A French Colony during World War II, Algeria was considered an integral part of France. Its population numbered approximately 6.6 million people, including about 120,000 Jews. After the German occupation of France, the Vichy Government continued to run the Colony through a Delegate Governor (General Weygand) who acted on its behalf, and began to apply laws of discrimination and oppression against the Jewish residents, similar to what was happening in France itself. The Jews lost their status as French Citizens and began to suffer various restrictions imposed on them, such as expelling their children from schools, limiting the number of their students in universities and curbing their numbers and engagement in independent professions and in various economic fields. Furthermore, a Concentration Camp for Jewish Algerian Soldiers who had served in the French Army was built in Bedeau, near Sidi Bel Abbes, where they were used in forced labor.
As a result of this, young people began to join the Algerian Underground, which was formed in 1940. There were also young Jews among its founders; some of them had served as Soldiers in the French Army and returned to Algeria after the occupation of France. Not willing to put up with the growing Anti-Semitism and the discriminatory laws against Jews, they decided to get organized and prepare themselves for self defense. In order to organize their struggle against the Germans, they also established contact, soon thereafter, with French Politicians and senior Officers in the French Intelligence Service who had fled from France. There were attempts to contact General de Gaulle’s Headquarters in London as well, but those were unsuccessful. In October, 1942, the Americans informed the Underground of their plans to invade the Country and asked the Organization to take an active part in it by seizing control over a number of key points and thereby assist them in the operations in Casablanca, Algiers and Oran. While failing to achieve its goals in Casablanca and in Oran, the Underground gained complete success in Algiers, and were it not so, the entire Operation could have failed. Of the 377 Underground members who took part in takeover of the City of Algiers, on the night of 7-8 November, 1942, 315 were Jews.
Jewish Underground members were “Young Jews, who secretly, and in an exemplary manner, got organized and swore to defend Algerian Jewry and fight against Vichy and the Nazis. It was none other than them who, through an act of daring trickery and by showing courage and resourcefulness while risking their lives, enabled the Americans to conquer the Capital City, Algiers, without any fighting. Their weapons were faith, devotion and bravery, in addition to a number of obsolete rifles. Through self-sacrifice, they helped open the way to the liberation of Europe, to Hitler’s surrender and to ending the annihilation of European Jewry. All this they did, without the use of guns and without spilling any blood”. (From a book by Gita Amipaz-Zilber, Jewish Underground in Algeria 1940-1942.)