Introduction

D’fina Jewish Morocco

Jewish heritage tours of Morocco typically cycle through Casablanca, Tangiers, Fez, and Marrakesh. But the Jewish Moroccan heartland lies south of these metropolitan centers, in the towns and villages of the Atlas mountains and Sahara desert. Here, Jewish life punctuated the landscape, legendary rabbis helped sustain rural communities, and a distinctive Judeo-Amazigh (Berber) culture developed over the course of two millennia.

Decades after the community’s dissolution, the once-vibrant Jewish heritage these sites embody is ubiquitous yet hidden, seemingly indelible but inevitably fading. Where it still exists, it does so behind unmarked walls, just off treacherous dirt trails, deep within mountains, in the annual pilgrimages (hillulot) that attract hundreds of expatriates and increasingly only in the memories of aging Muslim former neighbors as well as the superstitions that they have bequeathed to their children and grandchildren. D’fina means “covered” or “buried” in the Moroccan dialect, a fitting and, in some cases, literal description of what remains.

During the Holocaust, France’s Vichy regime established a series of forced labor and “discipline” camps in the region’s far eastern flank where hundreds of Jews and non-Jewish political prisoners toiled and died in the desert. These sites are similarly forgotten, but are important reminders of North Africa’s Holocaust history that has only in recent years begun to attract scholarly interest.

This exhibit marks the first time that pictures of the majority of these sites (including several Vichy camps) have been made public. In addition to photographs, we present an array of virtual documentation, concise summaries, video tours, oral history recordings, 360-degree panoramas, and geo-mapping data to provide an exclusive glimpse into the heartland of Jewish heritage in Morocco.

Come explore these remarkable sites on a unique tour made possible with the generous support of the Cahnman Foundation.

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D’fina Jewish Morocco