Morocco has a long-standing Jewish heritage, dating back millennia.
On the occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Morocco’s Ambassador to the US, Princess Joumala Alaoui has celebrated the Jewish heritage of Morocco and recalled the country’s history in the protection of Jewish communities.
The U.S. Congress and the organization Sephardic Heritage International hosted the virtual event with the presence of public political figures and diplomats, including the State Department’s Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, Cherrie Daniels.
Descendants of Holocaust survivors gave poignant testimonies during the event, including Pfizer CEO Dr. Albert Bourla, whose parents are survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
“Morocco has a unique history with Jewish communities,” ambassador Alaoui said during the conference. She recalled that “consecutive waves of Jewish refugees have found refuge in Morocco for two millennia after the destruction of the Temple of Solomon, during the fall of Andalusia in 1492 or during World War II.”
Ambassador Alaoui added that waves of Jewish immigration to Morocco have established a dynamic and rich community that has become an integral part of the country’s social, cultural, and political identity.
Highlighting Morocco’s history as a refuge for persecuted Jews, ambassador Alaoui recalled the role of the former king Mohamed V.
During his reign amid World War II, the Moroccan king protected 250,000 Moroccan Jews from deportation and extermination after then-colonial overlord France surrendered to the Nazis and established the Vichy regime.
Morocco, then a French protectorate, refused to comply with the racist and anti-Semitic laws of the Vichy government. “There are no Jewish citizens, there are no Muslim citizens,” King Mohammed V told the Nazi regime. “They are all Moroccans.”
The ambassador additionally stressed the importance of education and in the commemoration of Jewish history and in the prevention of tragic events such as the holocaust.
In this regard, she said Morocco was the first Arab country to integrate Jewish history into its school curriculum. The decision “has the impact of a tsunami,” said Serge Berdugo, secretary-general of the Council of Jewish Communities of Morocco.
The US State Department’s Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, Cherrie Daniels, highlighted the role of the Sephardic Jewish community in Tangier, which welcomed and protected the massive wave of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe.
Morocco’s Celebration of Jewish History
Morocco was once home to the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world, reaching a population of 300,000 at its height. Currently, Turkey and Iran host the largest Jewish populations in the Muslim world
Morocco’s Jewish community has been present since antiquity and grew over the centuries, particularly with the arrival of Jews escaping torture and forced conversion during the Spanish Inquisition after 1492.
At the end of the 1940s, Jewish Moroccans numbered about 250,000, some 10% of the population.
Many left after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, and the community now numbers around 3,000, which is still the largest in North Africa.
King Mohamed VI has championed efforts to maintain close ties with Morocco’s Jewish community. In 2010, he launched the “Houses of Life” program which aims to restore 167 Jewish graveyards and 12,600 graves in 40 provinces throughout the country.
In January 2020, King Mohammed VI inaugurated Bayt Dakira, or the “House of Memory,” in Essaouira. Dating back to the 19th century, the museum, synagogue, and research center commemorates the role of Judaism in Morocco’s national heritage.