Théophile Joseph
Théophile Joseph in his younger years

Berkeley’s Théo Joseph, French Resistance fighter, dies at 98

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Théophile Joseph, who was known as “Swing” in his French Resistance unit fighting the Nazis in World War II, and who went on to become an international grain trader with Louis Dreyfus Corp. and an arbitrator, died on Jan. 25 at home in Berkeley, surrounded by family. He was 98.

Joseph was born in a house in Neuwiller, in Alsace, France, where seven generations of his Jewish family lived. When they had to flee the Nazis into the French Free Zone, they were the last Jewish family in town. Today the former synagogue there is a carpenter’s workshop.

Théophile Joseph
Théophile Joseph

After earning his bacalaurèat at the Collège du Bastberg-Bouxwiller, Joseph worked at Louis Dreyfus in Antwerp, Belgium. When the Nazis invaded, the office was closed. He was conscripted into the Chantiers de Jeunesse near Marseille. He worked as a farmhand at the Chateâu Langlade before joining the French Resistance.

As part of his unit, Revanche, he helped British and American spies parachute into France, distributed weapons and talked the Allies out of blowing up the historic Eiffel-designed iron bridge across the river Truyère (instead, only concrete blocks were blown up, saving the bridge while destroying the rails used by the Nazis). Joseph also fought in the battle of Chaudes-Aigues and Saint-Flour.

In his autobiography “Memoires,” Joseph described guarding the teenage son of Resistance hero and French historian Marc Bloch, whom the Gestapo captured, tortured and killed in Lyon. Joseph compared this job to “Saving Private Ryan.” Joseph later joined the 152nd Infantry Regiment of Colmar as a lieutenant, liberating Alsace and capturing parts of Germany, including Ludwigsburg.

Joseph earned a Croix de Guerre military decoration. But as he said later, he was never a soldier, just a resister and liberator.

After World War II, he rejoined Louis Dreyfus in Paris. Transferred to New York, Joseph worked as a trader and rose to vice president, helping negotiate the famous Russian wheat deal and building a grain elevator in Port-Cartier, Quebec, among many other accomplishments.

When he left Louis Dreyfus, he became an arbitrator and consultant, with assignments from helping Algeria build its grain silos to teaching representatives of developing nations about agriculture at the Canadian International Grains Institute.

In New York, he married Monique Kaufmann, who also had survived the war. She hid in France under the alias “Monique Colin.” She had escaped the French concentration camp Nexon. They celebrated their 70th anniversary in October.

An avid soccer and tennis player and witty raconteur, Joseph enjoyed debating politics and economics, reading history and writing his engaging autobiography.

Mostly he was a devoted family man. Joseph is survived by his wife, Monique; daughter, Nadine Joseph (Neil Goteiner); three grandchildren, Nicole Lopez (Morgan), Maya Joseph-Goteiner (Michael Courvoisier) and David Joseph-Goteiner; and three great-grandchildren, Jackson, Max and Emmett. Before moving to Berkeley, he and Monique lived in Nice, where they played bridge, learned Yiddish, traveled and walked on the Promenade des Anglais.

Donations can be made in his memory to J. The Jewish News of Northern California. Joseph believed in a free, independent Jewish press.

Donna Rosenthal
Donna Rosenthal

Donna Rosenthal, author of “The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land,” was an Israel TV producer, Israel Radio reporter and Hebrew University lecturer. She’s written for the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic and taught university journalism. A J. board member, she lives in the East Bay.