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October 26, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 4226

Holocaust Remembrance Conference in Morocco

October 26, 2011
Morocco | Special Dispatch No. 4226

In late September 2011, Morocco's Al-Akhawayn University (AU), based in Ifrane in the Middle Atlas region, held a three-day conference commemorating the Holocaust.[1] The event, titled "Mohammed V, Righteous among the Nations",[2] was dedicated to learning about the Jewish Holocaust and to honoring Morocco's late King Mohammed V, who refused to hand over Morocco's Jewish population to the French Vichy regime, which occupied Morocco at the time. The conference comprised seminars on the late monarch and on Moroccan Jewry, sessions devoted to testimonies by Holocaust survivors from Europe, and a tour of the Moroccan Jewish Museum in Casablanca given by the museum's Muslim curator Zhor Rhihel. There was also a performance by Moroccan-Jewish music by renowned singer Maxime Kartouchi, and kosher meals were offered.

The Mimouna Club – a Student Organization that Organized the Conference

The conference was organized by the university's Mimouna Club, a student organization founded in 2007, dedicated to promoting Moroccan Jewish heritage. The club aims to educate the Moroccan public, and especially the youth, on the diversity of Moroccan culture, with focus on Moroccan Jewry as a model of coexistence between Jews and Muslims in the Arab World. It has already organized several events on Moroccan Jewish heritage, with the participation of Israelis, and also offers Hebrew classes.

The founder and president of the Mimouna Club is political science student Elmehdi Boudra (age 24). Himself a Muslim, Boudra is deeply interested in Moroccan-Jewish culture and is a staunch advocate of intercultural dialogue.[3] His interest in Jews and in Muslim-Jewish relations grew out of his family history; his grandmother's experiences growing up in Casablanca's Jewish quarter, and his grandfather's contacts with his Jewish neighbors,[4] instilled in him a curiosity about Judaism. To learn more, he studied with Simon Levy, one of the directors of the Museum of Moroccan Jewry in Casablanca, and read about the Holocaust.[5] Boudra's partner in founding the Mimouna Club was Ghassan Essalehi (age 23),[6] a Muslim from Rabat, who has a BA in international studies & communication, and is now completing his master's degree in diplomacy.[7]

Conference Speakers

The conference participants included Holocaust scholars and survivors (among them Elisabeth Citron, a Hungarian survivor of Auschwitz)[8], leaders of Morocco's Jewish community, as well as Jewish and Muslim students from Morocco and the U.S.

A key speaker was André Azoulay, a Moroccan Jewish intellectual and an advisor to the king. He said that when Europe was in the grip of Nazi barbarism, Morocco provided a light of hope, and added: "By standing up against Vichy's racist laws, King Mohammed V provided each of us with the capacity and legitimacy to wield the values of courage, freedom, humaneness and modernity that many of us seek to establish in Moroccan society".[9] He also noted that in the new Moroccan constitution, the present king, Mohammed VI, included a lengthy introduction focusing on the richness and diversity of the spiritual and cultural elements that make up contemporary Moroccan society. Addressing the organizers of the conference, he said: "You Muslim students decided to be identified with our liberation. It's not something usual."[10]

Serge Berdugo, ambassador-at-large for the King of Morocco and secretary-general of the Jewish community in the country, said that thanks to the protection of Mohammad V, no Moroccan Jew was arrested or sent to the concentration camps. He mentioned that the king showed his respect for his Jewish subjects by inviting all the Jewish dignitaries to the 1941 Feast of the Throne and seating them beside the French and German officers. Berdugo also related a story that has been told about the king: that when French general Noguès informed him that 200,000 yellow stars had been prepared for Morocco's Jews, the king answered that he would need 50 more – for himself and his family. According to Berdugo, the king said to the press at the time: "I do not approve of these new laws against Jews at all and I refuse to be associated with a measure that I disapprove of. As in the past, Israelites remain under my protection and I refuse to make any distinction among my subjects."[11]

King Mohammed VI Opposes Holocaust Denial

The event, which was the first conference commemorating the Holocaust to be held in an Arab country, was positively received by the media in Morocco and abroad. It continues the policy of Morocco's current king, who has spoken out against Holocaust denial. In a 2009 speech, King Mohammed VI said: "Amnesia has no bearing on my understanding of the Holocaust, or that of my people... Together we must endeavor to reassert reason and the values that underpin the legitimacy of a space of coexistence where the words of dignity, justice and freedom will express themselves in the same way and will coexist with the same requirements, regardless of our [citizens'] origins, cultures or spirituality. This is our Moroccan interpretation, of the duty of remembrance dictated by the Shoah."[12]

Endnotes:

[2] "Righteous among the Nations" is a title used to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis.

[3] Elmehdi Boudra on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/people/Elmehdi-Boudra/719145133#!/people/Elmehdi-Boudra/719145133?sk=info

[4] The New York Times, September 24, 2011.

[5] The New York Times, September 24, 2011.

[6] http://fr-fr.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2396515256&ref=nf

[9] Maghreb Arab Press, October 24, 2011.

[10] The New York Times, September 24, 2011.

[12] Jewishjournal.com, September 27, 2011.

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