An unexpected glimpse of the Holocaust in North Africa, where thousands of Jews were forced into 100 labor camps while most Arabs looked the other way, others collaborated with persecutors and some saved lives Jews.
An American Jew and director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the author set out to find a story about an Arab who saved a Jew in the hope that such knowledge might help end ignorance and denial of the Holocaust in the Arab world. (Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial lists no Arabs among thousands of non-Jewish “righteous” who rescued Jews.) Satloff recounts four years of investigation in Arab countries where wartime brutality against the Jews was commonplace, in particular Morocco and Algeria (under the Vichy French), Libya (Mussolini’s Fascists) and Tunisia (the Nazis). His engrossing and deeply personal study shows how Europeans brought the Holocaust to the Sahara, stripping Jews of rights and assets and forcing them into labor. As A.J. Liebling wrote, Vichy officials in Algeria needed no Nazi pressure to harass Jews: “the Nazis [came along] belatedly and collaborated with them.” Following leads from testimonies and archives, Satloff visits the scant remains of torture sites, including the abandoned stone buildings of the Tendrara labor camp in Morocco, and talks with individuals who describe several convincing instances of Arab generosity toward Jews, notably in Bir Halima, Tunisia, where Si Ali Sakkat opened his Muslim family farm to 60 escapees from a nearby camp; and in Europe, where present-day Muslim leaders confirmed that the Great Mosque in Paris helped some Jews survive the German occupation. The author avers that these and stories yet to be uncovered will help change the views of Arabs who minimize the Holocaust and Jews who refuse to accept the fact that Jews in Arab lands also suffered persecution.
A thoughtful work showing that hatred—and compassion—can flourish anywhere.