Bernhard Blumenkranz, Georges Levitte and David Weinberg
Nice (Heb. ניצה) is the capital of the Alpes-Maritimes department, on the Mediterranean coast of France. The first specific mention of Jews can be found in the Statutes of Nice, enacted in 1342 while the town belonged to Provence, which compelled the Jews to wear a distinguishing badge.
By 1406, when Nice belonged to Savoy, the community had a bailiff. In 1408, it owned a cemetery, and from at least 1428, a synagogue. An edict issued by the duke of Savoy in 1430, which was also intended for the Jews of Turin, protected the Jews from forced baptism, while imposing a series of prohibitions (on moneylending, on interest, etc.) and obligations (confining Jewish residence to a separate quarter, the Giudaria, etc.).
In 1449, a Jew was authorized to settle there and charge a rate of 20% interest. In 1499, Jews expelled from the island of Rhodes were permitted to settle in Nice. From 1551, the Jews were placed under the jurisdiction of a Conservator (except in cases of crimes and offenses committed against the Catholic religion) and were allowed to engage freely in moneylending. In the same period, Jews in Nice also engaged in commerce and could practice medicine freely.
Beginning in 1648, many newcomers of “Portuguese” origin (Marranos) from Italy and Holland, attracted by the free port edict, which expressly favored the Jews with numerous privileges, joined the “old Nissards.”
Twenty years later, many Jews began arriving from Oran (Algeria), often bringing with them their slaves. The newcomers, who settled outside the ghetto, were accorded full rights in the existing community institutions without having to contribute toward its upkeep. The Jewish community of Nice, which had been affiliated to that of Turin, became separated from it from the beginning of the 17th century.
The fusion of the diverse groups of Jews was achieved slowly. At the same time, the authorities allowed the legal differences, which had benefited some groups and disadvantaged others, to become obsolete. Beginning in 1732, every Jew was obliged to live in the Jewish quarter, the Rue Giudaria (the present Rue Benoît Brunice). The community, known as Università, was led by massari-parnassim, deputies, councilors, and a treasurer. The Jews of Nice conversed in Judéo-Niçois, a mixture of the local dialect and Hebrew.
The temporary reunion of Nice with France from 1792 to 1814 brought emancipation to the Jews, but they lost their rights after the restoration of Sardinian administration. In 1828, for example, they were ordered to return to the ghetto, and it was only in 1848 that emancipation was finally guaranteed.
The annexation of Nice by France in 1860 did not result in further changes in the social and economic situation of the Jews. The number of Jews did not grow substantially during the 19th century. In 1808, the population was approximately 300. In 1909, there were 500 out of a total population of 95,000, and the number did not substantially change up to World War II.
During World War II, Nice was in the demilitarized zone between the Vichy-controlled zone and the Italian occupied area. When Nice came under Italian control, thousands of Jews took refuge there because the Italians refused to deport them. For a while, the city became an important center for various Jewish organizations, especially after the landing of the Allies in North Africa (November 1942). When the Italians signed the armistice with the Allies, however, German troops invaded the former Italian zone (Sept. 8, 1943) and initiated brutal raids. They were aided by the French bureaucracy, which had tracked Jewish refugees and made it easy for the Germans to find them.
Alois Brunner, the SS official for Jewish affairs, was placed at the head of units formed to search out Jews. Within five months, 5,000 Jews were caught and deported from Nice and surrounding areas. A great number of others were martyred in the city itself. The courage displayed by the resistance and Jewish youth movements, however, along with the sympathy of most of the population and clergy, helped save thousands who were either hidden or were helped to escape.
After the liberation several hundred Jews, including original inhabitants of Nice and refugees, reestablished the community. With the influx of Jews from North Africa in the 1960s, the Jewish population in Nice and the vicinity increased from 2,000 to 20,000 by 1969.
As recently as 15 years ago, Nice had the fourth largest Jewish community in France, with about 20,000 members. Cnaan Liphshiz noted that “the combined effects of anti-Semitism, terrorism, financial problems and assimilation have taken their toll” and “the French Consistoire, a national organization that provides religious services to Orthodox Jews, estimated that Nice’s Jewish population had dipped below 3,000,” but Chabad’s Rabbi Yossef Yitschok Pinson believes the number is closer to 10,000.
The Mayor, Christian Estrosi, who has said he is “Jewish at heart” and a “proud friend of Israel,” has done his best to reassure local Jews they are safe in the city. When a radical Tunisian-born Muslim drove a truck through a crowd of people on Bastille Day in 2016, however, killing 86 people and wounding hundreds more, Jews became more fearful. Though the attack was not directed at the Jewish community, it stimulated many to leave the city.
The attrition has stimulated the Jews who remain to be more cooperative. “There is a determination, because of terrorism, to be together and express our Judaism,” Franck Médioni, president of the Masorti Jewish community of Nice, told Liphshiz.
Nice still has several kosher restaurants, three Jewish schools, a mikveh, a community center and 15 synagogues, but Liphshiz reported they have difficulty getting a minyan and that the Bnei Akiva youth movement closed its chapter in the city. Jews also are affected by the economy in the city, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.
The Musée Marc Chagall, containing the painter’s major works on biblical themes, is situated in Nice.
Gross, Gal Jud, 393f.; H. Meiss, A travers le ghetto… Nice (1923); Gallois-Montbrun, in: Annales de la Societé de Lettres des Alpes-Maritimes, 3 (1875), 242ff.; Giordan, ibid., 46 (1955), 103ff.; Scialtiel, in: REJ, 67 (1914), 118ff.; Bauer, ibid., 63 (1912), 269ff.; V. Emmanuel, Les Juifs à Nice (1902); J. Decourcelle, La Condition des Juifs de Nice… (1923), includes bibliography; L. Poliakov, The Jews under the Italian Occupation (1955), passim; Z. Szajkowski, Analytical Franco-Jewish Gazetteer 1939–1945 (1966), 156. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Guide du judaîsme français (1987), 39; Jewish Travel Guide (2002), 73.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved;
Jane Onyanga-Omara, “Death toll in Nice terror attack rises to 85,” USA Today, (August 5, 2016);
“Jewish community won’t cancel Shabbat services after Nice attack,” Times of Israel, (July 15, 2016);
Michal Levertov, “Dark years on the Côte d’Azur,” Jerusalem Report, (August 8, 2016);
Cnaan Liphshiz, “Hit by terror and a sluggish economy, Nice’s once-vibrant Jewish community faces uncertain future,” JTA, (September 26, 2019).