Sidi Al Ayachi camp, Azzemour (Azmmur ⴰⵣⵎⵎⵓⵔ أزمور), Morocco (المغرب).
A World War II internment camp for Europeans (Jewish and non-Jewish) located across the river from Azzemour. The camp functions today as a hospital.
Over the course of the Second World War, thousands of North African Jews were interned by the European powers which controlled the area.[i] Germany, Italy, and Vichy France relocated Jews to at least 30 such sites in Morocco, with at least another 37 camps in both Algeria and Tunisia, and 6 in Libya.[ii] Other than the small number who were incarcerated for their political activities, the majority of Moroccan Jews did not face imprisonment in the camps under Mohammed V but did endure the harsh conditions of the mellahs in which they were forced to live.[iii] Instead, Vichy sites such as the Sidi Al Ayachi camp throughout eastern Morocco and western Algeria housed two thousand European Jewish men, largely those who been living in France illegally or who had served in the French army or the Foreign Legion.[iv] Harsh conditions awaited these Jews, many of whom were deported from France and sent to live as forced laborers alongside European political prisoners on the Trans-Sahara railroad.[v] The Jews were the only group represented at the camps targeted for their religious views, and one camp along the railroad, Berguent, consisted entirely of Jews.[vi] European and Arab guards imposed strict conditions in the camps; prisoners routinely faced torture and death.[vii]
Sidi Al Ayachi
Located near the Moroccan city of Azemmour, 75 km southwest of Casablanca, the Sidi Al Ayachi camp was surrounded by a barbed wire fence and consisted of 15 buildings that had formerly constituted a military camp.[viii] While other Vichy camps consisted largely of political prisoners, places like Sidi Al Ayachi housed Jews who were termed “refugees,” individuals who had been apprehended for arriving in Morocco without the necessary transit visas and permits.[ix] The site was unusual in that it housed not only Jewish men, many hailing from Germany and Austria, but also women, children, elderly and the disabled.[x] Political prisoners were also mixed in with the inmates. Much of what is currently known of the camp today is derived from the accounts of Norwegian sailors who were sent to the camp following the capture of their ship by the Vichy.[xi] The mixed populace was guarded by local Arabs as well as a band of Senegalese troops.[xii] This use of foreign guards is logical in light of the various reports from other Vichy camps which detail the sympathy many of the Arab Moroccan guards harbored for the Jews they oversaw.[xiii] Though the inmates of Sidi Al Ayachi on the whole were not subject to brutality at the hands of their overseers, they had to contend with many other hardships. As one former Jewish-Czech survivor of the camp put it, “We were not actually mistreated, but there was much hunger, suffering, and sickness, brought about by overcrowding, poor diet, inadequate sanitary facilities, and the extreme heat of the Moroccan summer, occasionally accompanied by sandstorms which penetrated everything.”[xiv] Poor straw mattresses and unsanitary communal toilets served the inmates.[xv] Though it was considered the least harsh of the Vichy camps, the population there saw insufficient quantities of substandard food, sheets, blankets, clothes, and other necessities.[xvi]
Following the British-and-American-led invasion of North Africa on November 8, 1942, Morocco joined the Allies.[xvii] At the time of their arrival, European Jews at Camp Sidi Al Ayachi numbered 450.[xviii] At a conference in Casablanca the next January, the Allies signed a military agreement.[xix] Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily in July of 1943, marked the approach to the end of German-occupied Europe.[xx] The North African camps were torn down between late 1942 and early 1943, though construction on the Trans Saharan railroad continued for many years with German and Italian prisoners.[xxi]