Magazine article Tikkun

Tunisia, 1942: Humanity amid Inhumanity

Magazine article Tikkun

Tunisia, 1942: Humanity amid Inhumanity

Article excerpt



France 3 Cinema

Review by Ralph Seliger

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 Muftithrough 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 Wedding Song is an emotionally charged drama with documentary appeal- both ethnographic and historical. It is also highly sensual, with the need for actors willing to appear naked in some scenes having caused the French director/writer Karin Albou to cast herself in a major role. "I couldn't find an actress who matched what I had written," she says. "The French ones did not speak Arabic; the Arab ones did not want to get naked in the hammam [Turkish bath]. My husband and a friend of mine told me *why don't you do it?' So I had myself go through the casting process!" She also cast a non-Arab French woman, Olympe Borval, as the main ArabMuslim character.

Borval had to learn sufficient Arabic for her role. Both Arab and Jewish characters routinely mix French and Arabic, often switching languages from sentence to sentence. The film depicts the intimate living conditions and the wedding customs largely practiced and celebrated in common by North African Jews and Arabs.

The story begins in November 1942 and is set entirely in Tunisia. That month, the tide of World War II dramatically turned against the Axis in North Africa, with the British victory at El Alamein and the landing of U.S. and British forces in Algeria and Morocco. But Field Marshall 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.

The Nazis began their rein of terror over Tunisia's 100,000 Jews much as they had proceeded in European countries they occupied, with the establishment of a Jewish council, a local "Judenrat," forced by Colonel Rauff to select and equip thousands of slave laborers at short notice and to collect heavy "fines" imposed upon the Jews to pay for their alleged "crimes."

Vichy France had already stripped North African Jews of their rights as citizens, just as it had stripped all the Jews of France of such rights. The Vichy regime also prohibited or restricted North African Jews from the practice of most professions and the conduct of most businesses. Only the accident of geography saved them 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.

Jews in North Africa were caught in a vise between their traditional second-class status as "dhimmi" in Muslim lands- a "protected" but subordinate minorityand the French Republican promise of equality. …

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