Jews played an active role in the French resistance. They joined non-Jews in carrying out sabotage and in fighting German occupation forces and French collaborators. Jews in France also engaged in rescue activities. Some Jewish organizations within the French resistance produced forged “Aryan” papers and other documents for those in hiding and smuggled thousands of Jewish children across the border into Spain and Switzerland.
In 1942-1943, one of the most active resistance groups in France was the second detachment of the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans--Main-d’Oeuvre Immigrée (FTP-MOI), a French Communist unit composed primarily of Yiddish-speaking, foreign-born Jews. In Paris, these urban partisans carried out many armed attacks on German troops. Operating in small groups, they bombed restaurants, cafés, hotels, and cinemas frequented by the German military and police, and threw grenades at detachments of German soldiers.
One of this group’s most heroic fighters was Marcel Rayman, a Polish-born Jew known for his daring attacks on German military personnel. Following a series of mass arrests by the French police, the second detachment of the FTP-MOI was disbanded in mid-1943 and its remaining members reassigned to other resistance units. Marcel Rayman joined the “Manouchian Group,” an underground detachment led by the young Armenian poet, Missak Manouchian.
With few men and weapons, Marcel Rayman continued his attacks on German occupation forces. On September 28, 1943, he and several others shot and killed Julius von Ritter, the German official in charge of conscripting French labor for work in Germany.
In the weeks following von Ritter’s death, German and French police arrested many members of the French resistance. In November 1943, Marcel Rayman fell into the hands of the Gestapo, the German secret police. In February 1944, after several months of brutal interrogation, he and 22 fellow partisans -- many of whom were Jews -- were placed on trial. German propagandists tried to use the proceedings to convince the French populace that the resistance was made up of criminals and led by foreigners and Jews. One of the most widespread Nazi propaganda posters, the “Red Poster,” included Marcel Rayman as among these enemies of Germany. Sentenced to death, Marcel Rayman and 21 others were executed on February 21, 1944.
On the day of his execution, Marcel Rayman penned his last letters to his family. To his aunt, uncle and cousins he wrote:
When you read this I’ll no longer be alive. I’m going to be shot today at three o’clock. I regret nothing that I’ve done. I’m completely tranquil and calm. I love you all and I hope that you’ll live happily.