My review of the recent memorable French film, “The Wedding Song,” is now in print in the March/April issue of Tikkun magazine. This film beautifully depicts the friendship of two 16 year old Tunisian girls, one Jewish and one Muslim-Arab, and how the often intimate relations among Jews and Arabs were strained by the Nazi occupation in 1942-43. Of special anthropological interest are the living conditions recreated and the wedding customs practiced and celebrated in common. The following partially quotes from my review:
“The Wedding Song” begins with a young girl sweetly singing an Arabic wedding ditty. This is followed abruptly by a photo tableaux of the infamous Grand Mufti of Jerusalem meeting with Hitler and his SS henchman, Himmler, and reviewing Nazi troops. The Mufti–through his Arabic radio broadcasts from Berlin, his recruitment of Balkan Muslims to the SS and his work against the British in Iraq–spearheaded Nazi Germany’s outreach efforts to Arabs and Muslims. …
The story begins in November 1942 and is set entirely in Tunisia. … [Following] the British victory at El Alamein and the landing of US and British forces in Algeria and Morocco, … Erwin Rommel successfully withdrew his Afrika Korps to Tunisia, where the Germans landed heavy reinforcements. Bloody fighting sea-sawed for another half year in Tunisia until the Germans and Italians surrendered there in May 1943.
The Nazi overseer of anti-Jewish measures in Tunisia, SS Colonel Walter Rauff (mentioned in the film), received this assignment as a consolation prize for his previously intended mission as commander of “Einsatzgruppe Egypt,” created to murder the Jews of Palestine after the anticipated British defeat there.
…. Only the accident of geography saved [Tunisian Jews] from being transported en masse to the death camps. The blessedly short duration of the Nazi occupation prevented the death toll from malnutrition, disease and sheer brutality from climbing into the tens of thousands.
[French director/writer Karin] Albou embarked on a personal quest in making this film, delving into her North African-Jewish roots (Algerian, in her case). Her work parallels that of Robert Satloff, whose AMONG THE RIGHTEOUS: Lost Stories from the Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands (published by Public Affairs in 2006) recounts the little-known story of 500,000 North African Jews living under Axis occupation–variously German, Vichy-French and Italian– and how a number of Arabs heroically sheltered or otherwise aided Jews being persecuted. He did so not simply as a historian, but also with the explicit purpose of reaching out to the Arab world to find common purpose in the interest of peace.
Ms. Albou seems similarly motivated with a conciliatory spirit. …
Sadly, there are few Jews left today in North Africa. Only Morocco has a community that still numbers a few thousand from the 300,000 who lived there until the 1950s. Tunisia now has an even smaller community, which briefly made the headlines in 2002 when an al-Qaeda suicide bomber killed 19 people (mostly tourists) visiting a synagogue on the island of Djerba.
Like Ms. Albou’s father, most Tunisian and Algerian Jews emigrated to France. Most Moroccan Jews settled in Israel.