The statue of the Wandering Jew was created in the late 1800s in the town of Flers in Normandy, France. The figure is an old man with a very long beard who appears to be hobbling along, supported by a thin stick, exhausted from a long journey. The statue is based on the myth of the Wandering Jew.
The statue was sculpted in bronze by Victor-Edmond Leharivel-Durocher in 1877 and installed in the Delaunay Square in 1881. In 1922 it was moved to the main courtyard of the Flers Castle, as reported in the local newspaper: “The wandering Jews has resumed his travelling staff.” The statue no longer exists, as it was, ironically, removed in 1941 at the time of the German occupation of France and used by the Germans as raw material for weapons.
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“The Wandering Jew” – This is a myth about a Jew who mocked Jesus on his way to his crucifixion and was subsequently cursed to wander the land until the return of Jesus to earth. Some believe its origin to be the historical persecution of the Jews and their repeated displacement; others say that it goes back to the biblical story of Cain, whose punishment involved endless, futile wanderings. The earliest manuscript found with this myth is from 1228 under the title: “Of the Jew Joseph who is still alive awaiting the last coming of Christ.” Another reference was found in a pamphlet printed in Germany in 1602 entitled Short Description and Story of a Jew named Ahasverus (Kurtze Beschreibung und Erzählung von einem Juden mit Namen Ahasverus). By the end of the eighteenth century, around 40 different editions of the story had appeared across Germany in anti-Semitic pamphlets and stories.
Anti-Semitic Sculptures – During the Middle Ages, at a time when few people could read and write, sculptures were used to convey anti-Semitic messages around Europe. Statues such as Ecclesia and Synagoga appear on the portals of cathedrals in Paris, Strasbourg, Metz, Bamberg, and other European cities. These sculptures show a proud and erect woman representing the church beside a blindfolded and stooping woman representing the synagogue. All Saints’ Church in Wittenburg, where the Protestant Reformation is thought to have begun, features on its façade a Judensau, an image of Jews suckling from a pig. The Toledo Cathedral contains another type of anti-Semitic sculpture: a graphic representation of an alleged ritual murder of a Christian child.
The Jewish Community of France – Jews have lived in France since the early Middle Ages and possibly even earlier. In the Middle Ages Jews lived principally in the south of France, in the capital, Paris, and in the eastern town of Alsace and were often merchants and moneylenders. France was a centre of Jewish learning in the Middle Ages and famous Jewish sages, such as Rashi, lived in France. As in other European countries, the Jews in France suffered from persecution, expulsions, and pogroms such as the crusades. They lived in separate quarters, often close to the castle or church that sometimes gave them protection in return for loans. France was the first European country to give equal rights to the Jews; nonetheless, anti-Semitism continued even to the end of the nineteenth century as demonstrated by the Dreyfus Affair. At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, many Eastern European Jews immigrated to France. These Jews were the first to be persecuted in France during the Second World War in both the Occupied Zone and the areas under the Vichy regime. Many of these foreign Jews were deported to concentration camps, to be accompanied later by their French bretheren. One quarter of the Jewish population of France was murdered during the Holocaust. Today, the Jewish community of France is the largest in Europe and the third largest in the world, after Israel and the United States. The majority of the Jewish community today is of North African origin, as many of the original Ashkenazi Jews were killed in the Holocaust, emigrated to Israel and other countries, or assimilated into the general population.