Muhammad V – Righteous Among the Nations

Muhammad V
Muhammad V

During WWII (1939-45) Muhammad V protected Moroccan Jews from the Vichy occupation

Heads of the Jewish community in Morocco have initiated a move calling for Muhammad V of Morocco, who was king during World War II, to be the first Arab admitted to Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations for his efforts of saving the Jews of his country.

Muhammad V came to power after his father’s death in 1927, and was appointed sultan of French-ruled Morocco. He rejected orders set out by France’s collaborationist Vichy government as early as 1940 and refused to make the 200,000 Jews then living in Morocco wear yellow stars, as they did in France.

 Sultan Mohammed V of Morocco visiting Lawrence Livermore Lab, United States, in 1957
Sultan Mohammed V of Morocco visiting Lawrence Livermore Lab, United States, in 1957

In private, Muhammad V offered vital moral support to the Jews of Morocco. When French authorities ordered a census of all Jewish-owned property in the country, the Jewish leadership feared this was the precursor to a general confiscation. Secretly, the sultan arranged for a group of prominent Jews to sneak into the palace, hidden in a covered wagon so he could meet them away from the prying eyes of the French. According to one of those present, he promised the Jews that he would protect them and assured them that the census was not the first step in a plan to seize their goods and property. (After the Anglo-American invasion of Morocco, the sultan arranged for the destruction of the census documents.)

As important as these private statements were, public statements the sultan made on behalf on his Jewish subjects burnished his reputation even more. At the annual Throne Day ceremony, with the elite of Moroccan and Vichy officialdom gathered at the royal palace, the sultan made a point of welcoming the leaders of the Jewish community in attendance. “I must inform you that, just as in the past, the Israelites will remain under my protection,” he said in a voice loud enough for Vichy officers and at least one French journalist to get the message. “I refuse to make any distinction between my subjects.”

Mohammed V's tomb inside his mausoleum at Rabat (Photo: Rux-ReadyForTomorrow)
Mohammed V’s tomb inside his mausoleum at Rabat (Photo: Rux-ReadyForTomorrow)

Thanks to such acts of solicitude toward his Jewish subjects, Moroccan Jewish lore celebrates Sultan Muhammad V as a savior, one of the finest, fairest, and most tolerant rulers Jews had ever known. His reputation has taken on mythic proportions, with Moroccan Jews even inventing tales of his heroism.
(Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust’s Long Reach Into Arab Lands, Robert Satloff )

The organization in charge of awarding such a title is the Public Committee for the Righteous Among the Nations of Yad Vashem, which recognizes non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. Since the establishment of Yad Vashem 21,700 people were awarded the title, 60 of whom were Muslims. Should Muhammad V be named Righteous Among the Nations, he would be the first Arab ever holding the title. Naming the king Righteous Among the Nations, could have a great affect on Israeli-Moroccan relations, and as such, was endorsed by President Shimon Peres.

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