I’ve learned some extremely fascinating things about Morocco, specifically during the World War II era. Morocco has a large Muslim population, but does have a Jewish minority. During World War II, France governed Morocco as a protectorate. Robert Satloff, the executive director for Washington Institute of Near East Policy (a think tank based in D.C. which focuses on the United States’ foreign policies with Southeast Asia), has wrote extensively about the history of Morocco, specifically what life was like for Jewish people in places in North Africa during World War II. His book, Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands, is about the German Nazis, Italian Facists and French Vichyists’ treatment of North Africans. The book also talks about how these three powers used the same anti-semitic principles in North Africa as they did in Europe. You can listen to him talk about his book for free (!), which I will be referencing throughout this blog post on NPR’s website.
In this podcast, Satloff talks about how popular culture reflects the reality of the world in which it broadcasts. In the famous movie, Casablanca (1942), based in Morocco, they refer to labor camps there. Major Strausa warns about Ilsa’s husband “Or else I will put him in a labor camp, here.”
(Gross, T.). (2007, October 7). Did Arabs Save Jews During WWII? [Internet Broadcast Episode] Satloff acknowledges the major technical flaws in Casablanca (1942), but also points out the language there is particularly important. There were not just concentration camps in Europe, as is commonly known, but in North Africa, specifically Morocco. This tidbit that Satloff shares reminds me of both our Intro to History: Popular Culture and Politics class, as it does my Race & Representation class. The media is reflective of what is going on in the country, whether it be the minstrel shows in America in the 19th and 20th centuries, or implications in classic movies to labor camps.
I find the mix of religions and cultures extremely intriguing. Although the Jews lived in a primarily Muslim country, the Sultan of Morocco during WWII did not differentiate between his citizens. The famous sultan, Mohammed V, who reigned during WWII, was a pivotal supporter to Jews in Morocco.
“When the French authorities ordered a census of all Jewish-owned property in the country, the Jewish leadership feared that this was a precursor to a general confiscation. Secretly, the sultan arranged for a group of prominent Jews to sneak into the palace, hidden in a covered wagon so he could meet them away from the prying eyes of the French. According to one of those present, he promised the Jews that he would protect them and assured them that census was not the first step in a plan to seize their goods and property.”
Satloff, Robert. Among the Righteous : Lost Stories from the Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands, PublicAffairs, 2006. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/muhlenberg/detail.action?docID=688804.
This tidbit of the experience that Jews had with the Sultan of Morocco is interesting, and speaks loads to the true Islamic tradition. According to Satloff, Muhammed the V did not share the pro-German thoughts that many Arab elites of that time believed. He also found it strange that the Vichy based anti-Jewish laws on race and blood, rather than what someone professed their religion to be. A central tenet of Islam completely accepts converts as full members of the faith, equal to those who are born and grown up with it. (Satloff, 2006).
To take a more critical view of King Mohammed the V though, similar to the deeply analytic stance that Sophie Wagenhofer makes in her (open access!) journal article, Contested Narratives: Contemporary Debates on Mohammed V and the Moroccan Jews Under the Vichy Regime, she analyzes whether or not his sympathetic stance towards Moroccan Jews was a matter of true beliefs, or the King challenging the Vichy control. As he had a very contested relationship with the French, King Mohammed the V may very well have both not believed in the rules made by Vichy France, mixed with a resentment toward the country which ultimately lead to the way he handled the situation. No Jews in Morocco were forced to wear the yellow Star of David. (Wagenhoffer, 2012).
Sophie Wagenhofer, “Contested Narratives: Contemporary Debates on Mohammed V and the Moroccan Jews under the Vichy Regime”, in Memory and Forgetting among Jews from the Arab-Muslim Countries. Contested Narratives of a Shared Past, eds. Emanuela Trevisan Semi, Piera Rossetto, Quest. Issues in Contemporary Jewish History. Journal of Fondazione CDEC, n.4 November 2012
What this entire story tells me about Morocco during WWII, is that the country did make significant moves under tolerant leadership to protect Jewish Moroccan citizens. However, what motivated these efforts may not be as altruistic as previously thought by many academics. Like we learned in class about WWII and Vichy propaganda in French West Africa, Vichy France wanted loyalty throughout their entire Empire, and not embarrassment from their loss of two-thirds of metropolitan territory. (Ginio, Ruth) This also relates to our discussion on World War Two because we learned how Vichy France used propaganda in French West Africa to maintain their image to their colonies. Morocco, like many other countries who lived under Vichy France, were subject to propaganda and anti semitic laws given to them by Vichy France.
Below is a picture of the Sultan Mohammed V in 1953, the one in the aforementioned story about ‘protecting’ Jews in Morocco during WWII. He was born in Fes, Morocco in 1909. He was the sultan of Morocco from 1927 to 1957. In 1953, the French had exiled him to Cosrica, a mountainous island in the Mediterranean. They then moved him to Madagascar. France allowed him to return back to Morocco in 1957, where he took the title as king. He enjoyed a high approval rating upon his return. (Satloff, 2006).