de documentation juive contemporaine (CDJC).

At Paris, he was close to rabbi David Feuerwerker, who took part on numerous occasions to the annual ceremonies at the CDJC, in the presence of the authorities. When rabbi Feuerwerker became the rabbi of the Synagogue Chasseloup-Laubat in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, Isaac Schneersohn and his son Arnold Schneersohn were member of his community.

Isaac Schneersohn was synonymous to the CDJC. He personified that institution which continues to have an important influence, on a worldwide scale.

He died at the age of 88 or 90.

The meeting of April 28, 1943 at Grenoble[edit]

On April 28, 1943, at Isaac Schneersohn's residence, rue Bizanet, at Grenoble, took place the meeting which will prepare the ground for the collection of documents and testimonies on the situation of the Jews during the war.

André Kaspi described Schneersohn's motives :

«On April 28, 1943, in his apartment of the rue Bizanet at Grenoble, Isaac Schnerrson [sic] founded the Centre de documentation juive contemporaine (CDJC). In the middle of the war, a good year prior to the Normandy landings, whereas in the extermination camps the nazis carry out their grim work. Oblivious? Overly optimistic? No, Schneersohn doesn’t believe in miracle. Emigré from Russia, a former rabbi, businessman victim of the laws of aryanisation, he applied the memorable recommendation of Judaism: "Remember." Later, he explained: "My stubborn determination and my perseverance, he wrote, my firm conviction of the necessity to collect this documentation strengthen always more. [...] I didn’t know if I would survive, none of us thought he would come out alive from hell. But I had only one desire, as long as I could, to put down in writing all what was happening." To accumulate proofs and archives, to put together files readily accessible, to lay the work of the historians... The CDJC was born in the turmoil. Since then, it has not stopped helping researchers, to publish a journal, Le Monde juif, to sponsor history books of which the first are published as soon as 1945. It shows the debt that we all have, we the historians of World War II, we the amateurs and the users of history towards this institution.»[23][24]

Who were the participants to this meeting of April 28, 1943? André Kaspi explains:

«When Isaac Schneersohn organizes in April 1943 the meeting at Grenoble, during which the Centre de documentation juive contemporaine is founded, 40 representatives of diverse Jewish organizations are present. The management committee is made up of 7 members: 2 representatives of the Consistory (Consistory (Judaism)) (Consistoire central), 2 representatives of the Fédération des Sociétés juives de France, 1 representative of the World ORT, 1 representative of the rabbinate and Schneersohn himself who presides over. The objective is to gather together all the documents which will allow, one day, to write the history of the Jews of France during the war. Promise honoured, since beginning in 1945 3 important works are published by the CDJC, followed by 5 others in 1946, 5 more in 1947, with a total of 20 until the end of the year 1951. Thus the CDJC became the memory of the Jewish community, all the community.»[25]

The founding of the CDJC[edit]

To accumulate testimonies on the Shoah, Schneersohn together with Léon Poliakov[26][27] will devote himself to collect documents which will serve the history of the Jews during the war. The group organized around Isaac Schneersohn and Léon Poliakov return to Paris, during the Insurrection of August 1944, and takes possession of the archives of the Commissariat général aux questions juives, of the Régime de Vichy, of those of the German Embassy at Paris, of the German staff headquarters[28] and of the AntiJewish archives of the Gestapo at Paris.[29][30]

In 1944,[10] the CDJC was thus transferred at Paris. It settled in Le Marais, practically in the Pletzl, the old Jewish neighborhood, an evident symbolism.

The Mémorial du martyr juif inconnu was inaugurated on October 30, 1956.

In 1997, the decision was taken to merge the two institutions: the CDJC and the Mémorial du martyr juif inconnu.
From this merger was born the Mémorial de la Shoah, which opened its doors on January 27, 2005.[31]


Presentation of his work by Isaac Schneersohn[edit]

On March 25, 1946, Isaac Schneersohn applied to the Ministre de l'information, to request that his Bulletin, which will give birth to the Journal Le Monde Juif, be authorized to publish legally. He introduced his work:

«I, the undersigned, Isaac Schneeersohn, industrial, President of the Association "Le Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine", a (scientific) not-for-profit association, whose statutes have been properly filed at the Préfecture de Police [Police headquarters], in accordance with the law on the associations of 1901, am writing to direct your attention that this organism had been founded in the Resistance in the month of April 1943, at Grenoble 10 rue Bisanet,

- that at the time, we printed and distributed clandestinely a "Bulletin du Centre de Documentation"

- that we have continued our activity officially since the Libération,

- that all the time, since the Libération, we have continued to publish a "Bulletin Intérieur",

- that our Centre de Documentation concerns an ever increasing number of persons who deal with the history of the German occupation in France and quite particularly of the incidence on the lives of the Jews of this occupation,

- that our Bulletin is increasingly requested and it's great time –as much for practical reasons as well as for the acquired notoriety by our Bulletin and the necessity to collect the costs of its publication- that it should finally be authorized to be published officially under the form of a regular journal.[32]»

The posthumous recognition of the work of Isaac Schneersohn[edit]

At the time of the commemoration ceremony of the liberation of the camp at Auschwitz, on January 27, 1945, on January 27, 2005, Éric de Rothschild, president of the Mémorial de la Shoah, stated :

«Let's remember with an infinite gratitude the founders of the Mémorial : Isaac Schneersohn, who with an unequalled foresight decided as soon as 1943, in the middle of the war, right in the middle of the roundups, to collect proofs of what the community suffered. Without him, without them, today, we couldn’t do anything. Many trials would have been lost, the Mur [Wall] would have enormous gaps, many books wouldn’t have been written or would have been much later. Together with his companions, Joseph Billig, Georges Wellers, Léon Poliakov, with his friend Claude Kelman, they have done an extraordinary work at an extremely difficult time when silence and embarrassment were the fate for the surviving deportees».[33]

The mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoë noted that same day:

«From the outset, the history of the first Mémorial is closely bound to the one from our city. The idea is due to Isaac SCHNEERSOHN who in 1943, in the height of the occupation, has the intuition that the tragedy under way demands to put together the maximum proofs. Thirteen years later, Paris welcomes the tombeau du Martyr Juif inconnu, which will give birth to the Mémorial.[33]»

The President of the Republic, Jacques Chirac, at this same ceremony recalled:

«Taking notes in the midst of the Apocalypse, gathering together papers and testimonies, against the inexorable mechanism of the extermination, such was the challenge taken up by Isaac Schneersohn. Stirring Symbol of the heroism and admirable illustration of the work of the historian.

By founding at Grenoble, in April 1943, the Centre de documentation juive contemporaine, Isaac Schneersohn carried out an act of genuine resistance. The one of memory. Already, weakness was stronger than force itself; honor greater than shame; hope more powerful than fear. Already, all the dignity of man when he remains standing, in the midst of gloom, expressed itself. Isaac Schneersohn or the archivist of the spirit against the bureaucracy of barbarism.[33]»

Isaac Schneerson and the future Rebbe of Lubavitch[edit]

According to a recent work,[34] the futur Rebbe of Lubavitch, Menachem Mendel Schneerson and his wife Chaya Mushka Schneerson, who lived at Berlin, in Germany, in 1933, decided to come settle at Paris, in France. In choosing this new location, an important factor was the presence of cousins: rabbi Schneour Zalman Schneersohn, Édmée Schneerson, and Isaac Schneersohn, living there.

The authors of this work examined the links between Menachem Mendel Schneerson et Isaac Schneersohn:

"By the early 1930s [Isaac] Schneersohn was well connected and an important contact for his cousins the Schneersons (Menachem Mendel Schneerson and Chaya Mushka Schneerson) and the Horensztajns (Menachem Mendel Horensztajn and Sonia (Sheine) Horensztajn).[35][36] Although no longer terribly observant Jewishly, he did keep a kosher home, in large measure because his wife remained religious; the Schneersons (Menachem Mendel Schneerson and Chaya Mushka Schneerson), sometimes ate there. He [Isaac Schneerson] also ran a salon, and on Friday nights people often gathered at his home 135 Avenue Émile-Zola[37] (about two and half miles from where Mendel (Menachem Mendel Schneerson) and Moussia (Chaya Mushka Schneerson) lived), including some of the best-known Zionists, from Vladimir Zev Jabontiski (Vladimir Jabotinsky) to Chaim Weitzmann (Chaim Weizmann). In a way he [Isaac Schneersohn]became his cousins' (Menachem Mendel Schneerson and Chaya Mushka Schneerson) adviser; even in Russia he had been particularly concerned with getting Jews past the quota restrictions and into higher education. In the process he had made contacts with the czar (Tsar) and other notables, a pattern he would continue in France. As his own sons, Boris, Arnold, and Michel, were students in engineering at the École spéciale des travaux publics (ESTP), this may have made that institution appeal to Mendel (Menachem Mendel Schneerson) too."


  1. ^ At his residence of rue Bizanet, with the participation of about forty delegates of Jewish organizations- see, Michel-Gasse, 1999, p. 28.
  2. ^ Cf. V. Kuperminc, 2001, pp. 3-7 & Léon Poliakov, testimony of April 28, 1997.
  3. ^ Jacob Gordin worked part-time at the library of the ‘’’Alliance Israélite Universelle’’’ and also with Isaac Schneersohn towards the creation of the CDJC. See, La reconstruction de la bibliothèque de l'Alliance israélite universelle, 1945-1955. Jean-Claude Kuperminc. Les belles lettres, Archives juives, 2001, no34, pp. 98-113. pdf.
  4. ^ According to Document : Rue Amelot. J. Jacoubovitch. Traduit du yiddish par Gabrielle Jacoubovitch-Bouhana., Abraham Danoïlovitch ALPERINE participated together with Isaac Schneersohn towards the creation of the CDJC.
  5. ^ See, Mémorial de la Shoah. The History of the Center of Contemporary Jewish Documentation. (With a photo of Isaac Schneersohn).
  6. ^ See, Holocaust, Education, Remembrance, and Research in France.
  7. ^ See, Mémorial de la Shoah - Paris -EVENE.
  8. ^ See, Entrevue avec Jacques Fredj, directeur du Mémorial de la Shoah. Propos recueillis par Irène Michine. Le Patriote Résistant. Mai 2006.
  9. ^ a b c See, Afoumado, p. 14.
  10. ^ a b c See, Benbassa et DeBevoise, 2001, p. 181.
  11. ^ See, p. 115.
  12. ^ With the arrival of the Bolsheviks. See, Heilman & Friedman, 2010, p. 115.
  13. ^ See, Heilman & Friedman, 2010, p. 115.
  14. ^ He had a brother Dr. Fishel Schneerson. See, Dr. Fishel Schneerson..
  15. ^ He will become honorary vice-president of ORT France. See, World ORT Report 2006..
  16. ^ See, Heilman & Friedman, 2010, p. 116.
  17. ^ See, Afoumado, p. 14-15.
  18. ^ a b c d e See, Afoumado, p. 15.
  19. ^ Michel Schneersohn will be the mayor from that city from 1946 to 1947.
  20. ^ See, Isaac Schneersohn, fondateur durant la guerre du Centre de documentation juive contemporaine (CDJC).
  21. ^ See, Afoumado, p. 15, in a note.
  22. ^ See, Shoah. Paris se souvient. Propos receuillis par Michèle Leloup. Entrevue avec Jacques Fredj. L'Express, 24 janvier 2005. Fredj stated that Isaac Schneersohn abandoned religion to devote himself to other activities : company director, résistant. This statement has to be qualified. He didn’t hold, as he did in his younger days, a rabbinical position, but he didn’t abandon religion.
  23. ^ See, Kaspi, 1991, p. 9-10.
  24. ^ See, Renée Poznanski. La création du Centre de documentation juive contemporaine en France (avril 1943). Science Po University Press. JSTOR : Vingtième Siècle. Revue d'histoire, no.63 (Juillet-Septembre, 1999), pp. 51-63.
  25. ^ See, Kaspi, 1991, p. 376.
  26. ^ Poliakov knew Isaac Schneersohn from before the war. See his testimony of April 28, 1997.
  27. ^ Léon Poliakov will be temporarily the secretary of Chief Rabbi Schneour Zalman Schneersohn, Isaac Schneersohn's cousin, during the war.
  28. ^ See, Isaac Schneersohn, founder during the war of the Centre de documentation juive contemporaine (CDJC).
  29. ^ It's Léon Poliakov who discovered the archives of the Gestapo.
  30. ^ In his testimony of April 28, 1997, Léon Poliakov declared that he was at the origin of the CDJC, «absolutely», since without him, there would have been no documents.
  31. ^ See, Le Mémorial de la Shoah.
  32. ^ See, Afoumado, p. 7-8.
  33. ^ a b c See, under «Discours de M. Jacques Chirac, Président de la République, à l'inauguration du Mémorial de la Shoah, le 25 janvier 2005».
  34. ^ See, Heilman & Friedman, 2010, p. 115-116.
  35. ^ Menachem Mendel Horensztajn the grandson of the fourth Rebbe of Lubavitch and his wife Sonia, was the youngest sister of Chaya Mushka Schneerson.See, Heilman & Friedman, 2010, p. 111-113.
  36. ^ Menachem Mendel and Shaina Horensztajn (Horenstein) were deported while they were in Poland et assassinated by the Nazis at Treblinka. See, Rabinowicz, 1996, p. 431.
  37. ^ In the 15th arrondissement of Paris.

External links[edit]


  • André Kaspi, Les Juifs pendant l'Occupation, Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 1991. ISBN 2-02-013509-4
  • Tzvi M. Rabinowicz. Encyclopedia Of Hassidism. Jason Aronson: Northvale, New Jersey, London, 1996. ISBN 1-56821-123-6
  • David S. Wyman & Charles H. Rosenzveig, The world reacts to the Holocaust, 1996, p. 21.
  • Alvin Hirsch Rosenfeld, Thinking about the Holocaust after half a century, Indiana University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-253-33331-8. See, p. 281.
  • Michel-Gasse, Dictionnaire-guide de généalogie, Éditions Jean-Paul Gisserot, 1999. ISBN 2-87747-413-5
  • Florent Brayard, Le génocide des juifs : entre procès et histoire, 1943-2000, Centre Marc Bloch (Berlin), Éditions Complexe, 2000. ISBN 2-87027-857-8. See, p. 116.
  • Esther Benbassa, M.B. DeBevoise, The Jews of France: A History from Antiquity to the Present, Princeton University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-691-09014-9
  • Julian Jackson, France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944, Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-19-925457-5. See, p. 14.
  • Jean-Yves Boursier, Musées de guerre et mémoriaux : politiques de la mémoire, Éditions MSH, 2005. ISBN 2-7351-1079-6. See, p. 53.
  • Annette Wieviorka, The era of the witness, Translated by Jared Stark, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006. See, p. 50. The first French edition had for title: L'ère du témoin, Paris, Plon, 1998, with the second edition L'Ère du témoin, Hachette, « Pluriel », Paris, 2002. ISBN 2-01-279046-1
  • David B. Ruderman & Shmuel Feiner, Schwerpunkt: Early Modern Culture and Haskala, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007. ISBN 3-525-36933-6. See, p. 448.
  • Samuel C. Heilman & Menachem M. Friedman. The Rebbe. The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Princeton University Press: Princeton and Oxford. 2010. ISBN 978-0-691-13888-6