Jews in North Africa after the Allied Landings

Even after the Allied landings in North Africa in November 1942, conditions did not immediately improve for the Jews in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.

Immediately following the landings, Algerian Chief Rabbi Maurice Eisenbeth and the Comité Juif Algérien des Études Sociales (Algerian Jewish Committee for Social Studies) worked to restore Jewish rights, although French authorities argued that neither the US military command nor the Muslim leadership favored abolishing the discriminatory statutes. In December 1942, gendarmes, under the orders of French Algerian authorities, arrested suspected participants in the coup d'état in Algiers and sent them to prisons in the south of Algeria. The Vichy authorities also failed to release many of the foreign Jewish refugees interned in camps as political prisoners or forced laborers.

Because the French administration in Algeria proved unwilling to reverse the antisemitic measures of the Vichy regime, North African Jews turned to public opinion, enlisting the help of Jewish organizations in the United States and the US press. In the wake of a strong public outcry against Allied collaboration with Francois Darlan and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's strongly worded speech on November 17, 1942, pressure increased for the immediate repeal of all discriminatory laws decreed by the Vichy regime, and for the release of people imprisoned for opposing or disobeying such laws. Editorials followed in newspapers, such as the New York Times, calling for the abolition of racial laws, support of de Gaulle, and the recall of Roosevelt's special advisor for North Africa, Robert Murphy, who was associated with broken promises of support to the Gaullists in North Africa.

Finally, on March 14, 1943, General Henri Giraud, who took over as High Commissioner for French North Africa after the assassination of Darlan on Christmas Eve in 1942, gave a speech formally repudiating the Vichy regime and abolishing its racist, discriminatory legislation which, Giraud falsely claimed, Nazi Germany had imposed on France. Giraud maintained the abrogation of the Crémieux Decree, claiming that it unfairly differentiated between the native Muslims and Jews. It took several more months, much lobbying by the World Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Congress, and the French Committee for National Liberation, and ultimately the arrival of General de Gaulle in Algiers, before the Crémieux Decree was reinstated on October 20, 1943.

Nor were Jewish civil rights immediately restored in Morocco and Tunisia. After the Allied landing, attacks and arrests of Jews continued in Morocco, where the racial laws were finally abolished in March 1943. In Tunisia they ended in May 1943, although Jews of Italian citizenship now faced some discrimination, as French authorities incarcerated some community notables as enemy aliens or sympathizers.

During World War II, the Jews of France's North African colonies suffered political and legal discrimination, economic injustice, and in some cases, incarceration, forced labor and direct physical harm. Antisemitism in French colonial society provided a favorable environment for the implementation of anti-Jewish laws by the Vichy French authorities. Because the Germans failed to establish real control over most of the region, and because transport across the Mediterranean was militarily impossible due to overwhelming Allied naval superiority, the Jews of North Africa—even those of Tunisia, which came briefly under direct German occupation—were spared the tragedy of deportation to concentration camps and killing centers in Europe.

The North African Jews who were deported were living in metropolitan France when the war broke out. Due to this unique combination of political, military, strategic, and geographical factors, the Jews of North Africa were not systematically murdered; nor did the Axis authorities systematically expropriate and concentrate them to the extent that they did in Europe during the Holocaust.

Sarah Sussman