Robert Satloff wrote his groundbreaking book, Among the righteous, (covered extensively on this blog) in order to open a crack in the wall of Holocaust denial rampant in the Arab world. Satloff’s book began as a simple effort to find a righteous Arab who saved a Jew. What he didn’t expect, though, in the course of his research, was Jewish denial – a tendency to deny or gloss over Jewish suffering. He even met a Jew who claimed to have ‘nice memories’ of the Nazis.
Satloff comes up with an interesting explanation for this strange phenomenon. He concludes that denial was a mechanism for generation after generation of Jews to survive as dhimmis. Unswerving loyalty to the ruler provided the only safety shield against the capriciousness of the Muslim masses. Satloff’s theory not only explains why some Jews were anxious to put a positive spin on the way they were treated by the Nazis, but by Arab society generally. This quote from the book (p178) puts it well:
Generally, when I asked Jews in Morocco and Tunisia about their own and their families’ experience during the war, the usual refrain was: “It wasn’t so bad.”
“Only after several of these conversations did it occur to me that this sort of denial among Jews from Arab lands is part of their overall strategy for survival. As the last remnant of a people who had mastered the art of living as a tolerated community – sometimes protected, often abused, always second class – over 1,400 years of Muslim rule, these Jews long ago made peace with their lot. Their silence about the persecution they suffered at the hands of the Nazis and their Vichy and Fascist allies is just the latest in a string of silences. This is the same reflex to rush to the microphone after the Djerba and Casablanca bombings to assure the world that ‘everything’s fine.’ It isn’t of course. Life for the Jews in these countries hasn’t been fine for a long time, and it is getting worse. Young Jews are voting with their feet. (…)
“Jews who did leave these Arab lands have a different approach. Much depends, of course, on when they left (..) and where they went – to Israel, France and North America. But the one thread that ties together these disparate waves of emigration is a sense of grievance. After all, these were the ones who left. Something compelled them to leave, and rarely was the allure to Zion alone powerful enough to do that. Like many emigrant groups, these Jews are nostalgic for their roots. (..) But nostalgia can only smooth over the hard edges of memory. These Jews left for a reason.”