The renewal of relations between Israel and Morocco has shed new light on the Moroccan conduct at the time of World War II. In a fascinating interview, Rabbi Yochiyahu Pinto evokes the work of King Mohammed (ben Yossef) V, who showed strong resistance to the Nazi forces determined to annihilate the Jews of the kingdom.
A Tribute to a Heroic Sovereign
The Jewish presence in Morocco dates back to the destruction of the First Temple, has lasted hundreds of years and has seen the birth of great Sages of the people who have grown up in the kingdom and have passed on their tradition to the following generations.
The life of the Jews in Morocco prospered: they founded Yechivot, synagogues and large communities. During all these years, the Jews were an inseparable part of the Moroccan kingdom, where more than 600 Tsadikim are buried. Among them are Rabbi Amram ben Diwan, Rabbi ‘Haïm Pinto, Solika, Rabbi David ben Baroukh and many other holy men.
A deep relationship was then developed between the Moroccan rulers and the Jews, whom they admired and respected. At the same time, Moroccan Jews were proud of their Moroccan Jewish heritage. Today, nearly 1.5 million Moroccan Jews live in the world, including about 500,000 in Israel, proud of their Moroccan traditions.
In recent years, Jewish life in Morocco has grown and flourished. Admur Rabbi Yochiyahu Pinto, who is a descendant of the Pinto and Abou’hatséra families, the pillars of Moroccan Judaism, came to settle in the kingdom following his appointment as president of the Rabbinical Court.
Rav Pinto founded Yechivots, study centers, a system of Kashrut in Morocco, including a high quality Ché’hita, with students of the Yechiva as Kashrut supervisors. These students, who are under the Rav’s supervision, offer food with impeccable Kashrut to the entire population of the country, as well as to the tens of thousands of Jews who travel to their homeland every year.
At the same time, the Rav creates Jewish communities, Talmudic Torah and a very active Jewish community center.
The Moroccan kingdom has received a special blessing from Heaven. In the words of Rav Pinto: “The Midrach of the Paracha of Bechala’h says: There were seven kings in Erets Israel. One of the kings learned that the people of Israel were coming to Israel.
The Midrach says: What did this king do?
“He gathered his family, his soldiers, his people and went to settle in Morocco. “
The Midrash said that from that moment on, all the promises that God had made for Israel, a land flowing with milk and honey, as well as all the promises that He had made for Erets Israel, God brought them here and blessed the land of Israel in Morocco.
The current sovereign, Mohammed VI, is committed with all his heart to the kingdom. As leader of the monarchy, he is committed to the renewal of Jewish life and to the peace agreement that is developing between Morocco and Israel.
“We live here in Morocco, a kingdom of goodness, a kingdom of the king, may God grant him a long life, and beautiful and pleasant years, he who embodies compassion and kindness.”
The monarch continued in the path of his ancestors, who appreciated the Jews, including his great-grandfather King Mohammed ben Yossef V, who acted with determination to save the Jews of Morocco from the hands of German emissaries, the soldiers of the Vichy regime. Hitler sent a message to Morocco demanding that the Jews of the country be delivered to him.
The king replied to Hitler: there are no Jews, all Moroccans are one people. Take me first. And regarding the Yellow badge, the king said: I will be the first to wear it.
In a moving statement to the nations of the world, and to the survivors of the Holocaust, the president of the Rabbinical Court of Morocco, Admour Rabbi Yochiyahou Pinto, calls for the recognition of the ruler Mohammed V as a Righteous Man of the Nations, for his action to save the Jews of Morocco. A day must be instituted to commemorate the king who worked to save the Jews.
One speaks of the “Righteous of the Nations”, but there is no righteous of nations superior to him who saved an entire community, risking being destroyed in its entirety by Hitler.
Today, with the signing of the peace agreements, it is time to award the sovereign Mohammed ben Yossef the title of Righteous of the Nations and to show our gratitude for the kingdom’s action towards the Jews of Morocco.
The Sovereign Who Stood Up for the Jews
We are currently discovering a part of the personality of one of the figures who has not received favorable historical treatment so far. Particularly in view of his role in the rescue of the Jews at the time of the Second World War.
It is King Mohammed V, sovereign of the Moroccan kingdom, who reacted with determination to the demands of the soldiers of the Vichy regime, emissaries of the Nazi murderers, demanding that the Jews be delivered to them from Morocco and expelled from the country.
Rabbi Yochiyahou Pinto, Chief Rabbi of Morocco, spoke on this subject, wishing to raise public awareness. This is in the wake of the warming of relations with the kingdom.
The Rav said: “We have here 2500 years of Jewish culture, Torah and Mitsvot, just remember the illustrious Sages who lived here, including the Rambam, the Gold Ha’haim Hakadoch, Rabbi ‘Haim Pinto, Rabbi Yaakov Abou’hatséra, Rabbi David ben Baroukh, Rabbi Amram ben Diwan and all the holy and righteous men, who planted holy roots here; we find here great light and abundant divine help.”
“Above all, we are fortunate to have a sovereign, may God raise him up, strengthen and bless him and his kingdom of kindness and compassion. He is distinguished by good character traits and good conduct, a king who embodies righteousness and nobility, he and all his family and surroundings, all more remarkable one than the other. Thanks be to God, we live here and see that the local Jews have everything they need to live their Judaism in the best possible way, both in terms of services, fear of Heaven and all matters affecting Jewish life. We have noticed during the pandemic that the monarchy and the local authorities have provided all the necessary services to the Jews with generosity, and their conduct has been admirable and unsurpassed.”
With great emotion, the Rabbi described the Moroccan sovereign’s devotion during the Second World War and his action in favor of the rescue of the Jews. “We have already mentioned what happened in this country during the Holocaust, when Hitler sent a French general, who demanded that all the Jews be handed over to him. But the monarch replied unequivocally: “There are no Jews and Arabs here, there are Moroccans, who are all the same. If you want a Jew, take me first, and if you want the Jews to wear the yellow badge, put the yellow badge on me first”.
“We believe that a historical injustice has been committed by omitting this reality, and we will act, with God’s help, with our friends at the Holocaust Museum in Washington and the Holocaust Museum in New York, so that they commemorate on a specific date the memory of the monarch. The monarch was a friend of the Jews, who worked to save the Jews in his country, enabling them to escape the Holocaust. This king is a Righteous Man of the Nations: there is no greater Righteous Man of the Nations than a king who saved an entire community.”
History proves that all countries and governments collaborated with the Nazis and annihilated all communities, killing millions of Jews, while Morocco was a notable exception. All Jews escaped and to this day, Morocco is a country of kindness and compassion, offering Jews every possible benefit under the leadership of His Majesty Mohammed VI and his family may God grant them a long and beautiful life.”