In the period of World War II, Tunisia was a French Colony with a population of approximately 2.6 million people, of whom about 90,000 were Jews. Theoretically, the Country was ruled by the Tunisian Bey (Prince Muhammad al-Munsif, beginning in 1942), but in reality present there and in charge was a representative of the Vichy Government, Admiral Jean-Pierre Esteva. With the launching of the North African Campaign, in 1942, the Germans took control of Tunisia and began to introduce their laws, directed primarily against the Jewish population living there.
The German rule in Tunisia lasted only about six months, from November, 1942, to May, 1943, when the Country was liberated by the Allies. This rule was characterized by Anti-Semitic terror, perpetrated by the head of the German Secret Police operating there, Obersturmbannfuhrer Walter Rauff. The Jewish Community began to suffer manifestations of violence, racial discrimination, beatings of worshipers in synagogues, arrests, confiscation of property, deportation, executions, and forced labor. Approximately 5,000 Jews were transferred to Labor Camps near the Front-Line and many of them were murdered by the Germans or died from diseases they had become afflicted with as a result of their living conditions. Large numbers were banished to Concentration Camps in Europe and did not survive. The Germans planned to annihilate this Community, and even dispatched to Tunisia an S.S. Unit that started to set up the Nazi death machine, including the gas chambers which were later discovered in the city of Kairouan. The liberation of Tunisia by the Allies, on 7 May 1943, foiled those intentions and prevented their fulfillment.
Against this background, an Underground movement began to get organized already in 1940. Jews were among the founders of the Underground and had an important part in it. The Jewish members, who included men and women, comprised about half of the Organization’s entire membership. In its early stages, the Underground engaged in gathering information about the Germans for the Allies. Some of the members had previously served as reserve Officers in the French Army and they also included Jews who had fled from France and Italy. A number of them had been members of the Communist Party as well.