In 1942, a miracle saved the Jewish communities in Northern Africa from the Nazis’ genocidal conquest.
In 1940, the Nazis invaded France and thus inherited the French colonial empire, which included present-day Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. The Vichy government of France, which controlled these French colonies in North Africa, actively collaborated with the Nazis and many Jews in France were sent to extermination camps. However, in 1942, Allied forces invaded Vichy-controlled Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, defeating the Nazis and their Vichy collaborators. The Jews of North Africa viewed this invasion as a heaven-sent miracle that spared their communities from suffering the same fate that the Jews of Europe endured.
At the time of the Allied invasion, the 330,000 Jews who were living in French-controlled North Africa under Vichy rule had been stripped of their civil rights, had their property confiscated, endured violent pogroms by Muslims, and were also sent to forced labor camps. The Vichy regime also sought to deport the Jews of North Africa to extermination camps, yet Morocco’s King Mohammed V refused to cooperate, delaying the deportation of Moroccan Jews. In the end, due to the Allied intervention, the Jews of North Africa were not sent to extermination camps.
To commemorate this event in history, the Jewish community of Casablanca declared the second day of the Jewish month of Kislev, which was the date of the Allied invasion of Morocco, to be “Hitler Purim.” P. Hasine, a Hebrew teacher from Casablanca, even wrote a Megillat Hitler, which is on display at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Megillat Hitler blends the story of how the Jews of Shushan were spared from Haman’s planned genocide with the good fortune that the Jewish community of Casablanca experienced during World War II. The Megillat Hitler scroll, written in Hebrew, borrows passages from the Book of Esther, such as the phrase “the month which was turned from sorrow to rejoicing,” while simultaneously utilizing modern references to curse Hitler and Mussolini.
Moroccan Jews, in addition to reading the Megillat Hitler on 2 Kislev, would host joyous celebrations and send out gifts to the poor, just as all Jews traditionally do on Purim itself, which falls either on 14 or 15 Kislev depending on the location. Additionally, Moroccan Jews would curse Hitler, the Nazis, and all of the anti-Semites that have targeted the Jewish people throughout the generations. Indeed, for Moroccan Jews, there are meaningful symbolic parallels between the Purim story and their community being saved from the extermination camps. Just as the Jews of Shushan during the events of Purim were spared from a regime seeking to commit genocide, so too were the Moroccan Jews saved in 1942.
Of course, there are naturally differences in the two stories as well. Unfortunately, the Allied Forces permitted all of the senior officials of the Vichy Regime to stay in power in North Africa. There was no slaying of anti-Semitic forces in North Africa. In fact, the Vichy Office of Jewish Affairs continued to operate under Allied rule, as well as the forced labor camps; Jews also did not gain back their civil rights and Algerian Jews were not given back their French citizenship. Unlike in the ancient Persian empire, the victory of the Jews against the anti-Semites was not complete in North Africa. Nevertheless, the fact that Moroccan Jews were spared the full horrors of the Holocaust is something that should be celebrated and remembered as Jews around the world celebrate Purim this year.
By: Rachel Avraham