The Jews Who Helped the Allies Take Algeria

February 5, 2015 | Eliezer Hayon
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In 1942, Allied forces invading Algeria, then under the control of Vichy France, cooperated with a group of mostly Jewish local resistance fighters. The story is the subject of a new Israeli film, Night of Fools, directed by Rami Kimchi. Eliezer Hayon explains:

“The [Algerian] underground numbered 800 fighters, half of them Jewish. But at the moment of truth, 400 of them had cold feet, and just 400 were left—almost all of them Jewish,” says [one of their commanders, Jacques] Zermati. They were led by José Aboulker, the Jewish head of the underground. . . .

The plan was simple, yet almost surreal: Allied forces would land on the coast of north-western Africa, and the underground would take care of paralyzing the regime’s troops in order to hand over the city of Algiers to the Allies. It might sound simple enough, until one takes into account the fact that there were just 400 underground fighters, and 200,000 Vichy and Axis soldiers.

How did they do it? The resistance, with the help of some sympathetic Vichy officers, disguised themselves as French troops and succeeded in rounding up the entire French garrison without firing a shot. And why did they do it? Kimchi’s answer:

“The Jews in Algeria were proud of their French citizenship, and even today they live in France. But the film shows that Jewish motivation was a dominant factor. This was a war against the fascists, but what motivated them was not just French identity, otherwise they would have withdrawn like the other 400 fighters.”

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