And you thought the Redskins controversy was bad.
There are reports this week is of a bizarre confrontation where the Simon Wiesenthal Centre has asked the French government to rename a small village in central France that is currently called “Death to Jews” (La Mort aux Juifs). However, the town is resisting the efforts to change the name that dates back to the 11th Century.
The conflict has some strong similarities with the Redskins controversy to the extent that defenders are insisting that the name is now a harmless historic relic. Marie-Elizabeth Secretand, deputy mayor of Courtemaux (a village of 289 people that oversees the contested hamlet), insisted that “It’s ridiculous. This name has always existed,. No one has anything against the Jews, of course. It doesn’t surprise me that this is coming up again. Why change a name that goes back to the Middle Ages or even further? We should respect these old names.”
What the town views as historical, others view as genocidal. The Center’s director Shimon Samuels asked the French government to step in to change the name. That raises a question of who makes such a decision. In the United States, this would be entirely a local matter but in France it appears that the federal government may have more authority to force such a change.
The name could reflect a particularly infamous period in France when Jews were expelled on July 22, 1306 by King Philip IV — known incongruously as Phillip the Fair. (They had actually been expelled in 1182 from France by the earlier King Philip but they had returned) In 1290, Jews were expelled from England by King Edward I and many moved to France. Then the Lateran Council of 1215 summoned by Pope Innocent III forbade the living or working together and trading between Jews and Christians. In 1242, the people even burned 20 cartloads of the Torah in Paris in 1242.
This name is unfortunately not unique. Just a couple of months ago, a Spanish town named Castrillo Matajudios (Little Hill Fort of Jew Killers) changed its name to Mota de Judios (Hill of the Jews).
Putting aside such curious questions like the mascot for the local schools in such places, there remains the fact that the name of these towns clearly contain a genocidal message. Where Redskins is viewed as offensive, these towns are named after homicidal religious pogroms. Perhaps it is time for a new history to be written?