Grapevine: Morocco in Holocaust history

For many years the Holocaust was regarded as the tragedy solely of European Jews.

ENZO CAVAGLION (seated). From right: Alan Schneider, director, B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem; Paolo Eliezer Foa, president, B’nai B’rith Milan Lodge; Dario Disegni, president, Museum of Italian Judaism and the Shoah; Enzo’s son, Dr. Alberto Cavaglion; and his granddaughter Sara Cavaglion. (photo credit: SERGIO CRAVERO)
ENZO CAVAGLION (seated). From right: Alan Schneider, director, B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem; Paolo Eliezer Foa, president, B’nai B’rith Milan Lodge; Dario Disegni, president, Museum of Italian Judaism and the Shoah; Enzo’s son, Dr. Alberto Cavaglion; and his granddaughter Sara Cavaglion.
(photo credit: SERGIO CRAVERO)
Different strokes for different folks. Not everyone marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day in the same way. Ambassador Emanuele Giaufret, head of the European Union Delegation and his wife, Min-Ja Masson, invited friends and colleagues to their residence to watch the screening of selected scenes from the films Casablanca (USA, 1942) and Allied (USA, 2016), which illustrated some of the observations of Prof. Haim Sadoun, who delivered a talk on cinematic portrayals of the Holocaust and their influence on Holocaust denial.
Casablanca, best known for its star players Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, is beyond the plot itself a reminder that Morocco, in the early days of the Second World War, was a place of refugee where people fleeing from the Nazis could obtain false papers. Allied, starring Brad Pitt as a Canadian intelligence officer and Marion Cotillard as a French Resistance fighter and Nazi collaborator, also starts out in Casablanca, but although the time frame is the same as in the Bogart-Bergman movie, the plot is vastly different.
Needless to say, Sadoun is of North African background and an expert on North African Jewry before, during and after the war. He is the director of the Documentation Center of North African Jewry during World War II and has authored a book on the subject, on which he lectures and engages in research at the Ben-Zvi Institute and at the Open University.
For many years the Holocaust was regarded as the tragedy solely of European Jews. Few people were aware that North African Jews were among the victims, and when North African survivors told their stories, few in Israel or anywhere else in the Jewish world believed them, and they missed out on compensation payments that were allocated to European Jews. It is only in recent years that the record has been set straight.
■ FOR SOME years now, B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem has paid tribute to Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust years. In Italy this week, together with the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews During the Holocaust, BBWCJ conferred the Jewish Rescuers Citation on 98-year-old Enzo Cavaglion, who saved the lives of hundreds of Jewish refugees in northern Italy during the German occupation.
Cavaglion was one of the 14 founding members of the partisan group Italia Libera (Free Italy), which was established on September 12, 1943 – the date on which the city of Cuneo, in Northern Italy, was occupied by the German First SS Panzer Division. The partisans ensconced themselves in the sanctuary of the Madonna del Colletto, some 18 kilometers to the west of Cuneo. Cavaglion and his younger brother, Riccardo Cavaglion, stayed with the group until October 1943, but left in order to help their own families escape arrest.
In addition to the resistance they waged against the Nazis and the Italian Fascists, the two brothers also helped Jews who sought refuge in villages around Cuneo. More than 1,000 Jews living in the remote Italian- occupied French Alpine village of Saint-Martin-Vesubie fled in the face of the German Army which invaded the area following the September 8, 1943, announcement of the armistice signed between Italy and the Allies.
A thousand men, women, children, the elderly and the disabled scaled the Maritime Alps and crossed the international border into Italy in a harrowing ordeal, only to find the Germans already taking charge in the area. Approximately 300 of these Jews were captured and sent to Auschwitz. The rest found refuge among the welcoming local peasant population. The Cavaglion brothers found hiding places for them, furnished them with false documents and hid them in the mountains in order to evade the Nazis. Survivor Harry Burger credited Enzo and Riccardo with saving his life and his mother’s life by warning them that the Nazis were hunting for them.
Since its establishment in 2011, the Jewish Rescuers Citation has been presented in an effort to correct the public misconception that Jews did not rescue fellow Jews during the Holocaust. To date, nearly 200 heroes have been honored for rescue activities in Germany, France, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Lithuania, Poland, Holland and now Italy. Even at this late stage in his life, Enzo Cavaglion, surrounded by two generations of his family, was thrilled to have his wartime efforts recognized.
■ IN NEW York this week, the World Jewish Restitution Organization, which works toward the restitution of private property and Jewish communal property seized during the Holocaust in Europe (with the exception of Austria and Germany), announced that the critically acclaimed film 1945 and its director, Ferenc Török, will receive the first annual WJRO Justice Award for raising awareness about Jewish property confiscated during the Holocaust and for ensuring that this dark chapter in the history of humanity is not forgotten.
The disquieting black-and-white film grapples with the issue of Jewish property stolen during and after World War II, in this case, in a village in postwar Hungary. The return of two Jewish men to the rural town creates turmoil, as members of the community try to come to terms with the recent horrors they have experienced, perpetrated or just tolerated for personal gain.
The film was adapted from a short story by Gábor T. Szántó. The fictional drama focuses on a “period in Hungarian history that is not overly represented either in literature or in film,” Török said. “It was important for us to share this message about the crimes of those who stole property from Jews both during and after the Holocaust, particularly with Hungarian viewers who are confronting the past for the first time,” the director said, adding that he was honored to receive the inaugural WJRO award.
Although the narrative depicted in the film is fictional, the challenges of European property restitution are quite real, said Gideon Taylor, chairman of operations for WJRO, which actively pursues property restitution in Central and Eastern Europe. “Even at this late date, former Jewish property across Europe has not been fully restored to rightful owners and their families,” Taylor said. “The film 1945 brings a powerful story before the public.”
Jehuda Evron, a Holocaust survivor from Romania, said of 1945: “Many people do not know about the injustices that Jews faced after the Holocaust. Millions of Jews were murdered during the Holocaust; now their families are [still] trying to recover what belongs to them.”
The WJRO Justice Award recognizes individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the fight for justice for Holocaust survivors and their families.
Honorees also must have demonstrated compassion, perseverance and courage in promoting the dignity and well-being of Holocaust survivors worldwide and in preserving the memory of the Shoah.
The film, partially funded by the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, a member- organization of WJRO, received the Audience Award at the Berlin Jewish Film Festival and the Best Film Award at the Der Neu Heimatfilm Festival in Austria, and also captured both the Audience Award and the Critics Prize at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, the oldest and largest such festival in North America.
■ PUBLISHERS OF two of the Hebrew-language newspapers are frequently in the news themselves. One is Noni Mozes, the publisher of Yediot Aharonot, most particularly in relation to his conversations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the other is Amos Schocken, the publisher of Haaretz, which, due to financial constraints, has shrunk both in size and quality, even though the price of the paper keeps going up. Schocken is occasionally interviewed on this subject on radio, but more often about the controversial antiestablishment writers and their views that he allows to be published in the paper.
Schocken will be in Jerusalem on Wednesday, February 7, at a Beit Avi Chai event in which he will discuss Israel’s communications market, state institutions, relations between the media and its advertisers and content sponsors, as well as what’s happening with the Israeli Left. All this and more is intended to come out in conversation with Yoav Sorek, the editorin- chief of the Shiloach Journal for Policy and Thought.
Conversations rather than speeches have become the in thing over the past couple of years, but as interesting as they may be, they often frustrate audiences, whose members would like to ask a few questions themselves. When there is question time at such an event, the audience rarely gets a chance to ask more than three questions, and sometimes not even so few.
■ TIME MARCHES on. Yoram Taharlev, poet, lyricist and author, celebrated his 80th birthday this week. Literally scores of his songs have been set to music by Israeli composers, and he has made a significant imprint on Israeli culture. Over the past few years he has turned his attention to interpreting texts that are holy to Judaism, saying that he is reading holy texts with secular eyes. At the same time, he has been a somewhat different kind of stand-up comedian, drawing attention to the Bible and other sacred writings through humor.
One of his books, Simhat Torah (The Joy of Torah), is a humorous commentary on the Torah portions of the week. Relating to this book on his own Facebook page, Taharlev writes: “If religious and traditional books were conveyed to us in such way as to make us smile, we could find out much more about our roots, and we wouldn’t be so detached from them.”