Tag: Jews of North Africa

How TIME reported the North African exodus in 1962

Press reports about the mass exodus of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East are rare: perhaps the media just haven’t considered it newsworthy. But in 1962, TIME did devote column inches to the subject. Most Jews did go to Israel, although a fair proportion did end up in France. Now French Jews of North African origin are making aliya in their thousands.

Refugees from North Africa arriving in Marseille

The independence of Morocco, Tunisia and now Algeria—joyful news to Moslems—has for Jews signaled another vast and melancholy exodus like so many other uprootings since Moses. A decade ago, 250,000 Jews lived in Morocco. 150,000 in Algeria and 100,000 in Tunisia; now about half of them have left. Last week alone, 5,000 North African Jews arrived by ship and plane in Marseille. By 1975, Jewish leaders estimate, their communities in North Africa will be reduced to less than 15% of their former size.

Jews were living and working in North Africa before the Romans came. Some of them are Berber tribesmen whose ancestors were converted from paganism before the 7th century A.D. Others are Sephardim—Descendants of Spanish Jews who were forced into exile across the Mediterranean by Visigothic persecution in the 6th century or the Inquisition of the 15th. A third strain consists of European Jews who settled in North African cities after World War II. All three have found that exile is the inevitable aftermath of independence.

In Tunisia, President Habib Bourguiba promised that Jews would be allowed to practice their religion in peace: “While I am alive, not a hair on Jewish heads will be touched.” But Tunisian Jews are trapped in the cold war between Israel and the Arab states. Bourguiba’s government has disbanded even Jewish religious organizations on the ground that they promote Zionism, and Jews fear that other Arab countries could force Tunisia to impose restrictions upon them.

In Morocco, the government placed restrictions on Jewish emigration until last October, and fortnight ago closed down the office of the agency in Casablanca that chartered ships and planes for Jews eager to leave the country. Although Jews who leave for Israel are officially forbidden to return to their homes, there is little overt anti-Semitism in Morocco. But emigration goes on, and businessmen in Casablanca complain that they cannot find Jewish labor. “Morocco is down the drain for us,” says one Jewish cafe owner.

In Algeria, Jews fear the onset of independence this week even more than their Christian pied-noir neighbors. Many were active supporters of the underground Secret Army; in Constantine, for example, the first anti-Moslem commando force was composed largely of Jews—and the F.L.N. has not forgotten it.

In many Algerian towns, Moslems have stopped patronizing Jewish-owned movie houses. In the streets of Djelfa, Moslem children chant: “Ben-Gurion to the gallows, Ben Bella to the palace.” In the last 18 months, entire communities of Arabized Jews from the Sahara, whose speech and dress are indistinguishable from their Moslem neighbors, have left the country.

Some North African Jews have, of course, gone to Israel, but more than two-thirds have settled in France, if for no better reason than that they speak French. Thanks to the exodus, France now has the fourth largest Jewish community in the world.* Jewish, Christian and nonreligious charitable organizations have collaborated to help the newcomers, but their life is often unbearably hard.

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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? 

The unknown story of ‘Africa aboard the Exodus’

It is not well known that aboard the legendary Exodus ship, carrying over 4,000 Holocaust survivors,  was a group of 50 young  Zionist boys from North Africa.  Ynet News has the story (with thanks: Josh):
The ‘Exodus’ was not allowed to dock in Haifa
The Exodus is the most famous illegal immigrant ship in Zionist history. Its Hebrew name is “Exodus from Europe”, but, it turns out, there were also about 50 young immigrants from North Africa on board, whose story is almost untold. Next month, the Palmach House will host a conference of the first Exodus immigrants on the subject of the group of young people from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria who were on the ship.
A few of the Exodus immigrants from North Africa still survive. Shlomo Busquila, 92, a native of Casablanca, is one of those boys. “Until the age of 17, I lived with my family, and then I and another 7- 6 friends sailed on a ship on the way to Marseille in France, to join a Zionist network that would prepare us to immigrate to Eretz Israel and join the kibbutz,” Busquila recalled. “We went to the city of Toulouse, we went through the training in July 1947 and the agency informed us that we would board an illegal immigrant ship of the ‘Aliyah Bet.’ We went to the city of Sète in the south of France, and boarded a huge ship of 4,500 immigrants.”
Shlomo Busqila, 92
“The journey to Haifa lasted seven days, and only on the ship did we realize that most of the immigrants were Holocaust survivors, survivors of the difficult concentration camps in Europe,” says Busquila. “When we arrived in Haifa, the British put us on three British ships – 1,500 immigrants on each ship – and informed us that the ships were being sent back to where they had left, to the port in the south of France. From there we arrived in Hamburg. I arrived  (in Israel)  six days after the establishment of the state, and already in Haifa I was drafted into the Palmach and fought on the Burma road (to Jerusalem) and the Latrun area. “
Why is the story of the aliya of North Africans on the  Exodus unfamiliar? Busquila says: “Our number was small, we were not Holocaust survivors and we came from orderly homes, so we did not talk about it. It is clear and logical that the myth should actually be about the Holocaust survivors who were on the ship, and not the young people from North Africa. We were a cohesive group of French speakers:  “Africa aboard the Exodus.
Michael Ayalon (94), also a native of Casablanca, remembers the difficult voyage. “There was almost nothing to eat, but the best thing that ever happened to me about the Exodus (was meeting my wife),” says Ayalon, “I knew my wife Hava who was a Holocaust survivor from Hungary. She came with Hashomer Hatzair and I with the Scouts. I studied in Morocco – and my wife knew a little Hebrew from Hashomer Hatzair. “

Historians battle over nature of Jewish-Muslim relations

The historian Georges Bensoussan has hit back against accusations of ‘essentialism’ and writing a ‘lachrymose’ version of relations between Jews and Muslims in the Arab world.

Georges Bensoussan: hitting back

The accusations came from Lucette Valensi, herself a historian, speaking at the opening session of a recent conference in Paris. 

She singled out Georges Bensoussan, David Littman and Paul Fenton for criticism  and attempted to distinguish between legitimate historians and ‘jobbing’ historians. Littman and Fenton were the authors of the ‘excellent’ (according to Bensoussan)  Exile from the Maghreb, a compilation of  documents detailing antisemitic abuses suffered in 19th century Morocco.

Bensoussan himself was acquitted in a case against incitement to racial hatred in 2017. Given a right-of-reply by Akadem, the ‘Jewish digitial campus’, Bensoussan claimed that ‘essentialist’ was another term for ‘racist’, without the legal implications. It was simply an attempt to shut him down.

Pointing to the introduction to his major work, Juifs en pays arabes: le grand déracinement, published in 2012 (See English version here), Bensoussan had clearly written that a lachrymose version was as inappropriate as an idealisation of the past, vaunting a golden age, as promoted by the Wissenchaft historians of 19th century Germany. Nonetheless, his book was based  not on police reports but hard archival evidence that Jews had suffered grave abuses at the hands of Muslims.

There was not one memory of the the Jewish past in North Africa, there were several layers of memory, depending on social class. Cultural attitudes were not static but evolved over time.

In turn, Bensoussan accused Valensi of speaking for a privileged ‘comprador’ merchant elite, representing less than one percent  of the Jewish population. The great mass of Jews lived in the oppressive city mellahs.  Bensoussan remarked that the conference featured an appearance by royal adviser André Azoulay, who was pushing the agenda of the king of Morocco. Valensi could be said to have a political agenda herself, being associated with a project to establish a Jewish museum  supported by the Tunisian ministry of Tourism.

Bensoussan contrasted Lucette Valensi’s take on history with that of fellow-Tunisian, Albert Memmi, who grew up in the poor Tunis hara, or  Jewish quarter. Bensoussan quoted Memmi’s words, written in 1975: ‘ The much vaunted idyllic life of the Jews in Arab lands is a myth! The truth, since I am obliged to return to it, is that from the outset we were a minority in a hostile environment; as such, we underwent all the fears, the agonies, and the constant sense of frailty of the underdog.”

The Akadem interview by Antoine Mercier with Georges Bensoussan on Facebook has garnered over ten thousand views,  and comments mostly favourable to Bensoussan.

See Akadem interview with Georges Bensoussan (French)

More about Georges Bensoussan


Bensoussan: ‘Ashkenazim do not understand Arab antisemitism’

It may take another 15 years before French Jews living in their Ashkenazi bourgeois bubbles begin to  appreciate the full extent of Arab and Muslim antisemitism, warns historian Georges Bensoussan in this Israel Hayom piece questioning what the future holds for Jews in France. (With thanks: Lily)

Georges Bensoussan: Ashkenazim don’t know the Arab world 

 Moroccan-born French historian Georges Bensoussan was one of the first ones to warn of the Arab-Muslim antisemitism in France in a book he published in 2002. He was and continues to be boycotted in France due to his academic views on the matter. 

“The dividing line among French Jews in terms of experiencing antisemitism is connected to each person’s individual situation,” he said.

“Firstly, there is an economic dividing line: a Jew in Sarcelles felt the danger 20 years ago, and a Jews who live in Paris’ bourgeois neighborhoods will need 15 more years in order to understand the new face of antisemitism. 

 “There is also a Sephardic-Ashkenazi dividing line, which is must stronger than people think. Ashkenazis live with the memory of the Holocaust, while Jews who came here from North Africa are much more open and happy. 

 “The level of religiosity is also a dividing line: children who go to Jewish schools and Jews who go to synagogues are clear targets for antisemitism. Whoever does not have a Jewish appearance, is not observant, who has an Ashkenazi name and lives in a bourgeois neighborhood, cannot understand what antisemitism is. 

 “They don’t know the Arab world, they have not heard of the Farhud pogroms in Iraq, and therefore, when they talk about Arab antisemitism, they don’t understand what they are talking about. Moreover, compared to the Holocaust, Arab antisemitism does not look terrible.

Here in the neighborhood, there are Jewish schools, students walk around in kippahs and do not see an atmosphere of terror,” said Bensoussan, whose interview was conducted not far from where the Halimi murder occurred. 

 “The situation is worrying. In modern history, there always were Jews who chose to look the other way and not see the situation for what it is. The rise of Arab antisemitism caused Jews to congregate with themselves and separate from French society

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More about Georges Bensoussan


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