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Fate of Sephardic Community During Holocaust Detailed in New Book

June 2, 1986
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Educators and sociologists in Israel have been seriously concerned by the apparently widespread belief among members of the Sephardic (Oriental) community–which constitutes the majority of Israel’s population–that the Holocaust, the murder of six million Jews during World War II, affected only Ashkenazic Jews, the Western Jewish community.

To dispel this erroneous view of history and make clear that all Jews, whatever their ethnic or cultural background, shared the same fate, the Education Ministry commissioned Arye Barnea, a Jerusalem lawyer and Holocaust researcher, to write a textbook on the subject for Israeli schools.

The book, “One Fate–The Ladino-Speaking Jews and the Jews of Islamic Countries During the Holocaust,” has just been published by the Defense Ministry Press. It is intended to fill the information gap on Nazi atrocities to Oriental and North African Jews. It is an education not only for Sephardic Israelis but for the Ashkenazic community as well.

Ladino, a blend of Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew, is the language spoken by Jews from the Balkan and other countries along the Mediterranean littoral. In a way, it is the counterpartof Yiddish, the universal language of Eastern European Jewry.


Barnea’s book is the first of its kind. Its appearance coincides with the growing body of evidence that Austrian Presidential candidate and former United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, was implicated in war crimes in the Balkans as an intelligence officer in the Wehrmacht. The Waldheim case has already aroused awareness in the Sephardic community of the fate of Sephardic Jews in Greece and Yugoslavia under the Nazi occupation.

According to authorities on the subject, 85 percent of Greek Jews and 80 percent of Yugoslavian Jewry were murdered by the Nazis, along with about 20 percent of the Bulgarian Jewish population.

Barnea’s book goes into detail on this aspect of the Holocaust. It points out that the Sephardic communities in France, Italy and Holland went to the death camps along with their Ashkenazic brothers and sisters. All told, some 100,000 Ladino-speaking Jews perished. And it was only by sheerest chance and the fortunes of war, that hundreds of thousands more, including the Arabic-speaking Jews of North Africa did not join them in the death camps.


Some did. Of the 300 Libyan Jews deported to Italy when it entered the war on the side of Hitler, 200 died at Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz and other European death camps. Yet, as Barnea points out, Libyan Jews are not thought of as Holocaust survivors whereas Danish Jews are–although only 52 Danish Jews died. The majority of the 8,000-member Jewish community in Denmark was saved by the Danes who helped them escape to Sweden.

German plans for the Jews of Libya, an Italian colony before the war, were contained in a secret letter from the German Consul in Tripoli to the German Ambassador in Rome. The Consul informed the Ambassador that the majority of Jews in Cyrenaica, eastern Libya, were in concentration camps. Plans to deport the Jews of Tripolitania, western Libya, to Italy, were deferred temporarily, but would be carried out, the Consul said.

Barnea stressed that the Germans included the Jews of the Islamic countries in their “Final Solution,” adopted at the Wansee meeting of top Nazis in January, 1942. The Jews of Yemen, Iran, Egypt and Turkey–countries in which there were strong pro-Nazi elements–escaped because those countries never came under German control.

The Jews of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Syria and Lebanon, ruled by the collaborationist Vichy government, were slated for destruction.


The Jews of Syria and Lebanon, then a single country under French Mandate, were saved because British forces conquered the region in June, 1941. But Jews in Morocco and Algeria did not fare as well.

The Vichy government introduced “Nuremberg Laws” French style. Jewish students were expelled form schools. Jewish officials were fired from government jobs and restrictions were imposed on all Jews.

In Morocco and Algeria, Jewish community leaders were detained in desert prison camps and the food ration for Jews was reduced below that of the rest of the population. The Military Governor of Morocco signed an order establishing concentration camps for Jews.


In Algeria, a Jewish council or Judenrat, was established to assist in the implementation of the Nazi plan. Adolf Eichmann’s envoy to France, Theodor Danker, drafted plans to transport Jews to Marseilles by sea and then by train to Auschwitz. The Allied invasion of North Africa on November 8, 1942, saved the Jews there from annihilation.

But Jews were killed by the Nazis or their collaborators in Tunisia and also in Iraq, though their communities were not destroyed.

President Chaim Herzog of Israel summed up this history in his address at the opening ceremonies of Holocaust Memorial Day in Jerusalem on May 5. He said: “Hitler did not differentiate between Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews as he did not between Orthodox, observant and secular Jews, or between men and women, the young and the aged.”

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