Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin
Rabbi Yitschak RudominCourtesy

Part Seven in a series about Jews and the Second World War

Part One: British and French Appeasement of Nazi Germany

Part Two: Soviet Russia as ally of Nazi Germany

Part Three: United States Isolationism from Nazi Germany

Part Four: France: Ally of the West to Collaborator with Nazi Germany

Part Five:Nations That Actively Saved Jews During The Holocaust

Part Six: Jews Who Fought To Defeat The Nazis

It is fascinating to think that while the Allies were fighting the Axis in Arab areas of North Africa and the Middle East during the Second World War, the Arabs living there were mostly doing nothing, while God was busy saving the Jews in those Arab lands from the same fate of genocide suffered by Jews in Europe. If anything, many Arabs were more sympathetic to the Axis powers and cooperated with them and hoped that they would defeat the Allies. But Axis ambitions and Arab hopes were dashed and were not to be as the Allies finally triumphed and the vast majority of Jews in Muslim lands were spared the same deadly fate suffered by their Jewish brethren in Europe.

Miraculously, out of almost one million Sephardic Jews, at most a few thousand Jewish Sefardic victims succumbed to Nazi, Vichy, Italian and Arab persecution in North Africa and the Middle East.

The influence that a combination of 1) German Nazi ideology, propaganda, diplomacy, and military intervention 2) anti-Semitic Vichy French control, 3) Italian Fascist influence and military involvement, 4) Arab anti-Western sentiments and 5) growing Islamic fundamentalism, rooted in anti-Semitism in Islam, as exhibited by the Mufti of Jerualem Amin al–Husseini (1897–1974) and others like him, in the era before, during and after the Second World War (1939–1945) created for Jews in Muslim lands a highly dangerous combustible explosion-waiting-to-happen environment. Thank God it never materialized and the Sephardi Jews were saved from the Holocaust!

Relations between Nazi Germany and the Arab world: "The relationship between Nazi Germany and the leadership of the Arab world encompassed contempt, propaganda, collaboration, and in some instances emulation. Cooperative political and military relationships were founded on shared hostilities toward common enemies, such as the United Kingdom and the French Third Republic, along with communism, and Zionism. Another key foundation of this collaboration was the anti-Semitism of the Nazis and their hostility towards the United Kingdom and France, which was admired by some Arab and Muslim leaders, most notably the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini."

As it turned out, it was in the years after the end of the Second World War and leading up to and following the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948 that Arab and Islamic hatred for the Jews in Muslim countries finally exploded with such ferocious force that it led to the violent eviction of almost all Jews from all Arab Muslim countries resulting in the expulsion of nearly one million Sefardic Jews from their ancient ancestral homelands: "The Jewish exodus from the Muslim world was the departure, flight, expulsion, evacuation and migration of around 900,000 Jews from Arab countries and Iran, mainly from 1948 to the early 1970s, though with one final exodus from Iran in 1979–80 following the Iranian Revolution. An estimated 650,000 of the departees settled in Israel."

Vichy France, the collaborationist ally of Nazi Germany, inherited control of a number of key French colonies. In North Africa, the Vichy French controlled three countries with huge Jewish populations: Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. In the Middle East the Vichy French controlled Lebanon and Syria also home to large Jewish populations. Fascist Italy controlled Libya and Nazi Germany invaded North Africa and fought the Allies in the North African campaign from June 1940 to May 1943 in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, all countries with sizable Sefardic Jewish populations.

During the war, Tunisia had about 85,000 Jews, Libya had about 40,000 Jews and Egypt had about 80,000 Jews living in them, all lands that the dreaded Nazi Afrika Korps invaded. Had the British not defeated the Germans at the Battle of El Alamein in Egypt, from July to November 1942, the fate of all the Sefardic Jews, as well as the fate of the approximately 500,000 Jews living in the British Mandate of Palestine in Eretz Yisrael, would have been the same as that of the Ashkenazic Jews of Europe, a genocidal Final Solution and a merciless Holocaust.

Since God is the Master of all things and controls the affairs of humankind, the ultimate overall fate of Sefardic Jewry was that it was to be granted life even though they suffered and were under the heel and in the gunsights of Fascism and Nazism, while sadly on the other hand, six million Ashkenazic Jews were not as fortunate and were instead destined to die Al Kiddush HaShem- For the Sanctification of God's Name as Jewish martyrs!

There is no one "rational" rule or explanation for such events. All one can say that it is God's Will, as we say in the High Holiday prayer of Unetanneh Tokef recited on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: "On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed – how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die after a long life and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by beast, who by famine and who by thirst, who by upheaval and who by plague, who by strangling and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. But Repentance, Prayer, and Charity mitigate the severity of the Decree."

Vichy Morocco

It is estimated that before 1948, Morocco had a Jewish population of between 250,000 and 350,000 making it the Muslim land with the largest population of Jews. The first stages of anti-Jewish moves in Morocco were implemented early in the Second World War. "In 1940, laws were put in place by the Vichy administration which disallowed the majority of Jews from working as doctors, lawyers or teachers. All Jews living in other neighbourhoods of Morocco were required to leave their houses and re-inhabit the mellahs. Vichy anti-semitic propaganda was distributed throughout Morocco to encourage the boycotting of Jews." (Wikipedia).

However, to his credit, "Sultan Mohammed V reportedly refused to sign off on 'Vichy's plan to ghettoize and deport Morocco's quarter of a million Jews to the killing factories of Europe,' and, in an act of defiance, insisted on inviting all the rabbis of Morocco to the 1941 throne celebrations." (Wikipedia). Of course, the Sultan did not wield any military power at the time and his gestures meant little or nothing in the eyes of the Vichy overlords who were allied with the Nazis and following their commands.

Things would have no doubt become far worse for the Jews of Morocco had not the USA struck one of the first major strategically important military blows against the Nazis and their Vichy French collaborators during Operation Torch from November 8-16, 1942 in North Africa when American and British forces attacked and defeated the Nazi allied Vichy French armies in Morocco and Algeria.

Vichy Algeria

Before 1948 there were about 140,000 Jews in Algeria. "One of the first moves of the pro-German Vichy regime was to revoke the effects of the Crémieux Decree, on October 7, 1940, thereby abolishing French citizenship for Algerian Jews...Under Admiral Darlan and General Giraud, two French officials who administered the French military in North Africa, the antisemitic legislation was applied more severely in Algeria than France itself...laws covering the status of Jews were governed much more harshly in Algeria than in Morocco or Tunisia. A bureau for 'Economic Aryanization' was also installed in order to eradicate the Jewish community's significance in the economy, mostly by taking control of Jewish businesses...some 2,000 Jews were placed in concentration camps at Bedeau and Djelfa. The camp at Bedeau became a place for the concentration of Jewish Algerian soldiers, who were forced to perform hard labor. These prisoners worked on a Vichy plan for a trans-Saharan railroad; many died from hunger, exhaustion, disease, or beatings." (Wikipedia).

Vichy Tunisia

By 1948 there were 85,000 Jews living in Tunisia. "Under the rule of Pétain's collaborationist regime, the Jews of Vichy France and Vichy Tunisia were subjected to the two antisemitic Statut des Juifs (Jewish Statutes of October 3, 1940 and June 2, 1941), like the Jews in mainland France. Thus, discriminatory legislation defined the Jews, restricted them in the public service, in educational institutions and journalism, and in liberal professions (numerus clausus), counted them (Jewish census), and forced them to register their property to be subsequently aryanized.

Consequently, Jews found themselves in their prior inferior status of 'natives' and were impoverished...Holocaust scholar Martin Gilbert specified that the persecution of the Jews of French North Africa was an integral part of the Holocaust in France...When the Nazis invaded Vichy Tunisia, the country was home to some 100,000 Jews. According to Yad Vashem, the Nazis imposed antisemitic policies including forcing Jews to wear the yellow badge (Star of David), fines, and confiscation of property. More than 5,000 Jews were sent to forced labor camps, where 265 are known to have been murdered. An additional 160 Jews of Tunisia living in France were sent to extermination camps in continental Europe." (Wikipedia).

Vichy Lebanon and Syria

Prior to 1948 there were about 20,000 Jews living in Lebanon. Once World War Two started in 1939 the Vichy French did not have much time to begin their anti-Semitic policies because they were kicked out after the British invaded Lebanon and Syria in June and July 1941 in the SyriaLebanon campaign. In fact hundreds of Jewish refugees from Europe on board ships sailed to and found refuge in Beirut, Lebanon. In an article "How Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis found shelter in Beirut": "Lebanon became an unlikely haven for Jewish refugees fleeing Europe, as wealthier and more powerful countries, including the United States, slammed the door in their faces."

However, "Within Lebanon, the political situation shifted dramatically after the fall of Paris to the Germans in June 1940. With the Nazi-allied Vichy regime now administering the Lebanon Mandate, many Jews in Lebanon felt they were no longer safe. Feelings of insecurity were exacerbated after a detention camp for the mandate’s European Jews was set up in the mountains. But it was closed after the British and the Free French Army took control of the mandate that same year." "The Vichy authorities allowed Nazi Germany to move aircraft and supplies through Syria to Iraq where they were used against British forces. Britain, fearing that Nazi Germany would gain full control of Lebanon and Syria by pressure on the weak Vichy government, sent its army into Syria and Lebanon." (Wikipedia).

Prior to 1948 there were approximately 40,000 Jews left in Syria. Parenthetically, prior to the Second World War most Syrian Jews had migrated out of Syria and today it is estimated that there are about 200,000 Jews of Syrian Jewish parentage, with most living in Israel and the United States. The Vichy French did not have enough time to implement anti-Semitic policies against the Syrian Jews.

The background to this is that in Syria in the Second World War: "The Vichy government kept troops in Syria during the Second World War. Its position on the Eastern Mediterranean coast made it strategically important for both Britain and Nazi Germany. The Allies also feared that Henri-Philippe Petain would allow the Luftwaffe to establish air bases in the country. On 8th June 1941 the British Army and Free French forces entered Syria from Iraq and Palestine. After facing tough resistance from the Vichy forces the Allies captured Damascus on 17th June. The armistice was signed on 12th July and pro-British regimes were maintained in Syria for the rest of the war."

After the war, Syria became a refuge for a number of notorious Nazi war criminals who were conscripted to aid the Syrian regime. The most notorious was the SS officer Alois Brunner: "He was known as Final Solution architect Adolf Eichmann's right-hand man." In "Hitler's Henchmen in Arabia": "Nazi Alois Brunner’s confirmed death in Damascus [in 2001] reveals an uncomfortable truth: Egypt and Syria have long ties to Nazi Germany and long provided sanctuary to fugitive war criminals...What made the relationship between these former Nazis and the Egyptians and Syrians so successful was that it was a genuinely two-way deal. The Arabs offered the Nazis a haven, as well as a market for all their nefarious dealings in arms and black market currency. The Nazis, meanwhile, were able to provide technical and military experts, as well as the knowhow of establishing the instruments of repression. However, below the back scratching lay a deep and dark underpinning to the relationship between the crescent and the swastika. That was, of course, a hatred of the Jews, and in particular, a desire to see the eradication of Israel."

Libya under Fascist Italy

On the eve of the Second World War there were between 30,000 to 40,000 Jews in Libya: Yad Vashem: "The beginning of the end for the Jews of Libya was the institution of harsh, discriminatory legislation by Italy against its own Jews in 1938. This legislation, known as the Fascist 'Race Protection Laws', was instituted in Libya as well...The war reached Libya in the autumn of 1940, when Italy attacked British-influenced Egypt from bases in Libya. This campaign was a disastrous defeat for Italy, and the British entered Libya. The Germans deployed their troops in Libya in 1941 and drove the British out of Libya, but the front changed hands five times between December, 1940 and January, 1943."

Wikipedia has an extensive article about The Holocaust in Libya: "During the last British conquest of Cyrenaica in November 1942, the remaining 360 Jews were deterred from contacting the British army for fear of further punishment if the Axis recaptured the region. The Jewish soldiers were an important part of the rehabilitation of the community's remains. The blow to the Jewish community was the worst of any Libyan community.

Over 500 Jews were killed, out of a community of 4,000...The majority of the Jewish community in Cyrenaica was sent to the Giado concentration camp, approximately 240 km (150 mi) south of Tripoli." Overall, from Italian Rule: "German influence in Libya had been felt since 1938. However, Germany's direct involvement in the colonial authorities’ affairs and management did not completely materialise until 1941. It was only when Italy entered the war in 1940 that Libya became subjected to direct Fascist-Nazi collaboration and 'Nazi-Style' deportations.

Despite this repression, 25% of the population of Tripoli was still Jewish in 1941 and 44 synagogues were maintained in the city. In 1942, German troops fighting the Allies in North Africa occupied the Jewish quarter of Benghazi, plundering shops and deporting more than 2,000 Jews across the desert. Sent to work in labor camps, more than one-fifth of this group of Jews perished. Jews were concentrated in the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi, with small communities in Bayda and Misrata.

The worst experience for Libyan Jews in the war was the internment of Cyrenaican Jews in Giado, a concentration camp located 235 kilometres from Tripoli. In January 1942, the Italian authorities began to apply Mussolini’s 'Sfollamento' (evacuation) order to Libyan Jews. Mussolini ordered the Jews of Benghazi, Derna, Tobruk, Barce, Susa and other towns in the region to be sent to a concentration camp in Gharian in retaliation."

In The Jews of Libya during World War II: "Life in the Jadu [Giado] camp, which was under Italian administration, was very difficult. A dysentery epidemic that broke out in the camp caused the death of approximately 600 Jews. For them, this was a true tragedy."

In the article The Holocaust in Italy it is noted that by the end of the war, almost 8,600 Jews from Italy and Italian-controlled areas in France and Greece were deported to Auschwitz; all but 1,000 were murdered. Only 506 were sent to other camps (Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Ravensbrück, and Flossenbürg) as hostages or political prisoners. Among them were a few hundred Jews from Libya, an Italian colony before the war, who had been deported to mainland Italy in 1942, and were sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Most of them held British and French citizenship and most survived the war


Prior to 1948 there were approximately 80,000 Jews living in Egypt. In spite of Egypt being under British rule, "the rise of Nazi Germany, also began to affect Jewish relations with Egyptian society...The rise of local militant nationalistic societies like Young Egypt and the Society of Muslim Brothers, who were sympathetic to the various models evinced by the Axis Powers in Europe, and organized themselves along similar lines, were also increasingly antagonistic to Jews. Groups including the Muslim Brotherhood circulated reports in Egyptian mosques and factories claiming that Jews and the British were destroying holy places in Jerusalem, as well as sending other false reports stating that hundreds of Arab women and children were being killed.

Much of the anti-Semitism of the 1930s and 1940s was fueled by a close association between Hitler's new regime in Germany and anti-imperialist Arab powers.

One of these Arab authorities was Haj Amin al-Husseini, who was influential in securing Nazi funds that were appropriated to the Muslim Brotherhood for the operation of a printing press for the distribution of thousands of Anti-Semitic propaganda pamphlets. By the 1940s, the situation worsened. Sporadic pogroms took place in 1942 onward. The Jewish quarter of Cairo was severely damaged in the 1945 Cairo pogrom." (Wikipedia)

The anti-British sentiments of most Egyptians is illustrated in the life of future Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser: "In February 1942, in what became known as the Abdeen Palace Incident, British soldiers and tanks surrounded King Farouk's palace to compel the King to dismiss Prime Minister Hussein Sirri Pasha in favour of Mostafa El-Nahas, whom the United Kingdom government felt would be more sympathetic to their war effort against the Axis. The British Ambassador, Miles Lampson, marched into the palace, and threatened the King with the bombardment of his palace, his removal as king, and his exile from Egypt unless he conceded to the British demands.

Ultimately, the 22 year old King submitted, and appointed El-Nahas. Nasser saw the incident as a blatant violation of Egyptian sovereignty and wrote, 'I am ashamed that our army has not reacted against this attack', and wished for 'calamity' to overtake the British."

Another future Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat was even worse for his treason to the Allied war effort: "During the Second World War he was imprisoned by the British for his efforts to obtain help from the Axis Powers in expelling the occupying British forces." In Hitler's Henchmen in Arabia: "In addition, throughout the war in North Africa, German intelligence had worked closely with the Egyptians, and the Mufti is thought to have been a key intermediary between King Farouk and Hitler himself. If further evidence were needed that the roots of the Nazi-Arab affair were required, then it is worth considering the fact that both Nasser and his successor, Anwar Sadat, had been wartime agents for the Germans."!

Mercifully, God had other ideas and when the Nazis invaded Egypt with their Afrika Korps of the Axis' Africa Panzer Army, and were decisively beaten by the British at the Battle of El Alamein (July to November 1942) fought on Egyptian soil. Had the result been otherwise and if the German forces had won, then not only would Nasser and Sadat and their ilk have been very happy but the fate of Egypt's Jews would have been sealed as well as the fate of the approximately 500,000 Jews living in the British Mandate of Palestine in Eretz Yisrael would have suffered a genocidal Holocaust as the German forces planned to conquer Egypt and then Palestine and eventually connect in a pincer movement with their forces advancing from Southern Europe.

After World War Two Nasser gave refuge to Nazi officers. In Hitler's Henchmen in Arabia: "If anything, the Egyptian capital was even more appealing than Damascus, and had been playing host to Nazis immediately after the war, when King Farouk opened his arms to scores of former SS and Gestapo officers. That hospitality continued even after Farouk was deposed by the Free Officers Movement in 1952, as Nasser regarded German scientific and intelligence expertise as being an essential component of his regime. No less a figure than Joachim Daumling, the former head of the Gestapo in Düsseldorf, was tasked with establishing Nasser’s secret service. In fact, the list of some habitués of Cairo in the 1950s and the 1960s reads like a who’s who of Nazi Germany, featuring as it did the rescuer of Mussolini, Otto Skorzeny; the ace Stuka pilot Hans-Ulrich Rudel; the leader of a notorious SS penal unit, Oskar Dirlewanger; and the particularly odious and violently anti-Semitic stooge of Goebbels, Johannes von Leers.

What made the relationship between these former Nazis and the Egyptians and Syrians so successful was that it was a genuinely two-way deal. The Arabs offered the Nazis a haven, as well as a market for all their nefarious dealings in arms and black market currency. The Nazis, meanwhile, were able to provide technical and military experts, as well as the knowhow of establishing the instruments of repression. However, below the back scratching lay a deep and dark underpinning to the relationship between the crescent and the swastika. That was, of course, a hatred of the Jews, and in particular, a desire to see the eradication of Israel."


Before 1948 there were about 150,000 Jews in Iraq. From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's Holocaust Encyclopedia: "Rashid 'Ali al-Kailani, an anti-British nationalist politician from one of the leading families in Baghdad, carried out a military coup against the pro-British government in Iraq on April 2, 1941. He was supported by four high-ranking army officers nicknamed the 'Golden Square,' and by the former Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husayni. Since his arrival in Baghdad in October 1939 as a refugee from the failed Palestinian revolt (1936-1939), al-Husayni had been at the forefront of anti-British activity. Following the coup, the supporters of the deposed pro-British rule, headed by the Regent, Abd al-Ilah, and foreign minister, Nuri al-Said, fled to Transjordan. In Iraq, Rashid 'Ali al-Kailani formed a pro-German government, winning the support of the Iraqi Army and administration. He hoped an Axis victory in the war would facilitate full independence for Iraq.

The rise of this pro-German government threatened the Jews in Iraq. Nazi influence and antisemitism already were widespread in Iraq, due in large part to the German legation's presence in Baghdad as well as influential Nazi propaganda, which took the form of Arabic-language radio broadcasts from Berlin. Mein Kampf had been translated into Arabic by Yunis al-Sab'awi, and was published in a local newspaper, Al Alam al Arabi (The Arab World), in Baghdad during 1933-1934. Yunis al-Sab'awi also headed the Futtuwa, a pre-military youth movement influenced by the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) in Germany. After the coup d'etat, al-Sab'awi became a minister in the new Iraqi government.

Concerned that Iraq, as a pro-Axis bridgehead in the Middle East, would inspire other Arab nations, and increasingly worried that their access to oil supplies as well as their communications and transportation routes to India were now seriously threatened, the British decided to occupy the country. On April 19, British Army units from India landed in Basra while the British-led Arab Legion troops (Habforce) moved east into Iraq from Transjordan. By the end of May, the Iraqi regime collapsed and its leaders fled first to Iran and from there to German-occupied Europe.

In Baghdad the results of this policy were much more severe. On the afternoon of June 1, 1941, when the Regent and his entourage returned to Baghdad and British troops surrounded the city, the Jews believed that the danger from the pro-Nazi regime had passed. They ventured out to celebrate the traditional Jewish harvest festival holiday of Shavuot. Riots broke out, targeting the Jews of Baghdad. These riots, known as the Farhud, lasted for two days, ending on June 2, 1941.

Iraqi soldiers and policemen who had supported Rashid Ali al-Gailani's coup d'etat in April and Futtuwa youths who were sympathetic to the Axis incited and led the riots. Unlike in previous incidents, rioters focused on killing. Many civilians in Baghdad and Bedouins from the city's outskirts joined the rioters, taking part in the violence and helping themselves to a share in the booty. During the two days of violence, rioters murdered between 150 and 180 Jews, injured 600 others, and raped an undetermined number of women. They also looted some 1,500 stores and homes. The community leaders estimated that about 2,500 families—15 percent of the Jewish community in Baghdad—suffered directly from the pogrom. According to the official report of the commission investigating the incident, 128 Jews were killed, 210 were injured, and over 1,500 businesses and homes were damaged. Rioting ended at midday on Monday, June 2, 1941, when Iraqi troops entered Baghdad, killed some hundreds of the mob in the streets and reestablished order in Baghdad."


Today the Arab countries that once were home to almost one million Jews before the Holocaust are empty of Jews. They have become what the Nazis called Judenrein"clean of Jews" so the Arabs have gotten what they wanted, but thank God almost all those Jews from Arab Muslim lands were bypassed by the horrors of a Final Solution and a genocidal Holocaust. They made it out alive and most of them moved to the new state of Israel where their descendants continue to live on.

Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin was born to Holocaust survivor parents in Israel, grew up in South Africa, and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is an alumnus of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and of Teachers CollegeColumbia University. He heads the Jewish Professionals Institute dedicated to Jewish Adult Education and Outreach Kiruv Rechokim. He was the Director of the Belzer Chasidim's Sinai Heritage Center of Manhattan 198841995, a Trustee of AJOP 19941997 and founder of American Friends of South African Jewish Education 19952015. He is also a docent and tour guide at The Museum of Jewish Heritage A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Downtown Manhattan, New York. He is the author of The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy. Contact Rabbi Yitsch4ak Rudomin at[email protected].