Tag: Jews of Morocco

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? 

Herzog calls on Israel to embrace Mizrahi religious tradition

Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog,  has marked the 200-year old anniversary of the passing of a great Moroccan rabbi with a call for Israeli society to embrace the traditions of the Jews from Arab and Islamic lands.

President Herzog speaking at the Hoshana Rabbah event

Speaking on Hoshana Rabbah, at the end of the Succot holiday, President Herzog declared: “We must all, as a nation and as a state, lovingly embrace the roots of the tradition of the Jews from Arab and Islamic lands, those known as Mizrahi Jews, and make it a significant and influential element of our conduct and lifestyles—as a society, as individuals, and most importantly—to discover, to learn, and to know.”

President Isaac Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog hosted a study session at the President’s Residence in honor of the Jewish holiday of Hoshana Rabbah. The event was held to mark 200 years since the passing of Rabbi Raphael Berdugo, one of the great sages of Moroccan Jewry. The event was attended by Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar; the president of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, Prof. Moshe Bar-Asher; Rabbi David Berdugo, a sixth-generation descendant of Rabbi Raphael Berdugo; and other rabbis, scholars, and descendants of the Moroccan sage.

Rabbi Raphael Berdugo (“the Angel Berdugo”) passed away 200 years ago on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Hoshana Rabbah. He was one of the greatest rabbis of Moroccan Jewry and left a tremendous mark on the history of Middle Eastern Jewry, leaving behind a glorious legacy. This special study session in his honor was the initiative of the Israel Prize laureate Prof. Moshe Bar-Asher, the president of the Academy of the Hebrew Language.

Only Jewish officer in Moroccan army dies

Victor Ohayon, a lieutenant colonel in  the Moroccan army and a well-known figure at the Mohammed V military hospital in Rabat, has died. Report in the Times of Israel: 

Ohayon was the only officer of the Moroccan army of Jewish faith, according to the Moroccan daily newspaper l’Opinion. He was 71 years old and died on the night of Yom Kippur. He was buried in Rabat on Sunday.

Although retired, he was a specialist in internal medicine and director of the department within the hospital. He is said to be the only Jewish doctor to have received the highest military rank in the history of the Moroccan army.

Read article in full (French)

How the Sultan’s Jewish Communists served Morocco

There is a good reason why  the handful of Moroccan Jews who were Communists, now the focus of a new book by Alma Heckman, became the face of  King Mohamed VI’s public relations campaign: they were anti-Zionists. Unlike the Jewish Communists driven out from Egypt or Iraq, the  Moroccan Jewish Communists stayed behind, shunned by the great mass of Zionist Moroccan Jewry and unable to resist the tide of antisemitic nationalism engulfing the country in the 1960s. (In his conversation (French) with the Moroccan political scientist Abdelila Bouasria (at approx 1:15 mins), the Israeli historian Yigal Bin-Nun calls the Jewish Communists ‘stupid’ –  they had sacrificed their lives for ideology). Interesting review of Heckman’s book  in Times of Israel by Sheldon Kirshner (with thanks: Laurence): 

Writer Edmond Amram El Maleh
Simon Levy, Founder of the Casablanca Jewish Museum


Jewish Communists had no problem rejecting Zionism. Their position was “one critical means of expressing devotion to the Moroccan state.” As El Maleh wrote in 1949, “We are Moroccans, we are not ‘foreigners,’ as the Zionists would have us believe … We are deeply Moroccan.”

Communists like him encouraged Jews to become more involved in the national liberation movement. But for most Jews, the fierce anti-Zionist atmosphere that enveloped Morocco was problematic, to say the least.

A few months before Israel’s proclamation of statehood, the Istiqlal claimed that all Jews were Zionists and exhorted Muslims to boycott Jewish shops and commercial enterprises. Following Israel’s creation, Sultan Mohammad V denounced Zionism, but urged Jews “not to lose sight of the fact they are Moroccans” and warned them to “abstain from any act that might support the Zionist aggression …”

In 1955, the sultan assured a Jewish delegation that Jews are “citizens with full rights like their Muslim compatriots.” He then appointed his Jewish personal physician, Dr. Leon Benzaquen, a member of Istiqlal, as a minister in the new government.

A year later, after the outbreak of the Sinai war, the sultan told Jewish dignitaries that Jews should remain in Morocco “because their place is here.”

By then, Jews were leaving Morocco in droves. Under popular pressure, the sultan banned Jewish emigration, only to lift the ban months later*, enabling an additional 92,000 Jews to leave between 1961 and 1964. With the death of the sultan, Crown Prince Moulay Hassan, his son and the future King Hassan II, ascended to the Moroccan throne. Uncertain of what lay ahead, still more Jews departed.

In the meantime, the PCM denounced antisemitism as antithetical to Moroccan “tradition,” called for greater monitoring of “notorious Zionist agents” who were “denationalizing” Jews, and asked Jews and Muslims to reject the polarizing effects of Zionism.

Amid the tensions, the Istiqlal began publishing openly antisemitic tracts. And one of its former leaders, Allal al-Fassi, said condescendingly that Jews “are nothing but dhimmis,” a derogatory word for tolerated minorities in Muslim societies.

In the aftermath of the Six Day War, Jewish businesses were boycotted. King Hassan II, the self-styled “protector” of Jews, defended the Jewish community and urged Moroccans to distinguish between Jews and Zionists. But he warned Moroccan Jews that their rights as citizens could be compromised by their endorsement of Zionism.

Jewish Communists issued a public declaration calling on Jews to cease their Zionist activities.

Morocco spent a small expeditionary force to Syria during the Yom Kippur War, but the king assured the Jewish community that its security would not be jeopardized.

Upon the Hassan’s death in 1999, his successor, King Mohammad VI, sought to portray Morocco as a beacon of tolerance and pluralism. Jewish Communists, who always had remained loyal to the monarchy, were only too glad to be coopted into the government’s public relations campaign.

“They, too, would become the ‘Sultan’s Communists,’” says Heckman. “They became the very international face of Moroccan openness … while simultaneously being shunned by the majority Jewish community.”

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*Emigration was banned between 1956 and 1961 – ed

Why can’t Moroccan Jews be deemed Holocaust survivors?

Jews who suffered in wartime Morocco will not be entitled to monthly payments as Holocaust survivors, the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled.  But is the judgement convincing? Lyn Julius investigates in JNS News: 

Marrakesh Mellah: Jews forced into mellahs by order of Vichy

When Haim Gabbai was 10 in wartime Morocco, his father was taken by force from the family home in Marrakesh and sent to a forced labour camp. A few months later, his father returned. He was ill, thin and had lost all his hair. The conditions in the camp had been atrocious.

It is believed that  at least 1,300 Moroccan Jews were sent to 37 forced labour camps. Together with refugees, dissidents and soldiers, some of whom were European Jews, the Moroccans were interned in camps on the Moroccan-Algerian border to build the Trans-Sahara railway. Others were sent away for months to work in mines or do back-breaking work.

From 1940, Morocco, a French protectorate,  was ruled by the pro-Nazi Vichy French regime. Under pressure from Vichy, the sultan of Morocco, the future Mohamed V, rubber-stamped various antisemitic edicts dismissing Jews from jobs, public spaces and schools.  Some claim that these directives went beyond anything the Nazis had applied in occupied France.

In August 1941 some 55,000 Jews –over 20 percent of the Moroccan-Jewish population – were forced out of their homes in Casablanca and Fez. They were ordered to live in the crowded and disease-ridden, run-down Jewish mellahs  in preparation for  eventual evacuation and deportation. After the war, these Jews did not regain their property.

Comparatively little is known in Israel about the plight of Moroccan Jewry during World War II. There are few written testimonies. Historians of the period did not conduct detailed interviews, or asked the wrong questions. It may be too late to write a conclusive history of this period, as most victims are now dead.

Moroccan Jews have had an uphill struggle to be recognised as Holocaust victims. Of a total of 35,000 some 23,000 came to light as a result of research by lawyer David Yadid who has represented survivors in three rounds of cases in the Israeli courts. Survivors from Morocco and Algeria were able to get an annual grant of 4,000 shekels ($1,240). Subsequently the Claims Conference decided to give them one-off grants of 2,500 euros.

In August 2021, however, in a suit filed against the Finance Ministry’s Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority, the plaintiffs suffered a setback: they lost their a class action  for monthly renta payments  in the Israeli courts.

Israel’s Supreme Court rejected  the demand for several reasons.

The first was that the Moroccan authorities ‘made their own decisions separately  from the main Vichy government, and the Germans had little influence over them’.  In turn, the Vichy government was considered to have been acting independently of the Nazis. But an expert witness for the plaintiffs countered that Xavier Vallet, deputy to Vichy leader Maréchal Pétain, initiated the Nuremberg laws in Morocco.  Vallat was convicted as a Nazi war criminal after the war. “Such documentation would have been enough to convict Eichmann,” said the witness. And if inmates of internment camps in Vichy-occupied France had been able to claim compensation as Shoah victims, why not Jews who had suffered in Moroccan camps?

Three judges agreed that Moroccan Jews suffered antisemitic abuse from the authorities but  the harm they suffered “consisted mainly of a reduced ability to acquire housing, education and employment”. “These restrictions, which weren’t imposed in the territory of the German Reich but on Moroccan soil”, said the court,  “don’t meet the demands of the law.”

Secondly, the plaintiffs had not managed to persuade the court that the Jews had suffered ‘extreme tension and fear’. Yet in spite of the Allied ‘liberation’ of Morocco and Algeria after Operation Torch in November 1942, the United States allowed the Vichy regime to remain in place until the end of 1944 . With the apparent support of the king,  the regime’s French SOL troops had apparently  instigated vicious anti-Jewish riots in January and February 1943. These would have created a climate of fear.

Most bizarre of all, the court observed that history is open to revisionism and interpretation, whereas the  ‘law works according to precise rules, with all the pros and cons that that entails.”

The Moroccan failure in the Israeli courts recalls a similar ruling against Farhud survivors, who had argued  unsuccessfully, after five legal rounds, that the 1941 pogrom in Iraq was a Nazi-inspired event.

Professor Yitschak Kerem, an expert on the Holocaust as it affected Sephardi communities, discerns a deliberate effort on the part of the Ashkenazi establishment in Israel to downplay or marginalise the sufferings of Jews in Morocco and Iraq.

Lawyer David  Yadid accused the treasury of “discriminating between victims of the Nazi regime out of budgetary considerations,” pointing out that the Jews of Libya and Tunisia had been recognized as victims of Nazi persecution. He will consider asking for a re-hearing with an expanded panel of judges.

In any event, we have not heard the last of this story.

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