Nazi persecution of North African Jews to be included in 12th Grade exams

Between 415,000 and 470,000 Jews were persecuted in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco during the Holocaust

August 19, 2019 01:13
3 minute read.
Nazi persecution of North African Jews to be included in 12th Grade exams

Tunisian Jews were enlisted into forced labor by the Nazis during their six-month occupation from November 1942. (photo credit: YAD VASHEM)

In a break with its Euro-centric history curriculum, the Education Ministry will include the persecution of North African Jewry during the Holocaust in material it prepares for grade 12 students, beginning September 1. The material will be part of the bagrut (matriculation) exam.

“The subject of the Tunisian Holocaust was taught a few years ago as part of history studies in the upper grades, and students were tested on it in the matriculation exams,” the Education Ministry explained in a statement, but the material only addressed the “Jewish experiences in Tunisia during the six months of the occupation part of the Holocaust.” There was no reference to the history of Jewish communities in other North African countries occupied by the Nazis from 1940 to 1943.

In a 2014 reform, former education minister Shai Piron revised the curriculum and removed the Holocaust as a mandatory subject. Instead, it became a research project for students that their teachers would assess.

“Each school built its own curriculum, provided a general background [on the Holocaust], and selected a number of in-depth topics,” the ministry explained.

Following a backlash, former education minister Naftali Bennett reinstated the Holocaust into the curriculum, but the emphasis on the persecution of North African Jews during this period remained neglected.

Now, “with the reintroduction of the previously studied chapters, students will also be able to learn more about the Holocaust of North African Jewry as part of the mandatory program.”

The Education Ministry said that prior to this, “there were schools whose staff dealt with the fate of North African Jews under the Nazi occupation, but the vast majority of teachers chose to focus on Nazi ideology, the fate of Polish Jews, Romania, Jewish resistance and extermination.”

Education Minister Rafi Peretz said the decision to incorporate the Nazi persecution of North African Jews into the compulsory history material is an ethical move to create a common denominator among all students.

“For years, the story of Islamic countries’ Jews during the Nazi occupation has been absent from our discourse,” Peretz said. “It is our duty to make every student feel that they are a significant part of the story we are teaching in the education system, which belongs to and reflects all parts of Israeli society.”

Between 415,000 and 470,000 Jews in North Africa faced oppression, antisemitism and anti-Jewish legislation in Vichy-controlled Algeria and Morocco, and under Italian fascist rule in Tunisia and Libya.

According to Yad Vashem, “the Jews of Algeria, who held French citizenship, were stripped of their rights, required to wear an identifying mark, and subjected to admission quotas, even in primary schools.”

In Libya, where the Italians had already started applying discriminatory racial laws from 1938, “the bureaucracy stepped up its depredations, marking Jews’ passports, restricting their cultural activities, and banishing thousands to concentration camps – foremost Giado – where hundreds died of starvation and disease,” Yad Vashem explained. “Hundreds of Jews with foreign citizenship were sent to concentration camps in Europe.”

Moroccan Jews experienced the least amount of persecution, but they were not exempt from anti-Jewish regulations. Jews there had civil rights, “and anti-Jewish laws were not formally enacted, but the French bureaucracy introduced a set of anti-Jewish regulations,” according to Yad Vashem.

Tunisian Jews were the only North African country subjected to the direct occupation by the Nazis after the allies invaded North Africa in November 1942.

German forces entered Tunisia, and “along with a SS unit were tasked with applying anti-Jewish policy.” They occupied Tunisia for six months.

The Germans began to expropriate Jewish belongings “and mobilized many Jews for the construction of fortifications. German decrees primarily affected the Jews of the capital, Tunis, but in other communities, such as Djerba, they were also mistreated and sent for forced labor,” Yad Vashem explained. “The Jews of the capital were forced to establish a local Judenrat, which was ordered to select 5,000 to 6,000 Jews, some of whom were sent to labor camps.”

Notwithstanding the conditions, most Jews were saved from mass deportations and murder that European Jewry experienced because Allied forces began liberating North Africa in November 1942.

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