Howe Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

R. Fahan

State Department Ignores Anti-Semitism
and Concentration Camps in North Africa

(February 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 6, 8 February 1943, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The scandal of North Africa, where American officials bicker with and bolster up fascist and anti-Semitic officials, acquires a worse stench with each passing day. Perhaps the most ghastly twist to this whole filthy business has been given by an interview, which General Giraud, a reactionary and anti-democratic militarist puffed up into an Allied hero by propaganda, gave to the press on the question of anti-Semitism.

In response to the repeated questions which have been asked both in England and America as to why the Hitler-inspired anti-Semitic laws, originally, introduced by the Vichyites, have not been repealed, Giraud answered that:

  1. Anti-Jewish legislation would be abolished “gradually,” since over-hasty action would “disrupt” the functioning of the North African administration.
  2. He, Giraud, considered this an internal North African problem, which, as the ruler of North Africa, he must face alone; and he did not believe it the concern of outsiders.
  3. He, Giraud, had full confidence in his new civil administrator, Marcel Peyrouton, the former Vichy Minister of Interior, who had been instrumental in enforcing anti-Semitic legislation in metropolitan France, as well as jailing thousands of anti-fascists and anti-Vichyites.

We believe these remarks of Giraud worthy of some study and comment.

“Gradually” Means What?

The phrase about abolishing, anti-Semitism “gradually” is an insult to human intelligence. Racial discrimination is repugnant, to every half-civilized human being as a matter of principle; discrimination against any racial or color group betrays an anti-democratic, an anti-human bias which is despicable regardless of whether it takes the form of subtle jokes or brutal murders. Anti-Semitism is either enforced as a governmental policy or it is not.

What does Giraud mean by abolishing it “gradually”? Does he mean that Jews will now be allowed into some of the amusement places from which they have been barred and not into others; does it mean that they will be allowed to practice some of the professions and not others; does it mean that some ghettoes will be abolished and not others? How can one justify the continuation of some discriminatory practices while proudly noting the abolition of others?

And where is the voice of President Roosevelt, he who has sent so many salving messages to American Jews protesting his hatred of anti-Semitism in Germany? Where is his voice denouncing the anti-Semitic practices in the land which Giraud nominally rules but which the American Army actually controls?

Washington Behind Policy

The New York newspaper PM declares in dispatches from its Washington correspondent, I.F. Stone, that Washington itself is behind the failure to abolish the anti-Semitic laws of North Africa. Writes Stone:

“If Murphy (the American Ambassador – R.F.) had told Darlan to repeal the anti-Jewish laws and to free the political prisoners ... the laws would have been repealed and the prisoners freed long ago. The real difficulty is that the State Department hasn’t made up its mind that it wants the anti-Jewish laws repealed and it isn’t sure about the political prisoners. It’s difficult at one and the same time to put a man like Peyrouton in power and then free the very men he hunted down and jailed as Petain’s Minister of the Interior.”

Some very “clever” defenders of the U.S. State Department policy in North Africa have attempted to justify the shameful attitude toward the anti-Semitic problem by saying that the abrogation of the anti-Jewish laws would inflame the Arab population. This statement, even if true, is profoundly reactionary and reprehensible. But the fact that it is nothing more than a miserable pretext behind which to hide the pro-fascist policy of the State Department can be seen when one considers that the State Department did not hesitate to accept the appointment of Peyrouton as civil administrator despite the fact that he is bitterly hated by the Arabs who remember his repressive regime as governor of Tunisia in 1936.

Be it remembered that this Peyrouton is also an old hand at concentration camps, having introduced them to quell those Arabs desiring national independence for their countries ruled by France. It is not for nothing that he found it so easy to fit into Hitler’s Vichy nest. What should, however, cause reflection is that this foul bird finds a welcome in the nest of the side of the Four Freedoms.

Giraud, for his part, continues to justify his association with the Vichyite colonial generals like Boisson. Nogues, etc. He accepts those, he says, who had good intentions, not those who really succumbed to Hitler. This criterion is also apparently accepted by the State Department, as can be seen by Secretary Hull’s bitter defense, last week, of the North African policy.

“Say It Isn’t So”

We now have a new criterion for judging the fascists. When one of them is brought to bay, he is to be asked: “Did you really mean it, old boy? Or was your heart always in the right place? Say, it wasn’t so, please!” And the fascist – Darlan, or Peyrouton, or tomorrow Franco or Mussolini or Goering – will merely have to say that bis heart was always in the right place while he was murdering workers and suppressing liberty.

What is really going on in North Africa can be gleaned from some revealing dispatches sent by Drew Middleton to the New York Times in which he reveals the fact that democrats, de Gaullists and anti-fascist forces – not to mention socialists and trade unionists – are still being persecuted and jailed. The mass of people, he reveals, have adopted an attitude of apathy and indifference since they are in a position to see first hand how the American liberators have allowed the Vichy scoundrels and fascists to continue their rule.

It is against this background that the recent Casablanca conference assumes additional importance. No newspaper has bothered to point to the fact that Roosevelt and Churchill met in a town where Jews are not assured of equal democratic rights; it is too embarrassing and tends to create some more doubt about the already shabby Atlantic Charter.

Yet these facts must be faced. Anti-Semitism still continues to be the policy of the Giraud-Peyrouton government, a government which exists solely by the sufferance of the United States. The anti-fascist political prisoners still rot in jails. The Vichyites and fascists still retain their power.

These are the facts. Let those who would proclaim this a war of freedom and liberation and not a war of imperialist rivalry, explain these facts.

Irving Howe Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 13 February 2015