Holocaust conference in Tunisia commemorates forced labor, deportations

(JTA) — A conference commemorating the effects of the Holocaust on Tunisian Jews was held in Tunis.

Historians, scholars and authors spoke at Saturday’s conference, which remembered the 5,000 Jews subjected to forced labor in Tunisia during a six-month Nazi occupation of the country in 1942-43. Some were deported to Nazi death camps on the European mainland.

It was among the first events focusing on the Holocaust to be held in an Arab country.

The conference also memorialized Muslims who saved Jews during the period, including Khaled Abdelwahhab, a Tunisian who successfully hid more than 20 Jews from the Nazis in a factory on his property.

The Tunisian Association Supporting Minorities, a Tunis-based NGO that works to defend the rights of the country’s tiny Jewish community, and the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, a New York-based group that focuses on Muslim-Jewish relations, sponsored the conference.

The forum was part of FFEU’s annual International Weekend of Twinning, during which thousands of Muslims and Jews in more than 30 countries around the world held joint events promoting Muslim-Jewish understanding and trust.

“Our work at this conference is to prevent amnesia and to ensure that something as terrible as the Holocaust should never happen again,” said Yasmina Thabet, head of the Tunisian Association Supporting Minorities.

“The terrible events of 1942-43 show us that we must be vigilant today in defending the rights of all Tunisians — including Jews and other minorities — threatened by religious extremists who in recent months have been allowed to attack their fellow citizens with near impunity.”

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