Salomon YENI (1905-1944)
A website (in French) has been created about Salomon Yeni’s biography, set in its historical context.
I – Salomon Yeni in Salonika (Thessaloniki)
Salomon Yeni was born on December 27, 1905 (or 1906, depending on the source) in Salonika, now known as Thessaloniki, in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.
He was Jewish (as were 51% of the population of Salonika at that time, representing about 86,000 people) and his family was quite poor (as were 75% of the Jews in Salonika): his father, Abraham, was an egg merchant. His mother, Hanna Rafael, was originally from Smyrna.
Hannah, Salomon’s mother
The Jews of Salonika, who had to pay the dhimmi (taxes levied on non-Muslims throughout the Ottoman Empire), had a degree of religious, cultural, linguistic and administrative autonomy.
They spoke Judeo-Spanish and French.
Since the Thessaloniki records were burned in 1943, we know very little about Solomon Yeni’s younger years, but the historical context helps us to understand what life would have been like for a young Jewish man from Thessaloniki born at the turn of the century, and what might have prompted him to emigrate to France at the age of 25.
Here is a summary of the main events
- 1908: A group of young Turkish officers from Salonika and Macedonia rose up against Sultan Abdul-Hamid II, who they blamed for handing over the Ottoman Empire to foreign powers and also for being overly lenient with the Arabs. The sultan gave in to their demands and redrafted a constitution on July 24, 1908, which was based on secular principles and gave hope for a better outcome for the minority groups in the Ottoman Empire. In reality, however, the opposite happened, in parallel with the rise of nationalism throughout the Balkans and the failures of both the Balkan wars and the Great War.
- 1912: During the first Balkan war (1912-1913), the Ottoman Empire was forced to give up Macedonia, and Salonika became Greek. The Jews saw their way of life transformed as a result of pressure from the Orthodox Greeks (stores had to close on two days a week, Saturday and Sunday; the wages of non-Orthodox people were decreased). All over the region, the Jews were subjected to an upsurge in anti-Semitism.
- 1917: The Great Fire of Thessaloniki. The Jews were forbidden to rebuild in their traditional downtown neighborhoods. They thus rebuilt a vibrant community on the outskirts of the city.
- From 1923 onwards: Nearly a million Orthodox Greeks arrived in Thessaloniki, having been driven out of Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. 100 000 of them settled in the city, which almost doubled the urban population. The Jews, who had until then been in the majority demographically, thus became a minority.
- 1931: A pogrom took place in the Campbell district of Thessaloniki, and an anti-Semitic mob set it on fire during the night.
- 1932: The suspected perpetrators of the pogrom were tried and acquitted. At the same time, political instability was making the country increasingly unstable, and this culminated in the formation of a dictatorship in 1936.
- 1933: Salomon left Thessaloniki for France. He arrived in Marseille, on the south coast, on November 1st.
Cartography by D. Vaultier
II – Salomon Yeni in France:
- 1933: Salomon Yeni arrived in France on November 1, via the port in Marseille, on the south coast. He declared that he had been a tailor in Greece. He lived in Paris until 1940.
- 1937: In July 1937, Salomon was living in Paris with his sister, Rachel, who was married. His brother, Jacob, lived and got married in Brussels, Belgium.
Isaac Coronel, Jacob Yeni and his wife Jeanne and Salomon Yeni in July 1937 on the Champs Élysées in Paris
- 1939: Salomon was a commodities broker in Paris. He was living with his partner, Cyrla Buchla Hefter, at 6 rue Mercœur, in the 11th district. Cyrla gave birth to a baby girl, Annette Cécile, on January 6, 1939, but she died later that same day, as did many women up the 1950s. Her father legally acknowledged that Annette Cécile was his child on January 9. She was then placed with a Jewish family in the Beauvais area, made a ward of the State in 1953, and was adopted by Marcel Klopstein and Madeleine Dreyfus in 1959 (source: Senlis Court). On May 27, 1965, she married Michel Louis Alexandre Rognin (born on May 29, 1928 in Marseille and died on October 21, 1974 in Beauvais). She lived most of her life in Crépy-en-Valois, the town where her adoptive parents lived, and in Beauvais, both of which are in the Oise department of France. She died at Beauvais on May 1, 2019.
When he arrived in Marseille, Salomon, like all foreign nationals, was required to make a declaration, which amounted to an application for an identity card. The foreigner’s identity card was first introduced in France during the First World War, according to a decree dated April 2, 1917. This was the first time that a country in Europe had sought to identify all foreign nationals living on its soil. The card reflected a desire to monitor the foreign workforce, to establish a specific legal status for migrants as both foreign nationals and workers, and to impose a special tax on them: in fact, the card was only issued on payment of the tax.
The card was issued by the Central Service for Foreigners’ Identity Cards, which was set up within the General Security Department at the Ministry of the Interior.
From the late 1920s onwards, police surveillance operations increased and the Ministry of the Interior recommended that the Prefectures implement special monitoring systems, which were continued and intensified under the Vichy regime.
- December 1939: Within weeks of the start of the war, Salomon Yeni volunteered to serve in the French army, as a foreigner. He did this on December 12:
- May 10, 1940: Salomon married Esther Benbassat, who was born on May 3, 1919, in Tunisia. Esther was 21 and Salomon 33.
- May 13, 1940: As a foreign volunteer, Salomon was mobilized in the 213th Dépôt de guerre d’infanterie de Versailles (Versailles Infantry war depot). He served in the army from then on but did not take part in the fighting. He was demobilized on July 12, 1940 in Garlin in the Landes department of France, where his wife was already living at the time.
- July 1940: Salomon moved back in with his wife, Esther. They lived in Pau, which was then in the “Free” zone in the southern half of the country.
- September 1, 1940: Salomon declared that he had lost his foreign industrial worker’s identity card during the move to the south of France, and gave this as the reason that he made frequent applications to the Basses-Pyrénées prefecture. He was issued a receipt for each identity card application, attesting to his request for regularization, which he renewed regularly by providing a number of proof of employment certificates. As a result, we know that Salomon had several different jobs during the war: belt maker, tailor and laborer at the Béarn lemonade factory in Pau, for example.
The Yeni family had some relatives come to visit them in Pau: the Raffael family. The Raffael family had been forced to leave Paris: this photo marks the engagement of Salomon’s cousin Armand Tzigler and Renée Raffaël on May 30, 1943 in Pau. They got married on February 24, 1944, 3 months before the entire family was arrested.
- 1940-1944: Throughout their stay in Pau, Salomon and Esther were regularly confronted with the Vichy regime’s bureaucratic requirements. To avoid being obliged to leave Pau, they had to apply to the prefecture of the Basses-Pyrénées department for a residence permit, which was granted to them on October 1, 1940, but only for a period of one month. Salomon and his wife therefore wrote to the prefecture every month during 1941 in order to have their residence permit extended. Then, as of September 2, 1942, the applications were made every three months until September 1, 1944.
- November 1942: The Germans occupied the “Free” zone in the southern part of France.
- February 16, 1943: The STO (Service du travail obligatoire, or Compulsory work service) was introduced.
- July 1,1943: Salomon joined the Resistance on July 1, 1943. He was a member of the FFI (Forces françaises de l’intérieur or Free French Forces). On May 1, 1944, he became a sergeant and went by the name of Sylvain (confirmed by Colonel Dauphin, alias Duc, on August 26, 1947).
- October 10, 1943: The Yeni twins, Anne-Viviane and Albert-Jean-Claude (nicknamed Tiste) were born at 23 rue Lespy, in Pau. The little girl died on December 26, 1943.
The Yeni family with little Jean-Claude in the spring of 1944, shortly before Salomon was arrested.
The building at 5 rue Cazaubon-Norbert where the Militia and the police arrested Salomon and his cousins, members of the Raffael family.
- May 20, 1944: Jean-Claude was 7 months old when the militia and the French police arrested his father at his cousins’ house at 7 rue Cazaubon Norbert, after he was reported for acts of resistance a few days after a militiaman had been murdered.
Militia record, drafted after Salomon was arrested (Pau archives)
- May 23, 1944: Salomon was handed over to the Gestapo, was transferred to the St Michel prison in Toulouse and then to the Compiègne center.
- July 6, 1944: Salomon was transferred to Drancy.
- 31 July 31, 1944: Salomon was deported to Auschwitz on Convoy 77, the last large convoy to leave France, with 1306 people aboard, including many children who had been rounded up. At the time, the Allies were only about 12 miles from Paris. From this date forward, there is no trace of Solomon.
- August 5, 1944: The convoy arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
- July 27, 1946: After several requests, the Ministry of Commerce approved Saloman’s wife Esther’s request to open a shirt and hosiery manufacturing business in Pau.
- February 1949: Esther was finally “naturalized” as a French citizen. She remarried soon afterwards and had two daughters by her second husband.
- October 1949: The town hall of Pau declared that Salomon died on July 31, 1944 in Drancy.
- March 1950: The Department of Veterans and War Victims finally declared that Solomon had died on August 5, 1944.
- 1950 onwards: Esther (his wife), Annette-Cécile (his daughter from a previous relationship), and then Jean-Claude (his son from his marriage to Esther) applied to have Salomon Yeni recognized posthumously as having been a “deported resistance fighter. These requests were systematically refused.
- 1972: Esther died.
Jean-Claude was raised as a Catholic by his mother and stepfather. At the age of 15, he found out that he was born Jewish and that his biological father had died in Auschwitz. He went to the École Boulle, a fine arts and crafts college in Paris, and then became a leather designer. He founded leather goods companies in Pau and Paris. He had four sons. He died in March 2020, one of the first Covid victims in France.
Extract from Salomon Yeni’s family tree, drawn up by D. Vaultier
The immediate family of Salomon Yeni, who was murdered during the Second World War (1943 and 1944). Salomon is in the lower left corner. Photo collage by Denis Vaultier.
Jean-Claude Léni, Salomon Yeni’s son, with Denis Vaultier in 2018. Jean-Claude died of Covid in March 2020.
The students of classes TG3 and TG6 at the Victor Louis high school in Talence, together with their teachers, Ms. Boutet and Ms. Tanty, would like to thank:
- The staff of the Pau archives department, who kindly provided them with scanned documents that were indispensable for the compilation of this biography.
- Mr. Vaultier, without whom this biography would have been much less detailed. He met with classes TG3 and TG6 at the Victor Louis high school in Talence and helped enhance the biography with some valuable official and personal records.
- Alexandra Choleva, a teacher at the 1st French high school in Oraiokastro (near Thessaloniki), whose students shared the work on this biography in Greek and English as part of an E-twinning project
Denis Vaultier wrote a book “Le feu du diamant” (The fire of the diamond), about the la genealogy of his wife, Salomon Yeni’s great niece.
- Archived records provided by the Convoy 77 organization
- Documents and photographs kindly provided by Denis Vaultier
- Records from the Pyrénées Atlantiques departmental archives
Poems by Sofia and Maria, Oraiokastro (district of Thessaloniki)
Poems by Greek students (12th grade) at 1st French high school of Oraiokastro (near Thessaloniki) – February 2022.
“Memories of the holocaust”, by Maria Anastasiadou
The wind is holding my hand ready to tear me apart, as I enter the grey empty room where stacked with the crowd, I lose every piece of myself and become one with the mass of animals that fate has turned her back on. A flower is blooming on the black vail of inexistence that has covered us. Screams in the abyss heading towards complete nothingness, like us, pixies floating until we reach the asylum, they happily call paradise. Until we reach madness and forget that we are humans with dignity. As days passed by, the screams stopped, tired of running in the void. We pass the gate with the inscription « Work will free you » and unshaped masses with grey overcoats were mocking and spitting on us, taking off our clothes just because they could, playing with the souls of humans like they were their own, like they were never kids. We were leaving our last breaths with the stench burning our lungs and Death holding our hand, leading us to safety. Everything seems like a fake memory, like recollections from an old nightmare. However, I am glad I still remember, I am glad I still have the strength to shout that I was, I am and will always be human.
“Can you hear them?” by Kousenidou Sofia
They get on the train Hoping there’s something to gain The train makes its first move They’re still hoping their life will improve The train makes a move on track And now there’s no going back. The moment is arriving…
Stop. Close your eyes. Listen…
Can you hear them?
Children are crying, people are dying.
Can you hear them? When the moment arrives, the earth intertwines with the hottest pits of hell
Can you hear them? Then, the moment arrives. And everyone they have ever known, everyone they have ever loved, Suddenly, dies…