Saturday, December 12, 2009

The neglected story of the Holocaust in North Africa

from JTA: Roundup of Tunisian Jews remembered

Holocaust memorial institutions in France and Israel commemorated the roundup 67 years ago of Tunisian Jews.

Ceremonies Wednesday at Yad Vashem and Sunday at the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris marked the Dec. 9, 1942 roundup of Tunisian Jews as part of an effort to raise awareness of Jewish suffering in Nazi-occupied North Africa during the Holocaust.

Jews in Tunisia were forced to wear yellow stars and work in labor camps; some were deported to Auschwitz. Jews in other Vichy France colonies in Algeria and Morocco, as well as in Italian-occupied Libya, suffered similar fates.

Martin Gilbert, the pre-eminent Holocaust historian, also marked the anniversary with a statement.

"In my historical work over the past 50 years, I have been struck by the neglect of the story of the Jews of North Africa and the dangers facing them under Vichy French and Italian Fascist rule," Gilbert said in his statement, released Wednesday.

"The story of the persecution of the Jews in North Africa during the Second World War is an integral part of the history of the Holocaust in France; the fate of the Jews living in French North Africa was directly connected to the fate of the Jews living in Metropolitan France. The collaborationist Vichy France extended its anti-Jewish laws -- passed in France -- to its three North African colonies. Thousands of Jews were sent to camps for slave labor between 1940 and 1943."

For those who haven't read Robert Satloff's great book Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands, a chapter of it called “The Arabs Watched Over the Jews” is available here in pdf. Here's the first paragraph:

At every stage of the Nazi, Vichy, and Fascist persecution of Jews in Arab lands, and in every place that it occurred, Arabs helped Jews. Some Arabs spoke out against the persecution of Jews and took public stands of unity with them. Some Arabs denied the support and assistance that would have made the wheels of the anti-Jewish campaign spin more efficiently. Some Arabs shared the fate of Jews and, through that experience, forged a unique bond of comradeship. And there were occasions when certain Arabs chose to do more than just offer moral support to Jews. They bravely saved Jewish lives, at times risking their own in the process. Those Arabs were true heroes.

You can get a copy of that book here. A podcast interview with Statloff is available here.

This article from a Tunisian Jewish website concerns the heroic acts of Si Khaled Abdelwahab which saved the lives of several Tunisian Jews. It makes the point that North African Arabs largely resisted the financial incentives to assist in rounding up Jews. It also very pointedly quotes Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center concerning contemporary Holocaust denial in the Arab world:

"If you deny the Shoah, you also deny that there were noble Arabs and Muslims, those who put their lives on the line to rescue Jews."

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