Monday, April 20, 2015

The (mostly Jewish) rebellion you've never heard of

The story is not well known of how mostly Jewish underground resistance fighters in Algiers helped the Allied forces land on the north African coast without a shot being fired. Adi Schwartz writes for i24 News:

It all seemed like a Hollywood fairy tale: around midnight, a few hundred young men spread across the city, aiming towards governmental buildings and the army barracks. They were untrained, and most of them never held a gun before. Some of their rifles didn't even have bullets. Their target, no less, was to take over the city and neutralize the entire French army.

The date is November 1942 and the location is Algiers, where the American army is about to disembark in order to fight the German armies in North Africa. In the city itself, a coup d'├ętat takes place by a Gaullist underground, comprised mostly of Jews, who tries to facilitate the American takeover of the city. In one of the more surreal chapters of World War II, a tiny and unorganized army of volunteers managed to fool 20, 000 French and Axis soldiers.

Imperial War Museum/WikipediaI
Imperial War Museum/Wikipedia"A British Crusader III tank crosses a ditch at Mersa Matruh, Libya during the British 8th Army's pursuit of the retreating Axis forces, November 1942"

The plan was simple: allied forces would land on the coast of northwestern Africa, controlled by Vichy France, and the underground would take care of paralyzing the regime's troops in order to hand over the city to the Allies. The underground presented fabricated orders from the Vichy General Staff, stating that soldiers in central institutions must be replaced by civil guards.

This allowed hundreds of underground members to take over the post office, the commissariat, the communications room and the commissioner's house, and the bewildered Vichy soldiers simply made way for them. Their commanders, including Vichy leader Philippe Petain's deputy, were taken into captivity without a single shot being fired. The chain of stunning events included a Jewish man impersonating a French general and ordering through the radio the entire army to surrender. Eventually, as day broke out, the Americans arrived and took over the city.

This untold drama is recounted in the film "Night of Fools," to be aired on Thursday in Israel during Holocaust Remembrance Day. The story remained practically unknown since nobody was interested in including it in the historical narrative: the Americans had no desire to share their victory, and the Vichy French were reluctant to be embarrassed by this episode. Historians, on the other hand, devoted most of their time and energy to studying the Holocaust in Europe.

Read article in full 

Story of unsung Algiers heroes shown on Israeli TV

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