Thursday, May 5, 2016

What Happened in North Africa

During the Holocaust, European Jewry was almost completely decimated, and the importance of sharing that history is becoming even more important as the last surviving witnesses of the horrors of World War II pass away. One of the lesser known facts about the Holocaust is that the Jews of North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, and particularly Tunisia) were also affected by the Nazis.

Because Morocco and Algeria were already territories controlled by the French, they came under the control of the Nazi-allied Vichy government. In these countries, the Jewish population were confronted by restrictive laws, property confiscation, the requirement of wearing a yellow Star of David and, for several thousand Jews, forced labor. (It should be noted that there was important opposition to this anti-Semitism by the King of Morocco, who said “There are no Jews in Morocco. There are only subjects.”) Similar harassment took place in Libya, which was then under the control of the fascist Italians.

The Jews of Tunisia, however, were faced with actual Nazi occupation. In November 1942, the Germans entered Tunisia and immediately began implementing their usual anti-Semitic laws. In addition to the restrictions placed on Jews in other North African communities, the Jews of Tunisia (and those of Tunis in particular) were required to create a Judenrat (a Jewish self-governing committee). The Judenrat was responsible for choosing the Jews to be sent to labor camps. According to Yad Vashem, almost 5,000 Jewish men were sent to areas of forced labor. Many North African Jews were sent to work on the Trans-Sahara railway and faced extremely difficult living and working conditions.

Thankfully, the German stay in North Africa was quite short. In November of 1942, the Allied forces landed in Morocco and Algeria, and in May 1943, the Germans retreated.

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