The Fragility of Colonial Citizenship: Jews, Citizenship, and Vichy in French Colonial Algeria, 1940–43

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 2:50 PM
Columbia Hall 4 (Washington Hilton)
Sophie Roberts, University of Kentucky
This paper examines the fragile nature of colonial citizenship by examining the case of Algerian Jews from 1940 to 1943.  In Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, Vichy legislation forced Jews from professions, schools, and military service among many other restrictions.  In Algeria, the situation was more complicated, as Jews were French citizens due to the 1870 Crémieux decree that made them citizens en masse.  The Vichy government abrogated the Crémieux decree in 1940 as part of their antisemitic legislation.  After the abrogation, Jews faced new and highly complicated identities, and lacked the organizational strength to respond as a group to the legislation imposed upon them.  Technically, they were returned to their status as French subjects, yet in reality that status no longer existed.  Their indigenous religious institutions had deteriorated or disappeared entirely as the Jewish community assimilated to their French status.  Jews responded in various ways to the limitations placed on their lives, including letters and appeals to the Vichy government, Marshal Pétain, and other Vichy and local officials.  Despite various attempts to improve their situation and the efforts of the international Jewish community, Algerian Jews did not regain their French citizenship until 1943, well after the Allies landed in North Africa.  This case study illustrates the inherently fragile nature of colonial citizenship, to the point that with “the stroke of a pen,” after seventy years of citizenship, Algerian Jews were reduced to French subject status, a legal and institutional no-man’s land.  This paper draws from the large collection of appeals seeking exemption from Vichy antisemitic legislation as well as documents from the Jewish community as they faced their complicated new status.