Sunday, April 18, 2010

The verdict on Satloff's 'Among the righteous' film

So how was it for you? Was Robert Satloff's documentary film Among the righteous, broadcast earlier this week on PBS, a fair interpretation of Arab behaviour during the Holocaust in North Africa - neither angels nor devils, but mostly bystanders? Or did it infuriatingly sidestep what Phyllis Chesler calls 'a herd of elephants in the room right now'? Via Pyjamas Media (with thanks: Edith)

Tonight, Manhattan surrendered. Tonight, Manhattan, my own hometown, was “taken” by its own desire to turn Arabs and Muslims into heroes.

On the Upper East Side, where I now live, I saw a very important documentary about three — three! — known North African Muslims (referred to throughout as “Arabs”) who saved a number of North African Jews whom the Vichy French and German Nazi armies hunted down in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. It took the researcher nearly eight years to find and verify these stories. Nevertheless, the audience was packed, and eager to believe-and-be-saved.

The three Arabs Satloff found who risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust.

The filmmakers and their funders hope that this view of Arab-Jewish relationships (based on three cases) will somehow “heal” the tattered relationship….which once was so Golden. Well, I don’t think so. Yes, biblically, the Jews and the Muslims are half-siblings, cousins; we are both Semites. Yes, things were always easier for wealthy Jews in Arab lands but most Jews were very poor. Yes, things were better for everyone, both Muslims and Jews, when modernization, feminism, and the separation of mosque and state were afoot, at least in Turkey and Egypt, at the turn of the early twentieth century–than they have been for the last fifty years.

Things soured Big Time after the end of the Second World War and the creation of Israel. See Pierre Rehov’s film, The Silent Exodus,the first of its kind which documents the persecution and flight of Arab Jews.

Don’t get me wrong. The documentary is useful and informative. For example, I had not known that the Nazis and their French collaborators had built concentration and labor camps in North Africa, where they worked North African Jews to death and tortured a good number along the way. (They also sent some poor unfortunate souls back to Europe.) In one instance, a Jewish North African father and his two sons were guillotined; the father was forced to watch the beheading of his sons before he himself was also decapitated. Nor had I known that the major imam of Algeria had issued an edict which prohibited any Muslim from helping himself to confiscated Jewish possessions.

Fascist salute in North Africa during World War II

According to Marion Dreyfus, (who was sitting two rows in front of me):

“Where(as) the European aspect of the murder of more than 6 million Jews was copiously recorded in film, photography, records (the meticulous Germanic obsession) and personal histories captured in book and tape and Spielberg’s Shoah recordings, few today have ever heard of this North African contingent of Holocaust that murdered so many, with so little remnant left. Professor Satloff is owed a huge debt, an enormous debt, for his massive digging in stubbornly opaque libraries and hamlets now crumbling.”

True, if a film can document the existence of the European Holocaust in North Africa, and can also show that at least three Muslims (there may be many more about whom we know nothing) saved Jews from Hitler’s executioners, then obviously, Arab and Muslim Holocaust Denial or Holocaust Indifference is being seriously challenged–and in the most “positive” of ways. The three Muslims are the heroes of the film, as is the author who set out to find them. His on-camera search and interviews constitute the film’s story.

Of course, I loved the film’s depictions of archways, winding lanes, bazaar street scenes, splendid mansions, colorful ceramic and tile work, natural vistas, as well as the grace, charm, generosity, emotionality, and beauty of the people shown on camera both now and long ago in Muslim North Africa. It’s my weak spot.

Beyond that, the film made me a little crazy because it neatly, carefully, smoothly, sidestepped the thundering herd of elephants in the room right now.

I am, of course, talking about the premiere of author Robert Satloff’s film Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust in Arab Lands. The press release reads, in part, as follows: “Seeking a hopeful response to the problems of Holocaust ignorance and denial in the Arab world, and in the wake of 9/11, Middle East expert Robert Satloff set out on what would become an eight-year journey to find an Arab hero whose story would change the way Arabs view Jews, themselves, and their own history. Along the way, Rob Satloff found not only the (three) Arab heroes for whom he started his quest but a vast, lost history of what actually happened to the half-million Jews of the Arab lands of North Africa under Nazi, Vichy, and Fascist rule.”

Read post in full

Anothe view from Mystical Politics blog


Independent Observer said...

the major imam of Algeria had issued an edict which prohibited any Muslim from helping himself to confiscated Jewish possessions

This may be a factual error. Satloff's text should be checked to determine whether the edict in question applied to Algeria or simply to Algiers.

bataween said...

According to Roger Bensadoun (Les juifs de la Republique)the Muslim establishment in Algeria, not just Algiers, did indeed resist the governor-general's attempts to take over seized Jewish assets.
On the other hand in Morocco, AFTER the allied landing, Jews were dispossessed of their property in Casablanca, Fez, Meknes and even in the south. On 30 July 1944, in Sefrou there were raids against the Jewish quarter following an altercation between a Jews and a Muslim soldier.(Chouraqui, Histoire des juifs en Afrique du Nord)

So the record remains mixed.

Independent Observer said...

"Mixed" is exactly the word - and unfortunately the "mixity" case is exactly what made Jewish life in Muslim countries so precarious.

Given the later Algerian viciousness towards Jews, it is hard to fathom the Muslim mindset.

The two elements which persist, however, are:

1. Volatility - one could never know when Muslim "decency" (as the Algerian edict in question) would turn repressive or even violent.

2. The "decency" seemed contingent on the Jews "staying in their place."

My own theory puts that at the origin of the extreme modern Muslim hatred of Jews - that the dhimmi refuses to stay in his subordinate place, but actually claims equality or - even more unforgivable - holds power over Muslims in Israel and the territories.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

People have to read up on British and American policy towards Jews in North Africa after the American landing at Algiers [Nov 1942]. The Americans, led by the consul, Robert Murphy, left General Giraud in power and with him the Vichy anti-Jewish laws. Jose Aboulker and some of the young active in the underground that had essentially enabled the Americans to land at Algiers without firing a shot, were put in jail with Murphy's approval. The Vichy laws were not repealed until American Jewish organizations put pressure on Washington. By the way, American Jewish soldiers were a channel of info between Algerian Jews and Jews in the USA.

This Is Hell said...

So you're essentially quibbling about who was the nicest murderer.

Independent Observer said...

Thanks to Eliyahu m'Tsiyon, who is, as usual, very well-informed.

It only emphasises that the US does what it deems coldly in its interest, and so Israel should not under any circumstances trust US "assurances" now or in the future.