It is said that to save the life of one person is to change the world. But what about saving the lives of a quarter million? This was the case for Sultan Mohammed V of Morocco. He was a young man, only 31 years old, and ruler of Morocco during the years of World War II. His country, at that time, was a protectorate of France, which meant that when France surrendered to the Nazis in June of 1940, Morocco fell under their control as well.
Within months antisemitic laws began to flow from Berlin and Paris, but the young Sultan greatly valued the multicultural society which he had inherited and respected the 2,000-year-old Jewish presence in Morocco. When asked to identify and isolate the Jews, he reportedly replied, “There are no Jewish citizens or Muslim citizens, they are all Moroccans.”
While he could not openly defy the French authorities, he could be a hindrance, moving at a snail’s pace to enact French statutes. By the time of liberation in November of 1942, somehow none of the 250,000 Arab Jews of Morocco had been shipped to European concentration camps, and in fact, they were not yet wearing the yellow star. Today there are one million Jews of Moroccan descent throughout the world, thanks in part to the brave and uncooperative young Sultan Mohammed V.