Nicolas Sarkozy during a visit at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in December 2004.
PARIS-ATHENS (EJP)---The tough-talking Nicolas Sarkozy, who came out first from the first round of French presidential election on Sunday ahead of his Socialist rival Ségolène Royal, casts himself as a moderniser and the man who wants to lead France into a "clean break" with a discredited past.
French voters chose to put Sarkozy and Royal in the runoff for the second round of the election on May 6.
They won respectively 31.1% and 25.8 % of the vote.
The 52-year-old son of a Hungarian immigrant and a French mother of Greek Jewish origin, Sarkozy has served as Interior Minister twice, as Finance Minister and, since 2004, president of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP).
Born in January 1955, Sarkozy had a privileged upbringing in the affluent Paris suburb of Neuilly where he served as mayor from 1983 to 2002. He studied law and -- unlike most of France’s ruling class -- avoided the elite National Administration School (ENA).
Twice married, Sarkozy has three children -- the third by his current wife Cecilia with whom his stormy relationship has received widespread coverage in the gossip magazines.
The Mallah family in Salonika
Sarkozy’s mother is from the Mallah family, which originally came from Spain like all Jews of Salonika, northern Greece, and left with the expulsion of the Jews by King Ferdinand. They settled initially in France.
About 100 years later the family immigrated to Salonika.
Sarkozy’s great grandfather, who died in 1913, was a well known jeweler in Salonika.
His business was destroyed when a fire in 1917 destroyed almost the entire city of Salonika.
The grave of Mordohai Mallah exists till today at Stavroupoli where it was transferred from the old cemetery just before the Germans walked in the cited a during WWII and destroyed the Jewish cemetery.
Nicolas’s grand father, Benedict, was the first child of seven children. His real name was Aaron but the family called him Benico. At the age of 14 Benico and his mother left for France where he studied medicine and served in the French army as a doctor during WWI, where he met his future wife Adel Bouvieux a pretty nurse.
In order to marry her he was baptized Catholic and took the name Benedict.
The couple had two daughters Suzanne and Andrée, the mother of Nicolas, who married in the 50’s an Hungarian immigrant Paul Sarkozy, the father of Nicolas.
In July 2006, while on a visit to Greece, Nicolas Sarkozy was honored at the French embassy in Athens by the Jewish Community of Salonika.
A plaque was unveiled which said: “In memory of Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to Greece from the Thessaloniki Jewish Community, the town of your ancestors, mother and city of Israel and Jerusalem of the Balkans.”
Along with the plaque the community gave the French minister an album of his genealogical tree going back to his great-great-grandfather along with pictures of his ancestors. Sarkozy recognized some of the people in the pictures from his family albums.
At the event the wife of the president of the Jewish community of Salonika David Saltiel, Lucy, who was born from the same Mallah family, was also present. A visibly moved Sarkozy thanked the community and said: “my roots are here”.
Most of the members of the Mallah family perished in the Holocaust. Today the remaining members are living mainly in Switzerland, France and England.