North Africa and the Holocaust

European Colonialism, Nazism and Local Agency




colonialism, Albert Memmi, antisemitism, Holocaust, North Africa, entangled and transnational history


To this day, the problem of relating colonialism to National Socialism remains highly controversial among scholars and a broader public. So far, comparisons have been drawn between the German presence in Africa during the German Empire and the Nazi extermination policy in Eastern Europe forty years later. This article, however, examines from a transnational perspective how the Holocaust that was initiated and driven by the Nazi state played out on colonial soil in North Africa, when the region became an important theatre of World War Two and the 450,000 Jewish people living there became the focus of persecution. The article argues that the exclusion, persecution, and partial murder of Jewish people in North Africa was strongly influenced by colonial traditions of violence against Arabs and Berbers. Under the conditions of World War Two, and fuelled by the Third Reich, the two phenomena overlapped and intersected, which in turn helps to explain the dynamics of violence that we can observe in the region. At the same time, however, this perspective highlights the agency of local non-Jewish populations, which ranged from helping persecuted Jewish people to actively supporting the Nazi regime and its allies.

Author Biography

  • Patrick Bernhard

    Patrick Bernhard is Professor of Modern European History at the University of Oslo. His areas of specialisation include collective violence in modernity, the history of the Mediterranean, and the relationship between colonialism and fascism. He has recently published on colonial mass violence and the persecution of Jews in North Africa, as well as on Nazi Germany and its interconnections with other empires. 

    He is author of various publications that cover a broad range of topics, ranging from European fascism to colonialism, from war and genocide to peace movements and Cold War cultures. His publications include Zivildienst zwischen Reform und Revolte: Eine bundesdeutsche Institution im gesellschaftlichen Wandel, 1961-1982, Munich: Oldenbourg, 2005; Den Kalten Krieg denken: Beiträge zur sozialen Ideengeschichte seit 1945, ed. P. Bernhard and H. Nehring, Essen: Klartext Publishing House, 2014; Patrick Bernhard, ‘Hitler’s Africa in the east: Italian colonialism as a model for German planning in Eastern Europe,’ Journal of Contemporary History, 51, 2016, pp. 61–90 and La Pizza sul Reno: Per una storia della cucina e della gastronomia italiane in Germania nel XX secolo,’ Memoria e Ricerca, 23, 2006, pp. 63-72.




How to Cite

“North Africa and the Holocaust: European Colonialism, Nazism and Local Agency”. 2024. S: I.M.O.N. Shoah: Intervention. Methods. Documentation. 11 (1): 4-22.