Chapter 17: Ashkenazi Middlemen in the Agricultural Sector in Europe
* Léo-Paul Dana INTRODUCTION Based on oral testimonies of retired entrepreneurs and verified by means of triangulation, this chapter gives an account of the livestock distribution system which prevailed in Alsace until the Second World War. In this region of traditional rivalry between French and Germans, the sector was dominated by family enterprises speaking Jédich-Daitch, serving as a middleman minority, and dealing between French-speakers and Germanspeakers, who did not trade with one another. The agro-marketing sector in Alsace developed in a manner distinctly different from its counterparts elsewhere. In Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, livestock auctions have long existed, and farmers have been dealing directly at these markets. In contrast, the distribution of livestock in this multicultural region of France relied primarily on networks of middlemen known in local dialect as Päjmes Händler and in French as marchands de bestiaux – merchants of livestock. This was the case until the mid-twentieth century, when cooperatives started to become major players. Entrepreneurs who remember working in this industry are few and aging. Most of the relevant documents were destroyed during the Second World War. It is timely, therefore, to research this sector, while the last of its players are still alive. Based on first-hand accounts, the purpose of this chapter is to provide for future generations, information about the activities of formerly essential small enterprises in the food sector, which once provided an essential service, now replaced by new distribution channels. A retired farmer...
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