Institute News

Testimonies Taken for New North Africa and Middle East Collection

All over the world, Jewish survivors of the Holocaust era are giving testimony – but not for USC Shoah Foundation’s original collection of over 51,000 Holocaust survivor testimonies. Instead, they are the first participants of the new Testimonies of North Africa and the Middle East project.

Although USC Shoah Foundation has interviewed Holocaust survivors of Sephardic heritage, these testimonies are mainly histories and experiences from Central and Eastern Europe. The North Africa and Middle East project is establishing a collection of testimonies from survivors and eye-witnesses who lived through the events of over 70 years ago in North Africa and the Middle East, and the destruction created there by Nazi occupiers or governments that were Nazi sympathizers. These experiences are crucial for understanding the global impact and scale of Nazi ideology and its policies.

The initial goal of the project is to record 50 life stories. These audiovisual testimonies, once collected, will be digitized, indexed and accessible to people around the world through the Visual History Archive of the USC Shoah Foundation.

This project will provide an invaluable resource into the unique experiences of this population for students, teachers, scholars, and the general community. USC Shoah Foundation is partnering with the American Sephardi Federation, Aladdin Project and other organizations and institutions to realize this project.

Leading up to and during the Holocaust in Europe, Jews in North Africa and the Middle East were subject to deportation, imprisonment in concentration camps, and the destruction of their homes, as well as severe anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish laws from their own governments.

Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Memorial Museum, shows a total of 17 slave labor concentration camps in North Africa: 3 in Morocco, 3 in Algeria, 7 in Tunisia, and 4 in Libya. There, some of the prisoners were tortured and murdered. Other internees worked as slaves in the desert building the Trans-Sahara railway.

From 1948 until the 1970s, it is estimated that close to one million Jews left, fled or were expelled from their homes in Arab countries.

The North Africa and Middle East project is directed by Jacqueline Semha Gmach, who has given testimony herself to the collection about her experiences growing up in Tunisia during and after World War II. Gmach is currently traveling in Paris, France, conducting testimonies along with interviewer Serge Moati, a French writer, artist and film director. Subjects so far include Nobel Prize Laureate Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, internationally renowned writer Albert Memmi, and Ruth Pearl, mother of the late journalist Daniel Pearl.