Jean Cohen is JTA's correspondent in Greece. Since 1978, he has been a correspondent for Radio Israel, the daily newspapers Yediot Achronot and Kathimerini and other publications. He also has worked in public relations, as a professor of advertising and as an advisor for various Greek government officials.
Sarkozy's Jewish Grandpa
Jan. 3, 2008
ATHENS (JTA)--A new book detailing the Greek-Jewish roots of Nicolas Sarkozy shows political involvement for the French president's family.
According to Me, The Grandson of a Greek, a new book written by three Greek authors, two Sarkozy ancestors were members of the Greek Parliament in the early 20th century.
|France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, seen in this image taken from France2 television, delivers his New Year's message to the nation from the Elysee Palace in Paris Dec. 31, 2007. A new book, Me, the Grandson of a Greek, details his Greek-Jewish roots. REUTERS/France2 TV (FRANCE).|
One of the authors is Leon Nar, a Jewish writer from Salonika, also known as Thessaloniki, the former hometown of Sarkozy's mother's family.
The book theorizes that Sarkozy's mother's family came to Salonika from the French region of Provence. Sarkozy's great-grandfather, Mordechai Mallah, a well-known Salonika jeweler, and his wife, Reina, had seven children. One was named Aaron, Sarkozy's grandfather.
At the age of 14, Aaron Mallah and his mother left for France, where Aaron studied medicine and served as a doctor during World War I.
It was in Paris that Aaron met the gentile nurse who would become his wife. In order to marry Adel Bouvieux, Aaron was baptized and converted to Catholicism, taking the name Benedict, or Benico. A daughter, Andree Mallah, married a Hungarian refugee named Paul Sarkozy. The couple had three sons, including Nicolas.
Paul Sarkozy left the family when Nicolas was 5 years old, and Benico took care of them. Nicolas, according to the book, was very attached to his grandfather, who used to tell his grandchildren stories from Salonika.
Until Benico's death in 1972, Nicolas Sarkozy and his brothers did not know they had Jewish roots. The Sarkozy brothers would learn the truth about their Jewish roots from their mother.
The authors said Benico did not tell his grandchildren about their Jewish roots to protect them, fearing anti-Semitism and another Holocaust, which killed most members of the Mallah clan.
In 1973, with his family facing financial difficulties, the 20-year-old Nicolas Sarkozy traveled to Salonika to sell his family's leftover property.
During a visit to Greece in July 2006, the Jewish community of Salonika honored Sarkozy at a ceremony at the French Embassy in Athens.
The community gave Sarkozy, then France's interior minister, an album of his family tree going back to his great-great-grandfather, along with pictures of his ancestors. Sarkozy recognized some of the faces in the pictures from his own family albums.
At the event he met Lucy Saltiel, the wife of the president of the Jewish community of Salonika and a member of the Mallah family. Visibly moved, Sarkozy told the Jewish community members, "My roots are here."