Holocaust Memorial Day is held on the 27th January each year, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. The day is an opportunity to reflect and remember the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, alongside the additional five million non-Jewish people murdered by the Nazi regime. We also remember victims of genocides that have occurred since the Holocaust, and hope that through education people can come together to challenge hatred, empathise with others, and resist prejudice wherever it may occur.
Whilst the vast majority of those Jewish people murdered by the Nazis were residents of Europe, Nazi occupation and antisemitic ideology spread far beyond Europe's borders, affecting thousands of Jews in the Middle East and North Africa.
In 1940 the French Vichy government introduced a series of antisemitic, Nazi-inspired laws. In October 1940 Algerian Jews became subject to the same policies as French Jews. French citizenship was revoked from all Jews. Jews were then barred from public education and service, as well as from medicine, the law, journalism, banking, and many other professions including finance, antique-dealing, insurance, and real-estate. The Algerian authorities even went one step further than the Vichy-mandated laws, barring Jews from the hospitality industry. Finally, all Jewish businesses were assigned ‘trustees’, whose sole job it was to confiscate property and liquidate Jewish businesses. These laws were rigorously applied and had a great impact on the mostly assimilated Algerian Jewish community, many of whom attended Algerian or religious schools. Over 2,000 Algerian Jews were transported to North African concentration camps. In 1942 the Allies invaded Algeria and the Vichy laws were repealed.
From 1934 onwards a series of laws, inspired by Nazi Germany, restricted Jewish life in Iraq. Jews were required to pay an exceptionally high £50 deposit to travel abroad, and from 1935 Jews were no longer permitted to teach their children Hebrew, whilst all state secondary schools introduced quotas on Jewish children. By 1936, Jewish business owners were required to have a Muslim partner, and all Jews were dismissed from the civil service. Violent riots became more common, as did bombs in synagogues.
When WWII broke out the Iraqi government came out in support of the Axis Powers and denied Allied troops access through Iraq. In May 1941, a British-led Allied assault on Iraq began, and by the end of the month Allied forces had reached the outskirts of Baghdad. The Prime Minister Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, together with all the pro-Axis members of his government, fled for Iran and Baghdad was left without a government. At the same time, Jewish families were preparing to celebrate the festival of Shavuot. Inspired by broadcasts calling for the death of Jews on Nazi radio stations and incensed at the sight of Jewish families in holiday clothes as the British approached, a mob comprised of disgruntled Iraqi soldiers and angry citizens grew in the city.
On the evening of June 1st 1941, a violent pogrom, known as the Farhud, erupted in Baghdad. Over the next forty-eight hours the Farhud claimed the lives of 179 identified victims. Many more were buried in mass graves and it is estimated that up to 600 Jews lost their lives. It is estimated that another 1,000 Jews were injured or violated, and that over 900 homes, shops and businesses were looted or burned. Many of those who survived only did so due to intervention by their Muslim neighbours. The Farhud is now officially recognised as a Holocaust-related event. In their attempt to regain control of the city, British-led Allied troops arrested hundreds of people and executed the leaders of the event. The Farhud was the most violent and bloody pogrom that the Jews of Baghdad faced.
In 1938 the Fascist Italian government brought in a series of so-called ‘Race Protection Laws’, inspired by the Nuremberg laws in Germany. Intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews became illegal, Jews were barred from state employment, skilled professions (such as medicine), and from state schools. In addition to this, all Jewish passports were required to be stamped, identifying their holders as Jews. In 1940 British troops entered Libya and these laws were repealed. However, Axis forces soon regained the territory and over the course of the war, the area exchanged hands five times.
Each time Allied forces invaded Libya the Race Protection Laws were repealed, and each time Italian troops re-entered the country, Jews were further persecuted. In 1942 the Italian regime began a programme of dispersal, or removal, of Jews from the country. The fate of Libya’s Jews at this point largely depended on where they lived and the nationality they held. In the area surrounding Benghazi, French or Tunisian Jews were sent to concentration camps in Algeria or Tunisia.
Jews holding British citizenship were sent to Italy and then, in 1943, on to Bergen-Belsen. Jews holding Libyan citizenship were sent to concentration camps in Libya, the most infamous of which was Giado. In the area surrounding Tripoli, British and French Jews were sent to Giado, whilst Libyan Jews were sent to labour camps, where they were forced to build the infrastructure needed to support the Axis war effort. In 1943 Allied forces conquered and retained Libya, repealing the Italian Race Relation Laws permanently.
Throughout the 1930s antisemitism began to rise and a number of riots that resulted in the assault of Jews or the destruction of Jewish property broke out around Morocco. In 1940 the French Vichy government introduced a series of antisemitic, Nazi-inspired laws. These were also applied to the French Protectorates and decrees were passed removing Jews from public schools, service, the law, medicine, and journalism. Although the Sultan-King Mohammad V was sympathetic to the Jewish plight and delayed as much as he was able, there was little he could do against the French ruling administration and in 1941 he was forced to ratify more laws, barring Jews from banking, finance, insurance, business and labour associations, and real-estate. Jews were also forced to move back into the Mellah of their cities. During the war 2,100 Jews were sent to North African labour camps. At the end of the war, the Vichy laws were repealed.
In 1940 the French Vichy government introduced a series of antisemitic, Nazi-inspired laws. However, the French governor of Tunisa, Admiral Jean-Pierre Estéva, disagreed with the new legislation. Together with the Tunisian monarch Ahmed II Bey and his successor Moncef Bey, Estéva delayed the introduction of Vichy laws in Tunisia for several months. When they were implemented, they were done so in various phases to try and minimise the financial hardships the laws would inevitably bring. In addition to this, the Italian government blocked attempts at the imposition of Vichy law on Jewish Italian citizens of Tunisia, at the time numbering nearly 5000. Nevertheless, by 1941 Jews had been barred from public education and service, as well as from medicine, the law, journalism, banking, and many other professions including finance, antique-dealing, insurance, and real-estate.
In the winter of 1942 Germany occupied Tunisia and they immediately took action against the country’s Jews. Leaders of the community were arrested, and the community was forced to pay 88 million francs to the German government. Over 5,000 Jews were sent to 32 forced labour camps in Northern Tunisia and in April 1943, 40 Tunisian Jews were sent to death camps in Europe. Allied forces retook Tunisia in May 1943, preventing further deportations to European camps.
Find out more about the Farhud in our video below: