Of all the things you can say about France, one thing most people seem able to agree on is the beauty and euphony of its language. This could, in fact, explain why the French town of La Mort aux Juifs has gone uncriticized for so long. Just let those words softly roll off your tongue, if you can manage the pronunciation, of course, and they sound quite sweet. But here's the problem: La Mort aux Juifs means "Death to Jews". You read that right — there's a French town named Death to Jews, and there's an understandable outcry that they should really change it to something, you know, less genocidal.
What might surprise you, however, is that the town is balking at the request. According to The Guardian, Shimon Samuels, the international affairs director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, wrote to French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve to make the Jewish advocacy group's displeasure fully clear. Samuels called it "extremely shocking that this name has slipped under the radar in the 70 years that have passed since France was liberated from Nazism," making about as fair and clear a request as any could be — your name is Death to Jews. Change it, please?
But the tiny town (its population is a mere 289 people, according to to Time) is having none of it. At least that's the stance deputy mayor Marie-Elizabeth Secretand is taking. According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), Secretand is going with the "tradition" excuse on this one.
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.
It's unclear how exactly the town ended up with such a troubling moniker. As detailed in the Washington Post, the Wiesenthal Center believes the name could be over 700 years old, a relic of France's anti-Jewish pogroms of the early 1300s that drove out over 100,000 Jews.
And the presence of anti-semitism in modern-day Europe is part of the group's opposition to the name — as USA Today reported, the ongoing armed conflict between Israel and Gaza has brought with it a surge of anti-Semitism throughout Europe broadly, and France in particular. According to Roger Cukierman, who serves as President of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, things have been particularly rough there lately, with escalating violence and attacks on eight different synagogues.
All in all, the past and present considering, it'd sure be a generous favor for the people of La Mort aux Juifs to give up their awful name. But, for the time being, it seems like they're unwilling. They should really take a cue from a Spanish village that faced a similar problem — formerly called Castrillo Matajudios, or "Castrillo Kill Jews" according to The Guardian, the populace narrowly voted to adopt the name Castrillo Mota de Judios, or "Castrillo Hill of the Jews." Maybe next time around they can take the "Jew" part out altogether?