Jews of North Africa
To the Editor:
Robert Satloff’s excellent article on the North African anti-Semitic tradition ends a bit too early [“In Search of ‘Righteous Arabs,’” July-August]. It does not go beyond the 1942 American-British landings on the continent, and therefore glosses over what was perhaps the ugliest period of anti-Jewish policies in French North Africa.
The stringent Vichy racist laws were not abrogated until a year after the Allied forces achieved direct control of the area. Efforts by international organizations and Jewish advocacy groups to rescind those laws were repeatedly rebuffed by General Eisenhower’s staff on the grounds that the Allies needed the assistance of the local French (Vichy) apparatus, which was in turn dependent on the goodwill of the local Arab population. As a result, several hundred thousand Jews in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia continued to live under discriminatory conditions during all of 1942 and most of 1943.
The State Department files for that period are filled with petitions by Jewish groups for the abrogation of the statutes, as well as with the dilatory responses of the U.S. military and diplomatic authorities. Needless to say, the British liaison officers were even less responsive, fearing at every turn that benevolence toward the Jews might induce desires to lift the blockade on immigration to Palestine. It was a sorry chapter indeed, one whose lesson was not lost on the region’s Islamic activists.
To the Editor:
Robert Satloff is perhaps too complacent about such “familiar facts” as the pro-Nazi exploits of Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem. I am amazed that Holocaust museums have shown so little interest in displaying the damning photographs of the mufti meeting with Hitler and giving the Nazi salute to Bosnian Muslim SS divisions. Let it not be forgotten that the mufti was still the Palestinian Arab leader in 1948, and would no doubt have carried out his genocidal plans against the Jews had the Arabs won.
Johannesburg, South Africa
Robert Satloff writes:
Herbert Rosenblum is on the mark. In an unseemly chapter of the war, vanquished Vichy French governors of North Africa were permitted to maintain their anti-Semitic policies under the gaze of thousands of U.S. and British troops who had come ashore in Operation Torch in November 1942. Convinced (without proof) by the French that a too-hasty change in the local status quo would trigger violent opposition from millions of North African Muslims, American generals and their political advisers struck an agreement—dubbed the “Darlan deal,” after the ranking Vichy officer in the area, Admiral Jean-François Darlan—that gave free access through the region to U.S. and Allied troops, but little else.
As a result, local Jews continued to be shorn of their property by confiscatory laws, to be forced into underground schools by quotas even more extreme than those in metropolitan France, and to be tortured in Vichy French slave-labor camps. While I was unable to delve into this topic in my article, I do plan to examine it in a larger work now under way.
But there is another note. In the finest American tradition, a group of Jewish GI’s who had come ashore in Torch and were moved by the terrible situation of their North African coreligionists organized themselves to lodge a formal protest with Robert Murphy, presidential envoy and chief political adviser to the U.S. forces in Algiers. In his memoirs, A Diplomat among Warriors, Murphy dismisses these soldiers as naifs; as Mr. Rosenblum points out, it was months before political and media outrage forced a change in Allied policy. But the courage of those Jewish GI’s, many of them probably first-generation Americans themselves, should not be forgotten. For two years I have been looking for veterans of that episode but regrettably have come up empty-handed. I have not even succeeded in finding an independent record of their meeting with Murphy. I urge anyone with information to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As Jack Bloom reminds us, the sordid relationship between Haj Amin al-Husseini and the Nazis has been insufficiently stresssed by some historians. But it is also true that the entire Arab role in the Holocaust has sometimes been falsely equated with the actions of the mufti. As I tried to show in my article, the record was much more mixed than that. There were Arab leaders—including the Bey of Tunis, the Sultan of Morocco, and many of their ministers and governors—who showed kindness and compassion to Jews facing wartime persecution; there were also local Arab leaders willing to sell out the Jews or actively to collaborate with the anti-Jewish programs of the Germans, the French, and the Italians. Without underplaying the story of the mufti, my own interest lies in evaluating that mixed record through an examination of what Arabs did in their own countries, cities, towns, and villages when their Jewish neighbors came under assault.