The Mellah’s main street, devastated by the French bombardment of April 1912. The Mellah houses were later rebuilt with balconies and the streets widened.
While much of the western world has been marking the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, another tragedy is being quietly commemorated this week by Jews from Morocco. It is 100 years since a terrible pogrom devastated the Jewish quarter, or mellah, of Fez. Lyn Julius blogs at The Times of Israel:
Just as the Jews of Iraq have the Farhud, the Jews of Fez have a name for their pogrom: the Tritl – literally ‘sack’ of Fez. The irony was that the Tritl broke out as Jews had finished celebrating their Mimouna, a convivial end to Passover when they invite their Muslim neighbours into their homes for mouffleta pancakes.
Two weeks after Morocco became a French Protectorate on 30 March 1912, Muslim army recruits, outraged at the takeover of the infidel, mutinied against their French officers. Egged on by women standing on the rooftops, the soldiers are said to have played football with the officers’ decapitated heads and decorated their chests with their victims’ intestines. In no time at all, the cry went up, “To the mellah!”
The French having previously confiscated all weapons, the Jews had no means to defend themselves. Looters broke doors down and stole jewellery, furniture, crockery, dishes and clothes. They desecrated synagogues and burnt Torah scrolls. Men, women and children were murdered in cold blood, hurled from roofs, mutilated and raped.
Sultana Elbaz was killed at an upstairs window. She was hit in the chest by a bullet fired by a soldier who had burst into the courtyard of her home. It is said that her baby survived by suckling her blood.
Escaping through a new gate from the mellah, Jews sought sanctuary in the medina, where some Arabs sheltered them. The Sultan Moulay Hafid took many starving Jews into his palace and sent them bread and olives. All the time the refugees remained there, until 28 April, it did not stop raining.
The abiding image of the 1912 Tritl is of Jews sheltering in the sultan’s menagerie. One photo shows the sultan’s lions and tigers in one cage, and Jews crammed cheek by jowl in the adjoining cage. So many Jews streamed into the palace that even the animal cages, the historical accounts suggest, had to be emptied for them. But the Jews had more than a passing familiarity with the beasts: the historian Nathan Weinstock writes that as degraded ‘dhimmis’, it was the Jews’ chore to feed the royal lions and tigers. He even met a man who knew a man who bore a scar on his face from one of these big cats.
On 19 April, in order to force the rioters away, French soldiers fired rockets and bombs, laying waste to much of the mellah. Jews abandoned the mellah, which was pillaged the next day.
During the three days of violence, 45 Jews were killed, although some estimates are higher. Over 70 were injured. French troops suffered an equal number of casualties*, while almost 1,000 Muslims were killed or wounded. A third of the mellah was destroyed, and 12,000 Jews found themselves homeless.