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The Course of the War in Algeria

Algerian Jews during the holocaust

Algerian Jews under French Rule 

The Algerian Jews were emancipated and received French citizenship after the signing of the Crémieux Decree in 1870. However, although France was aided by the Jews during the occupation of Algeria, the French settlers never accepted granting citizenship to Algerian Jews and called for the annulment of the order and the return of the Jews to the status of indigenous people.  

In the 1930s there was an awakening and rise in power of extreme right-wing French organizations that held anti-Semitic positions. These organizations attacked the Jews of Algeria and their status in French society there. The rise of these organizations led to worrying signs in the eyes of the Algerian Jews.

The French press and the public atmosphere in the big cities were clearly anti-Semitic and reminded the Jews of the harsh anti-Semitic struggles of the last third of the nineteenth century, when the French called for the abolition of the citizenship of the Jews. The Muslim population in Algeria was strongly influenced by the rise of anti-Semitism and the extreme right in Algeria, France, and Italy and even from German Nazism. One of the most striking manifestations of this influence was the pogrom in Constantine in 1934.

As a result of the strengthening of anti-Semitism, branches of the International League against Anti-Semitism were opened throughout Algeria and the Jews took an active part in their activities. At the same time, despite the strengthening anti-Semitism, Algerian Jewry continued to integrate into French life and culture systems in Algeria. This is reflected in the change in the Jews’ places of residence, their economic integration, their contributions to local literature, and more.

Jewish journalism in Algeria in the 1930s dealt with local events but also reported news from around the world. The Algerian newspapers knew of the rise to power of Adolf Hitler in 1933, the vulnerability of the German Jews and the worldwide boycott of products manufactured by Germany.

Algerian Jews During World War II

Jews of Algeria served in the French army since the enactment of the Crémieux Decree in 1870. Therefore, when World War II broke out in September 1939, Jews were recruited to Algeria as part of the general mobilization. Jewish soldiers from Algeria served on all fronts and more than a thousand Jews were killed in battle. But for France the war ended sooner than expected. The French surrender in June 1940 led to the partition of the country: northern France under direct German rule and southern France – including Algeria – under the Vichy regime.

The fall of France in June 1940 led to the establishment of the pro-Nazi Vichy regime led by Marshal Henri Philippe Petain. The Vichy regime was a pro-Nazi puppet regime that cooperated with the persecution of the Jews. Algeria was under Vichy control, which imposed harsh decrees and restrictions on the Jews of Algeria. The main purpose of these orders was to exclude Jews from any contact with French society.

The first step taken by the regime was the first order to abolish the Crémieux Decree on October 7, 1940. The abolition of the order was to return the status of Algerian Jews from equal citizens to indigenous people, as was their status on the eve of the French occupation of Algeria in 1830.

Additional orders forbade Jews to continue working in their professions. Colonial administration workers, bankers, pharmacists, journalists, teachers and nurses in the hospitals were all forced to leave their jobs.

The Numerous Clauses limited the number of Jews in the general education system to just 7%. This decree was especially difficult because in Algeria Jewish children were required to study in French schools and therefore had no Jewish education system that could absorb these students and teachers. Following this order, the Jewish community took responsibility for the children and youth expelled from the general system and established an alternative education system for them. In the schools established by the Jewish community, Jewish teachers who were also expelled from the general system were employed.

Another order dealt with the census of the Jews and the registration of their property with the intention of nationalizing it. (The process of nationalization started at the beginning of the Vichy rule and was not completed.) In addition, Jews were arrested and sent to labor camps established by Vichy in the south of the country and along the border with Morocco. These Jews were sent because of their political activities; there was no overall move against all Algerian Jews.

Despite the many difficulties and limitations imposed on them, the Jews of Algeria took part in the struggle for their liberation. Jews who had been expelled from the French army began to organize and establish an underground headed by Jose Abulker. This underground was also joined by officers of the Free French Army. The underground conveyed information and coordinated its activities with Robert Murphy, the American consul in Algiers.

Operation Torch, the liberation of the Western Desert, began on the morning of November 8, 1942, when Allied forces led by the United States landed on the coast of Morocco and Algeria. As part of the operation, American forces landed at the ports of Algiers and Oran. While in Oran the American forces encountered some resistance, this was not the case in Algiers. The Jewish underground in Algiers prepared for the landing of the Americans in advance, and at 1:00 pm on Saturday, November 8, 1942, members of the underground managed to take control of the city’s control centers and key positions: the police station, the post office, the radio control center,  and military camps in the vicinity. The following day the American forces were supposed to land early in the morning, but their landing was delayed. Despite the delay, the underground managed to hold its positions for 24 hours and assist the American forces.

Algerian Jews after World War 2

Following the success of Operation Torch, Algeria was liberated from the Vichy regime and transferred to the control of the Allies. But the situation for the Jews was far from being corrected. In the surrender agreement signed between Francois Darlene and General Dwight Eisenhower it was decided that Darlan would remain in his position, as would many senior Vichy officials who collaborated with Nazi Germany. This deal, known as the “Darlene Agreement”, aroused anger among the Jews of Algeria, the underground, Charles de Gaulle and the Free French Army.

Under the terms of the agreement, the racial laws in Algeria would not be revoked. Jewish refugees remained imprisoned and joined by Jews arrested on suspicion of collaboration with the American forces. After the assassination of Darlan in December 1942, members of the Jewish underground were accused of murder and they were arrested.

Criticism of the Darlene Agreement and the anti-Semitic attitude of the “new” French government led to increasing pressure on American officials to change the attitude of the authorities to the Jews of Algeria. As a result of this public pressure, most of the Vichy’s racist orders were abolished on March 14, 1943, but Cremieux’s decree was still not restored. The return of the civil status of the Algerian Jews took place only on October 20, 1943. This was after Jews in Europe and the United States continued to put pressure on the French government. The evacuation of the labor camps in Algeria and the release of all prisoners were completed one year later.

After the restoration of the civil rights of the Algerian Jews, the Jewish community flourished economically, politically and demographically. The Jewish community in Algeria supported Zionism and Algeria was used as a departure point for illegal immigrant ships and as a transit country for Jews from Morocco and Tunisia on their way to Israel.

World War II was a turning point in the history of Algeria, during which Algerian Arab nationalism began to develop and the Arabs demanded independence. In November 1954, Algeria’s War of Independence broke out. In March 1962, the war ended and Algeria’s independence was declared. Following the withdrawal of France from Algeria, most of its Jews left and immigrated to France.

The Course of the War in Other Countries

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