Moroccan Jews should be treated no differently than Vichy survivors

In August, Israel’s Supreme Court denied Holocaust compensation for the Jews of Morocco who immigrated to Israel. The justices ruled that their suffering because of the Nazi-inspired anti-Semitic legislation enacted by Nazi-aligned Vichy France, does not entitle them to monthly stipends under Israeli Nazi persecution law. Yet survivors of the Vichy regime in France have received such compensation. Edith Shaked writes in the Times of Israel: 

The first anti-Jewish laws were published in this French newspaper on 18 October 1940

But Israel must recognize a simple historical truth: During the Holocaust in France, the Nazi collaborationist Vichy government and Nazi Germany considered the Vichy Jews of French North Africa to be part of the Jews of “the whole of France,” and thus the Moroccan authorities were not responsible for the persecution of the Jews.

During WWII, from July 1940, the pro-Nazi French Vichy regime controlled the French protectorates of Morocco, Tunisia and French Algeria. Following the Nazi invasion of France, the regime enacted the ‘Statut des Juifs,’ a catalog of Nazi-inspired discriminatory laws. Jews lost their jobs in the professions and were excluded from public schools and spaces. Thousands of Jews were sent to forced labor camps in the three French territories in North Africa, and, in Nazi-occupied Vichy Tunisia, thousands wore the yellow star.

French Morocco was then nominally ruled by the Moroccan sultan. The Israeli justices ruled that the Moroccan authorities acted to harm Jews on their own accord, without being forced to do so by Nazi Germany. As JTA reported, they ruled that “Moroccan authorities acted to harm Jews on their own accord, without being forced to do so by Nazi Germany.”

As a result, those victimized by Nazi-inspired anti-Jewish measures are not recognized as Holocaust survivors under Israeli Nazi persecution law and are not eligible for compensation.

But the Israeli judges ascribed more power to the Moroccan authorities than they actually exercised. The Nazi collaborationist Vichy government was fully in charge, and it treated the 400,000 Vichy Jews of French North Africa – France on the other side of the Mediterranean – no differently from Jews in metropolitan France, implementing there the same Nazi-inspired anti-Jewish measures as they did in metropolitan France.

My grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, told me how in the 1930s French schoolchildren learned about “France on both sides of the Mediterranean [sea],” and that, “the Mediterranean divides France, like the Seine River divides Paris.” The websites of Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum make it clear that French North Africa was an integral part of Vichy- France.

Under the French-German ceasefire agreement of June 1940, Marshal Philippe Pétain, head of the new French Vichy government, de facto and de jure ruled the two protectorates of Morocco and Tunisia, and French Algeria. Every Tuesday, a Vichy official met with Nazi officials at the German embassy in Nazi-occupied Paris because Pétain decided to collaborate with Hitler in the matter of a solution to the Jewish Question.

In his book, “The Holocaust,” no less an expert than Yehuda Bauer writes that the Nazis themselves, who were targeting and killing Jews, considered the Jews of Vichy France North Africa as ‘French’ Jews living in France. At the January 1942 Wannsee conference, the Nazi top brass determined that 700,000 Jews of France would be targeted for the Final Solution. This figure necessarily includes the 400,000 Jews in Vichy North Africa, since only 300,000 Jews lived in metropolitan France.

Clause 9 of the 3 October 1940 Statut des Juifs expressly demanded its implementation not only in metropolitan France, but also on the French soil of Vichy Tunisia, Vichy Algeria, and Vichy Morocco.

In June 1941, Xavier Vallat, head of the Office for Jewish Affairs “for the whole of France,” which was created under Nazi pressure on Vichy, enacted the second antisemitic Statut des Juifs. Clause 11 demanded its implementation in Vichy Tunisia, Vichy Algeria, and Vichy Morocco. The Nazi collaborationist Vichy regime liaised with the German embassy in Nazi-occupied Paris. There, the Jewish Affairs representative stressed the special clauses applying to Vichy Tunisia/Algeria/Morocco, and forwarded the Statut to Adolf Eichmann’s bureau IVB4, the branch of the Reich Central Office for Security (RSHA) devoted to Jewish matters in Berlin.

In August 1941, Vallat traveled to Vichy Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco to check that the solution to “the Jewish question” was being properly implemented. Before his departure he appointed Franceschi, a Vichy official, to head a new “Aryanization” service in Vichy North Africa. Upon his return to metropolitan France, Vallat visited the German embassy in Paris and met with such Nazi Germany officials as SS Dr. Best, an active proponent of ridding Europe of its Jews, and SS Captain Theodor Dannecker, head of Jewish Affairs office, and Adolf Eichmann’s personal representative in France.

Thus between 1940 and 1942, the Vichy Jews of “France on both sides of the Mediterranean,” were persecuted and discriminated against by the same Nazi collaborationist Vichy government, applying the same Nazi principles, the same language, and the same methods. They were identified, counted, ostracized, segregated, isolated, systematically discriminated against, pauperized, dispossessed, objectified, incarcerated, demonized and deprived of their civil rights and property. Civic, social, and economic deaths were the preparatory measures for the annihilation of the 700,000 Jews of Vichy France. The bureaucracy and the machinery to deport them to the death camps were set in motion.

Maxime Weygand, Vichy’s delegate general and commander-in-chief in French Africa, rigorously attempted to implement the Nazi-inspired antisemitic racial legislation in Vichy North Africa. The rules were sometimes even harsher than the laws in metropolitan France.

Fortunately, the Allies liberated Vichy North Africa by May 1943. The 400,000 Vichy Jews were spared the mass deportations that took place in metropolitan France. Their fate was comparable to that of the 7,000 Jews of Denmark, who were spared deportation.

The Holocaust evolved in different stages and affected countries and territories differently, whether they were occupied by Nazi Germany or in the Nazi Germany sphere of influence, depending on local conditions and the course taken by the war.

The Nazi goal remained unchanged in all these different countries and territories – namely, to kill all the Jews within reach, and create “a world without Jews.”

To paraphrase Holocaust scholar Gerhard Weinberg, “the Holocaust did not function according to rules of procedure established by Holocaust historians” – or, indeed, according to rules of procedure established for the Israeli Supreme Court.

The Israeli justices declared that “the role of the historian is separate from that of the court. ” They would do well to heed English Judge Charles Gray, who presided over David Irving’s libel action against American historian Deborah Lipstadt. His words “no objective fair-minded historian would have serious cause to doubt” could apply to the Moroccan authorities. The Moroccan sultan was ruler in name only. He rubber-stamped decrees submitted to him by the Vichy French authorities, as per the Constitution of the Protectorate.

The Nazi-aligned Vichy authorities drafted the anti-Jewish Nazi-inspired laws, had them translated into Arabic, submitted them to the sultan for his signature, and implemented them.

The correct verdict should have been to approve immediate payment by the Israeli Finance Ministry of a monthly stipend, as had been received by the Jews in metropolitan France, who were not forced to resort to the courts. The Jews of Vichy Tunisia and Vichy Algeria had also to sue.

The Israeli government must also clarify that the Muslim Arab authorities were not responsible for the suffering of the Jews in Nazi collaborationist Vichy North Africa. It was the Nazi-aligned Vichy government.

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Why can’t Moroccan Jews be deemed Holocaust survivors? 

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