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 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 were forced to endure.
At the time of the Allied invasion, 330,000 Jews were living in French-controlled North Africa and under Vichy rule, Jews had been stripped of their civil rights, had their property confiscated, endured violent pogroms by Muslims, and numerous North African Jewish men were also sent to forced labor camps. The Vichy regime had also sought to deport the Jews of North Africa to extermination camps, yet Morocco’s King Mohammed V refused to cooperate in this, resulting in delays in 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 2 Kislev, 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 month which was turned from sorrow to rejoicing” while simultaneously utilizing modern references by cursing 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. 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 being sent to extermination camps. Firstly, for Moroccan Jews, they were spared being murdered by a regime seeking to commit genocide against the Jewish people just like the Jews of Shushan were. Secondly, just as Queen Esther stepped in to save the Jews of Shushan, the Americans intervened to save the Jews of North Africa, thus playing the role of being a modern-day Queen Esther.
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. The victory of the Jews against the anti-Semites was not complete in North Africa like it was in the ancient Persian Empire. Yet 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