Robert Blum, 91, was an Algerian-Jewish schoolboy forced to leave his French school during WWII. Algerian Jews were stripped of their French nationality, professionals lost their jobs and many businesses were seized. Now, owing to efforts by the Claims Conference, 25,000 Algerian Jews may be about receive compensation from the German government, just as Moroccan and Tunisian (and evenIraqi)Jews have done. (It is notable that Berlin is being held accountable for Jewish persecution, not the French government, even though Algeria was under direct Vichy control.) The Times of Israel reports (with thanks: Lily, Imre):
Jewish tailors in Algeria. White-colour workers lost their jobs during WWII. (Courtesy: JIMENA)
Algeria, under the control of Vichy France at
the time, was introducing a series of anti-Semitic laws which stripped
Jews of their French citizenship, barred Jewish children from public
schools, and prevented Jewish doctors, lawyers, pharmacists and other
professionals from working in their trades.
Now the Conference on Jewish Material Claims
Against Germany, also known as the Claims Conference, is making the case
to the German government that it should compensate Jews who were in
Algeria at the time of the Shoah.
“It was obviously not like the camps in
Poland, but it doesn’t mean that there wasn’t persecution — and on that
basis we believe that people are entitled to compensation,” said Greg
Schneider, the executive vice president of the Claims Conference.
There were approximately 130,000 Jews in
Algeria during World War II, and it is estimated that about 25,000 of
them are still living — mostly in France, Schneider said.
As far as Blum remembers, being kicked out of
the government school wasn’t so bad — he just had to go to a different
school nearby, where all the students and teachers were Jewish. The
Jewish school was not far from the French school, so he could still
spend time with his old schoolmates.
“Nothing terrible happened,” he says. “It’s
true that Jewish students were kicked out, but at the same time,
separate schools were organized for them. There was no animosity between
the Jewish and Catholic students.”
But historians say the bigger picture was
bleaker. During the war, the quota for Jewish students in both primary
school and high school in Algeria was lowered from 14 percent to 7%,
according to Jean Laloum, a historian who specializes in contemporary
Jewish history in North Africa at the Centre Nationale de la Recherche
Scientifique in France.
“It was catastrophic for parents that their
children had no future because they couldn’t go to school. It was the
worst of the measures,” said Laloum.
In addition, after Algerian Jews were stripped
of their French citizenship in October of 1940, the quota for Jews who
could work as doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, midwives, architects, and
in other professional fields was lowered to 2%. Many Jewish
professionals lost their jobs.
Jewish businessmen were also targeted after
anti-Semitic laws were introduced to transfer property that was owned by
Jews to non-Jewish businessmen.
For example, in July of 1942, an Algerian law
barred Jews from operating drinking establishments, which included both
cafes and bars, Laloum said.
In addition, Jewish real-estate and businesses
in Algeria were often taken away and transferred to Aryans. The homes
where Jews lived were not seized, but their commercial properties were
often targeted, said Laloum.
Blum says that this actually almost happened
to his aunt and uncle. They were arrested under fraudulent allegations,
imprisoned and sent to court in Lyon, France. Luckily, the court in Lyon
dismissed the case after finding the allegations absurd and his uncle
was freed, he said.
“There were people who wanted to take
advantage of the situation to seize shops and businesses that belonged
to the Jews,” Blum said. “But then the court cases didn’t hold any
water, and the cases were annulled.”
But according to Laloum and Schneider, many Jews in Algeria did lose their properties and businesses.
“Jewish property was confiscated, I think it was common,” Schneider said.
In addition to economic difficulties,
historians say that there were alsolabor campsin southern Algeria
during the war, and some of the prisoners were Jewish, although Laloum
did not know how many Algerian Jews may have been sent to these labor
The prisoners in these camps had to break
stones and build roads under the hot sun and the conditions were so
severe that some prisoners died, Laloum said. While most people were
sent there because they opposed the regime or because they were
communists, a “certain number of Jews were imprisoned in these camps
because they were Jewish,” Laloum said.
In recent years, the Claims Conference has
successfully persuaded the German government to expand the eligibility
for compensation for more Jews who lived through the Holocaust.
Most recently, the German government agreed to
compensate Jews who had been in hiding for at least four months during
the Holocaust, while previously the criteria called for at least a year
and a half, Schneider said.
Jews from the town of Iasi, in Romania, have
become eligible for compensation since this past July. The German
government even provides some funds to Jews from the former Soviet Union
who never lived under Nazi occupation — such as those who survived the
siege of Leningrad and those who fled from the war together with other
More markedly, the German government has
recognized the persecution of Moroccan and Tunisian Jews but has not
done so for Algerian Jews — even though Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria
were all similarly under the control of Vichy France during WWII.
In Morocco — unlike Algeria — Jews did not
lose their citizenship and their property was not seized, Schneider
said. Still, Germany recognized that Moroccan Jews suffered from fascist
persecution because some were forced to move into historic Jewish
districts, called mellahs, which were similar to ghettos. These mellahs
were not fenced off or locked, but they were Jewish neighborhoods
nonetheless. German law recognizes forced residence as a type of
persecution, Schneider said.