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Aurora Israel profiled Helene Cazés Benathar, whose incredible heroism in saving fellow Jews during the Holocaust was recognized by the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem in April 2020 with a Jewish Rescuers Citation. Benathar was an important figure in the Zionist movement and the first female attorney in Morocco.

Read the article (in Spanish) in Aurora Israel.

When the Jewish Holocaust is invoked, it is usually alluded to the European continent. Even so, it is worth remembering that thousands of Jews were killed in Libya, Tunisia and Algeria, others perished in concentration camps or forced labor camps. Without prejudice to this, thousands of Jews who fled Europe and arrived in Morocco were saved and rescued in merit of the initiative and courage of Helene Cazés Benathar.

Helene was born in Tangier, Morocco, on October 27, 1898, into a Sephardic family in Morocco with a solid economic position. In 1917 the family moved to Casablanca and their father held important positions in the local Jewish community. After completing her studies and obtaining the baccalaureate, she completed her studies at the Faculty of Law of Bordeaux (France) receiving a lawyer. She returns to Morocco becoming the first female lawyer in this country and against liaison with Moshé Benatahar equally active in the local Jewish community. She was the founder and first president of the Zionist women’s organization WIZO in Morocco, active in the Joint as well as in the Middle Red Cross.

At the outbreak of World War II, 200,000 Jews reside in Morocco and from May 1940 to November 1942, the country is under the dominion of the Vichy pro-Nazi regime and the Jews are expelled from public space and subjected to severe restrictions. The activity related to European Jews begins on July 5, 1940 when a ship loaded with Jewish and non-Jewish refugees arrives at the port of Casablanca and the Vichy regime denies travelers their descent ashore. It is then that Helene, taking advantage of her status as a member of the local Red Cross, begins to take care of refugees by providing them with housing, food, clothing, medical assistance and legal protection.

For this purpose, it promotes and founded with other women and chairs the Committee for Assistance to Foreign Refugees, using resources from the Moroccan Jewish community, international Jewish organizations such as the Joint and non-Jewish such as the National Refugee Service and the Quaykeepers’ Aid Organization. Part of the activity carried out was in accordance with the relevant regulations but most of them was completely illegal.

It is estimated that about 20,000 Jewish exiles from Europe crossed North Africa and especially Casablanca during World War II, many of them undocumented, so much so that Helene and her organization managed to make them enter the country and properly hide them.

Likewise, the majority of Jewish refugees were totally indigent or with limited resources and in both cases persecuted by the Vichy regime, thousands of them were sent to Labor Camps in eastern Morocco. The aforementioned Committee led by Helene took charge of these refugees as well as the refugees imprisoned on the border of Morocco with Algeria and the homeless refugees who resided outside those spaces. Helene used different premises in the Jewish community of Casablanca to house and shelter the aforementioned refugees. In other cases, they helped them hide when the refugees fled the labor camps in which they were confined.

The Committee for Assistance to Foreign Refugees sought to find occupation and work for refugees to avoid the pretext and the cause of their expulsion from Morocco. Remember that most of them lacked the documentation required by local authorities as well as livelihoods, so the help provided became vital. He sent monthly allowances to all those residents in the different camps, also financing their medical and dental care, acquisition of clothing, etc. If not, there was a danger of repeating the painful experience of the Saint Louis ship in 1939 in which the refugees were prevented from disembarking in the United States and their passengers had to return to Europe.

Helene’s life was in danger by clearly and permanently violating the regulations in force, she could be stopped at any time and even so she did not stop carrying out her activity. On more than one occasion she was able to overcome embarrassing situations in merit to her connections with French authorities, on a certain occasion the French police demanded to receive the documentation from the Assistance Committee for Foreign Refugees but it

In July and August 1942, Helene obtained false visas for Jewish children to leave France and enter Casablanca in such a way saving their lives. On another occasion he requested a loan from local Jews to allow refugees to move from Casablanca to Martinique Island and in such a way that they were sent to a forced labor camp in eastern Morocco. Unfortunately this attempt was unsuccessful, Helene was threatened that she herself would be sent to those camps, but this measure was prevented in merit to the intervention of a high-ranking French official. As a result, the Assistance Committee for Foreign Refugees had to cease its activity for some time and modify its label.


After the war, in 1948 Helene helped Zionist organizations in everything related to the establishment of the Jewish communities of North Africa in Israel even between 1954 and 1955 she was sent to speak before the Jewish communities of the United States as part of a fundraising campaign for Israel. His vocation of service transcended the Jewish space, given that he built a hospital for children in Tripoli.

Once Morocco obtained its independence in 1956, he directed his law firm in both Casablanca and Paris, until in 1962 he decided to settle permanently in Paris. That same year he was appointed a member of the Social Assistance Fund of the Jewish community, being among the founders of the Organization of Jewish Nationals of Morocco in France, an entity that he will begin to preside over in 1967.

Helene donated her valuable personal archive to the Archive of the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem. This file includes documentation related to the Committee on Assistance to Foreign Refugees, a postal exchange held by Helene with the French authorities, the Jewish communities of Morocco and Jewish organizations of the United States, as well as the complete payroll of refugees arrested in Casablanca or in transit through this city.

At the time, the Sephardic World Federation awarded him “The decoration of Jewish heroism” while on April 21, 2020, the B’nai B’rith Organization posthumously granted him “the Jewish order of salvation,” recognition given by this important Jewish entity to Jewish heroes who have saved other Jews during World War II.

Helene Cazés Benathar died in Paris on July 7, 1979 at the age of 80. The following inscription appears on your tombstone:

“Our mother, a legendary woman who rescued so many human beings from their hardships.”