The Less-Told Story of the Holocaust in North Africa

While the Nazi program of extermination never reached North Africa in full force, most of the region’s Jews found themselves in one way or another under Axis control, and suffered a great deal as a result. Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia were all French colonies when World War II broke out, and thus came under Vichy rule; Libya was an Italian colony even before the war. Reviewing a recent collection of scholarly essays on the subject, edited by Aomar Boum and Sara Abrevaya Stein, Lawrence Rosen writes:

In the years leading up to the war, roughly 470,000 Jews lived in the countries of North Africa: 240,000 in Morocco, 110,000 in Algeria, 80,000 in Tunisia, and 40,000 in Libya. . . .

In [the French colony of] Algeria, for example, the hostility of the resident colonists (later called pieds noirs) to the Jews was palpable. Theirs was indeed the anti-Semitism of European heritage, but even so it took on local coloration as a vehicle for asserting that the Muslims, too, were a distinct and inferior race. Local officials, working with Vichy, set up about three dozen camps in Algeria (along with two dozen in Morocco and a handful in Tunisia and Libya) where some resident Jews, political prisoners from Europe, and Algerian Jewish soldiers serving in the French army were incarcerated.

Treatment in those camps located at the edge of the Sahara was harsh, but actual murder was rare. Several of the contributors to the present volume note that in a number of instances Muslim guards refused orders to harm the Jewish prisoners. . . . Some prisoners from [Algeria and Tunisia] were sent to concentration camps—but not death camps—in Europe; most of them survived.

Libya forms a distinctive case. . . . Local Italian fascists attacked Jews in Tripoli and Benghazi on several occasions in the early and mid-1930s, but . . . German anti-Semitic propaganda had no real effect on the local Muslims. Indeed, many Muslims took Jews into their homes to protect them from the colonial administration during this period. Ironically, it was only after the British recaptured Libya in 1942-1943 that some Muslims attacked the Jews (who, while the British turned their backs, bravely defended themselves), believing them to support continued Italian control over national independence.

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More about: African Jewry, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Mizrahi Jewry, Muslim-Jewish relations, World War II

Understanding the Background of the White House Ruling on Anti-Semitism and the Civil Rights Act

Dec. 13 2019

On Wednesday, the president signed an executive order allowing federal officials to extend the protections of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to Jews. (The order, promptly condemned for classifying Jews as a separate nationality, did nothing of the sort.) In 2010, Kenneth Marcus called for precisely such a ruling in the pages of Commentary, citing in particular the Department of Education’s lax response to a series of incidents at the University of California at Irvine, where, among much elase, Jewish property was vandalized and Jewish students were pelted with rocks, called “dirty Jew” and other epithets, and were told, “Jewish students are the plague of mankind.”

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, U.S. Politics