The birth of CRIF is at the heart of the Holocaust, when Nazi occupation forces and French collaboration, the Vichy government, worked against a battered Jewish community. Many political and cultural organizations, worship and social institutions, functioned before the war, amongst them the Central Consistory of Jews in France and Algeria, the Alliance Israelite Universelle, the Federation of Jewish Societies of France, ORT, OSE, the Jewish Scouts of France. There were also groups close to communism, Zionist training organizations, Bund (Jewish socialism), an association of Jewish students, youth groups Halutz, religious and secular circles.
The raffles began in the community in the North and South zones in 1941. The first targets were foreign Jews. Jewish organizations set up rescue operations to obtain false papers and livelihoods, hide the children.
In July 1943, negotiations allowed the creation of the General Committee of Jewish Defense. Finally, an agreement was concluded with the Central Consistory leading to the creation of the clandestine Representative Council of Israelites of France (hence the acronym CRIF) which charter was finally developed in 1944.
CRIF's first duty was to unify all the rescue operations. CRIF was the only political representation of the organized community and stood for the unity of the community. Its first president was Leon Meiss. Other famous names have contributed to the birth of CRIF: Leo Glasser, Joseph Fisher, Nahum Herman, Zvi Levin, Michel Topiol, Joseph Frydman, F. Schrager, Adam Henry, Claude Kelman, Adam Rayski.
From 1944 to 1947, the community had to be rebuilt. 76,000 Jews were deported from France to death camps during the Holocaust. The CRIF accomplished the necessary formalities with the authorities to provide legal aid and social assistance to war victims. Internationally, the institution increased the contacts with the World Jewish Congress and other Anglo-Saxon association,s such as the American Jewish Committee.
Since its creation, ten presidents have been at the head of CRIF: Leon Meiss (1944-1950), Vidal Modiano (1950-1969), Ady Steg (1970-1974), Jean Rosenthal (1974-1976), Alain de Rothschild (1976-1982), Theo Klein (1983-1989), John Kahn (1989-1995), Henri Hajdenberg (1995-2001), Roger Cukierman (2001-2007).
Since May 13, 2007, CRIF is presided by Richard Prasquier.