Sunday, August 31, 2014

More on the 1954 massacre at Petit Jean

 As promised, here is a little more detail about the massacre of Petit Jean, near Meknes, on 3 August 1954.  The massacre gives the lie to the myth that Moroccan Jews and Muslims had always lived peacefully together. As a commenter has pointed out, this pogrom was  the worst of a series of incidents - riots in Oujda in 1953 in which four Jews were killed, Sagan in 1955 (hundreds of Jews made homeless after their homes were burnt to the ground), riots in Wadi Zem (a family of five and two other Jews killed).

The aftermath of the massacre 

 The massacre of Petit-Jean (now known as Sidi Kacem) took place against a background of unrest and violence as Moroccan nationalists struggled for independence against French colonial rule. The tension was palpable during that fateful August of 1954.

What happened exactly on 3 August ?
Petit Jean was a commercial hub 20 kilometres from Meknes. Jewish shopkeepers prepared to shut their stores to comply with a nationalist boycott. But the French authorities told them to remain open and guaranteed them 'total protection'. The Jews paid dearly for such a lie.

According to Robert Assaraf, author of  Une certaine histoire des juifs du Maroc (p 579), at around 6.30 pm a horde of 1,000 excited Arabs converged on the old town and fixed a portrait of the exiled sultan, the future Mohammed V, on the front of a Jewish shop. The police commissioner climbed a ladder to remove it. The mob threw stones at him. He got away. For no apparent reason, the mob then took out their frustrations on  the Jews, clubbing them with iron bars. Some believed that a Jew had lent the policeman a ladder.

The names of the dead were as follows:

The manner of their death was particularly shocking: Samuel Boussidan, a father of 11, had his chest split open. The murderers then indulged in unspeakable atrocities. They hurled him on to a heap of sacks and set fire to him. Setting ablaze  a truck belonging to Chaloum Elfassy, the screaming crowd headed for Elfassy's warehouse, attacking him with bricks and killing his son, 22, a young married father of one. Other rioters attacked Elie Toledano, the head of a large family, and killed him and his son David. A sixth Jew, Abraham Amar, suffered the same fate.

The mob made a bonfire of the bodies and set fire to valuable stock, while their women ululated their joy. Witnesses saw the rioters distribute banknotes stolen from the unfortunate victims. The body of a sixth victim was found some time later.

It took four hours for the forces of law and order to come. The police, who were protecting the European quarter, began to fire on the rioters. They fled in all directions: 300 were arrested.

Assaraf points out that the rioters spared the shops belonging to Muslims, and even more incredible, the property of French and foreign companies. "At the SCAM warehouse, the mob enquired who was the owner," Assaraf recounts." When they learned it was a French company, they were careful to leave it alone, going off to plunder more Jewish assets."

The corpses,  charred beyond recognition,  were handed over to the traumatised Meknes Jewish community. On the seventh day of mourning, the community leadership publicised an open letter in Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic to be read out in all synagogues: "Fathers and sons were sacrificed on the same day. Their murderers, full of hate, savage and cruel, made them suffer the cruellest torments. The dead are martyrs for the people of Israel." The letter ends with a plea for Divine vengeance.

This video, taken by the granddaughter of Samuel Boussidan's brother, ends with a view of the victims' tombstones filmed in the Meknes Jewish cemetery. Apparently they bear the engraved inscription: "Killed by Arabs on 3 August 1954."
Directing its anger as much at the murderers as at the police's failure to prevent the pogrom, the community  pledged to plant trees in the victims' memory in Eretz Israel.

Following the pogrom, letter of complaint in Judeo-Arabic sent by Meknes Jews to the Alliance Israelite headquarters in Paris

Was the riot premeditated or spontaneous? No one knows, but Jews had been singled out for an unusually sadistic death purely for being Jews. When the last French soldier left Moroccan soil, what fate lay in store for the Jewish community?

Nationalist leaders and the French governor condemned the massacre, but panic had already spread amongst the Jews. A few weeks later a Jewish merchant in Rabat was killed for opening his store in violation of the boycott of French goods declared by Moroccan nationalists.

JTA reported on the 'pogrom' atmosphere in Morocco:

Haifa (Aug 15): "The first group of 599 Moroccan Jews escaping from the pogrom atmosphere now prevailing in Morocco arrived here today. Most of the immigrants are young people and come from Marakesh, Fez, Rabat and Casablanca.

"The immigrants are the first of a stream of 25, 000 Moroccan Jews already registered for entry into Israel by the Jewish Agency. They left aboard the Israeli ship “S.S. Jerusalem” two days after the start of the anti-Jewish attacks, which resulted in at least seven Jewish dead and many injured at Petitjean and Fez.
Most Moroccan Jews, rich and poor alike, want to leave for Israel, and “the sooner they are transferred, the better, ” the refugees declared. They told how, when they were passing through the streets of Casablanca on their way to board their ship, Arabs shouted: “We’ll start war against the Jews within a week. “
Jews under Muslim rule in the 19th c, by David Littman

One hundred years since the Fez pogrom


Anonymous said...

Thank you a lot for the important information. unfortunately such events were almost completly forgotten. But we should never forget.

Talking about Morocco, an event worst series of massacres happened at the years 1900-1912. Hundreds killed, women kidnapped, rapes, thousends of refugees, etc. see here for sources:

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

I think that Prof Paul Fenton and somebody else wrote a book on some of the anti-Jewish events in Morocco in the 1900-1912 period.

Anonymous said...

Prof Paul Fenton wrote a book in Hebrew and French about the Tritel - the pogrom against the Jewish community of Fez at 1912. But this was just the last of a number of massacres against Jews in Morocco that occoured at the years 1900-1912. He covered some of the other massacres in his other book about the Jewish dispora in Morocco (French).

Véronique Chemla said...

Ce livre est vraisemblablement L’exil au Maghreb. La condition juive sous l’islam 1148-1912 » de David G. Littman et Paul B. Fenton (Exile in the Maghreb: Jews under Islam, Sources and Documents, 997–1912)
Véronique Chemla