Tunisia

History

Tunisia was a French protectorate since the local bey had been made to sign, in May 1881, the Bardo Treaty. When German forces overran France in 1940, the armistice of 22 June left the new French government in Vichy in charge of the North African territories and the French military stationed there. When American and British forces landed in Morocco and Algeria during “Operation Torch” on 7/8 November 1942, Germany and Italy deployed troops in Tunisia in order to thwart the allied conquest of North Africa. As a result, Tunisia became the only territory in North Africa under direct Nazi occupation. Unlike Morocco or Algeria, it also became the scene of prolonged and heavy fighting between Axis and Allied forces, which went on for six months until the Allies captured Tunis on 7 May 1943. Four days later, the remaining Axis troops were forced to surrender. Tunisia has been an independent state since March 1956.

On the eve of the war, Tunisia had a total population of 2.8 million people. About 85,000 to 89,500 of them were Jews. Their number grew to around 100,000 in November 1942. As a protectorate of Vichy France, the country was subject to the antisemitic Jewish Statute of 7 October 1940. Unlike in Algeria, Jews in Tunisia were, as in Morocco, defined by their membership of a religious community, and not according to “racial” principles, which allowed Jewish institutions to preserve a greater degree of autonomy. After the German and Italian invasion the situation worsened as Germans quickly initiated anti-Jewish measures. On 23 November 1942 Moises Burgel, the president of the Tunis Jewish community, and other community leaders were arrested, but they were all released a few days later. 5,000 Jews were sent to forced labour camps. While the most important of these camps was located near Bizerte, the SS also recruited Jews to do forced labour near Sfax and Sousse. At least 46 Jews are known to have died during that period.

Archival Situation

The archives of the Protectorate Period are divided between the records of the Tunisian administration and the records of the French Resident-General. Records relevant to Tunisians remained in the country but those relevant to French citizens were transferred to France and are held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When Tunisia achieved political autonomy in 1955, the General State Archives became the Central Archives. They are located in Tunis and are subject to the Prime Minister’s Office.

EHRI Research (Summary)

While a number of archives and institutions in Tunisia are likely to be relevant for Holocaust-research, EHRI has yet to determine the exact nature and importance of their holdings.

In the case of Tunisia, however, EHRI was able to establish, with expert help, that the National Archives of Tunisia not only offer very good online descriptions of all their fonds (in French) regarding the colonial period up to the end of the Second World War, but that they also hold some Holocaust-relevant material. Sources on Jewish medical doctors affiliated to the local Louis Pasteur Institute (Institut Pasteur de Tunis) can be found at the archives of that institution. Furthermore, there are two institutions at Manouba University which conduct research on the history of the Jews in Tunisia, namely the Heritage Laboratory (Laboratoire du patrimoine) and the Advanced Institute for the History of the National Mouvement (Institut Supérieur d’Histoire du Mouvement National, I.S.H.M.N.).