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This day in Jewish history / The Jews of Casablanca celebrate Vichy overthrow

Haaretz,  November 11, 2012, By David B. Green

‘Megillat Hitler’ tells how the Nazi plan to annihilate the Jews of North Africa was foiled at the last minute by the U.S.

Casablanca, Buildings dating from the World War II era, renovated into a pedestrian street. Photo by AP

On this day in 1942, the Jewish community of Casablanca, Morocco, celebrated the liberation of that country from the control of Vichy France.

France’s colonies in North Africa – Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria – had come under indirect German control, via the Vichy regime after the occupation of France in 1940. Hence, Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa by Allied forces, which had begun three days earlier, effectively saved the Jews of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria from destruction by the Nazis. To commemorate the event, the Jews of Casablanca declared 2 Kislev (November 11) “Hitler Purim,” and commissioned the creation of a megilla in the style of the Scroll of Esther read on the holiday of Purim.

“Megillat Hitler” is today on display at Washington, D.C.’s U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Written in Hebrew, its text mimics the language of the original Scroll of Esther, as it describes the rise of “Hitler the painter,” who rose to become the ruler of all of Germany, and who decided, on the advice of his chamberlain Himmler, to destroy the Jews.

The author of the scroll, P. Hasine, a Hebrew teacher from Casablanca, tells how Hitler’s plan to deport the Jews of North Africa was foiled at the last minute by the decision of President Roosevelt, “who could not sleep,” and so “commanded that these states be rescued and given protection.” Thus the feelings of the Jews “went from mourning into happiness because the Americans established their rule.” The scroll declares that every year, on the 11th of November, “we are obligated to establish this day of rescue,” a “fixed and grand festival.”

Unfortunately, as historian Rafael Medoff has noted, the Allied liberation of North Africa in 1942 was not absolute. Despite despite the promises of President Roosevelt, and although the deportation of the Jews had been averted, the anti-Jewish measures that had been in place in places under Vichy control were not automatically canceled.

Specifically, the 1940 decision of Vichy France to cancel the application of the Cremieux Decree, by which Algerian Jews were offered full French citizenship, was not reversed. Not only did thousands of Jews continue to languish in forced-labor camps, but the Roosevelt administration, according to Medoff’s research, was loath to restore full rights to the Jews of North Africa for fear of stirring up the local Arab populations. General George Patton even warned General Eisenhower, supreme Allied commander in Europe, that steps taken to “favor the Jews” could “precipitate trouble and possibly civil war.”

Pressure from Jewish organizations in the U.S. mounted on the administration to insist on the elimination of French racial laws, but it was only in April 1943 that the labor camps were shut down, in May that Tunisia’s anti-Jewish racial laws abolished, and not until October 20 of that year that the Cremieux Decree was reinstated in Algeria.

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