The Jews of Morocco during World War II
The 1930s were good years for the Jews of Morocco. These were years of economic development, demographic growth, solidification of communal institutions, and Jewish participation in social, cultural, and political systems. Those Moroccan Jews who lived in the major cities were aware of the condition of German Jews, Hitler’s rise to power, and the Zionist movement’s campaign against German products. The Jewish press reported continuously on the boycott of German products. At the same time, the effects of German anti-Semitism were hardly felt within the Jewish sector, in contrast to the anti-Semitism of the French Right, which increased over the years prior to the outbreak of World War II.
When the war broke out, Moroccan Jews sought to volunteer for military service or to donate financially to the French war effort. The French did not respond to their requests. The occupation of France and establishment of the Vichy regime in 1940 led to painful new developments. Beginning in October 1940, various anti-Semitic edicts were published with the principal aim of excluding Jews from any contact with French society. The first edict designated the legal status of Jews. Moroccan Jews were not French citizens, thus the extent to which this edict undermined their legal status was negligible. At the same time, however, the edict affected the standing of Jews by excluding them from various occupations entailing contact with the French. For example, colonial administration personnel, physicians, bankers, pharmacists, journalists, teachers, hospital nurses, and others were forced to abandon employment positions through which they had contributed significantly to the flourishing of French culture. Another edict limited the number of Jews in the French educational system through the method known as “NumerusClausus.” The number of Jews was limited to 7% of all students in the French educational system. This edict too was more declaratory than significant in its effect on the everyday life of Jewish students because the Alliance IsraéliteUniverselle educational program was very active and well established in Morocco and was able to absorb those Jewish students who had been expelled from the French educational system. An additional edict addressed the Jewish census and registration of Jewish property, with the intention of nationalizing it. Other edicts decreed that those Jews who had moved to new urban areas inhabited by the French must return to the mellah (Moroccan Jewish ghetto) in which they had resided prior to the French occupation of Morocco. It is unclear to what extent this edict was implemented.
A small portion of Moroccan Jews was transferred to labor camps or detention camps established mostly on the Morocco-Algeria border. This was not an all-inclusive move against the Jews of Morocco, but rather a measure directed at specific groups designated as a threat to the regime. Moreover, during the war Morocco served as a transit country for European Jews seeking to reach the United States. The Jewish community and international organizations made arrangements and provided assistance for these Jewish refugees.
On 7 November 1942, American forces landed on the shores of Morocco as part of Operation Torch and quickly took control of the country. The American arrival yielded two contradictory processes. The first was economic prosperity for the Jewish community resulting from the hiring of Jews to work for the American naval forces docked in Morocco’s ports. The second process was a worsening of relations between the Jews and the French. The American arrival was immediately followed by attacks against Jews in some of the Jewish Quarters of the major cities, but these did not result in any known casualties. There is, however, information about French military officers harassing Jews in various places throughout Morocco, as a form of retaliation against the Jews for their joy over the American arrival.
Moroccan Jews expressed their joy over the American arrival through various publications, mainly in Jewish Arabic, recounting the Allies’ victory in the war. After the war, Moroccan nationalism increased, France’s standing in the world weakened, and France began to relax its treatment of Moroccan Jewry, as reflected in its permitting lawful Zionist activity within Morocco and organizing the Jewish Community Council.