Was the king of Morocco a ‘righteous gentile’ ?

A row has broken out over whether the wartime king of Morocco, Mohammad V, should be recognised as a ‘righteous gentile’ for his role is protecting the Jews of Morocco. Serge Berdugo, a leader of the Moroccan Jewish community, and Israel President Shimon Peres say yes. Yad Vashem and the French Jewish body CRIF say no. Shirli Sitbon reports in The Jewish Chronicle:

“Moroccan Jews believe Mohammad V was responsible for saving Jewish lives during the second world war, and Mr Peres decided to endorse an initiative led by Moroccan community leader Serge Berdugo after they met at the Israeli President’s inauguration ceremony.

“However, the Yad Vashem museum is less convinced. “Mohammad V is not on our agenda,” a spokesman told the JC.

“The king doesn’t fill the necessary conditions to be designated,” added Richard Prasquier, the Yad Vashem representative in France and head of Jewish umbrella group CRIF. “Mohammad V didn’t actually save Jews since there was no official demand to deport them to death camps and he didn’t risk his life. These are two of the basic conditions necessary for the title.”

“Mohammad V did save lives!” declared Mr Berdugo, also a roaming ambassador for King Mohammad VI, grandson of Mohammad V. “Historical documents prove Mohammad V refused to treat Moroccan Jews any different from the Muslims. He received Jewish officials during the war and told them he had sympathy for them.”

“Moroccan Jews say that when French officials gave Moroccan authorities yellow stars for Jews to wear, King Mohammad asked for a dozen more, and explained that he and his family would wear them too.

“Mohammad V was very respectful and fond of the Jewish community, but some situations have built-up into legends, turning the king into a saviour,” historian Jean-Pierre Allali *told the JC. “An equivalent situation existed in Denmark, where, according to the legend, the king rode on a horse wearing the Star of David.”

“Mr Berdugo does not agree that his request is based on a legend. “Historians are working very seriously on this issue and there is no doubt King Mohammad saved lives,” he said.

“Some have implied that Mr Berdugo has ulterior motives, and that he might become Morocco’s first ambassador to Israel if relations improved further. “There are those who believe Mohammad V was righteous and others who plead for him for political reasons,” a Jewish community official told the JC.

“Mr Berdugo flatly denied this. “This process will probably take a long time, but at the end I’m sure Mohammad V, the king that saved so many Jews, will get the tribute that he deserves.”

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*Robert Satloff also testifies that ” in a variation on the apocryphal stand attributed to Denmark’s king Christian X, the French resident-general announced that all Moroccan Jews had to wear the yellow star of David. The sultan replied that the French had better order 20 extra, for him and all the members of the royal family. In another the Germans informed the sultan that they planned to deport the Moroccan Jews to death camps in Europe. According to the story, the sultan brashly came to the Jews’ defense, declaring that none would be deported because all Moroccans are his children. There is no historical basis to these legends.”

Michel Abitbol goes even further: “To our knowledge, no anti-Jewish measure was ever suppressed or slowed down as a result of the sultan’s intervention.”

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