Thursday, September 25, 2014

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Moroccan Jews

These two days are the celebration of Rosh Hoshana and in commemoration of this Jewish New Year, I thought this little known story about Eleanor Roosevelt would be appropriate.

Here in the United States, we have had the interesting television documentary: Ken Burns' "The Roosevelts"  about Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and their families.  Mr. Burns put together a compelling story about the most influential contemporary families in 20th c. American history.  They were the most admired and hated public figures in America.

Eleanor did so much in her life to help others both before and after her husband died.  Her enemies said it was all political, but I don't think so.  Her question of many she met, either in hospitals or other countries where she could see a need, was:  "What can I do to help?"  Because she was married to Franklin Roosevelt, she had many contacts, but many of these contacts were through her own efforts.

In 1956, Judge Justine Wise Polier came to her with the plight of 10,000 Jews who had reached Casablanca in order to go to Israel but were prevented from leaving.  They were living in camps in very poor conditions.  The World Jewish Congress, who sponsored the exodus, thought the Sultan of Morocco supported this effort, but he did not cooperate and halted the exodus.

Mrs. Roosevelt had just received the ambassador from the newly independent Morocco. He had come to Hyde Park to lay a wreath on FDR's grave and had come as a representative of the Sultan's to convey his deep gratitude for FDR's advice on North Africa in 1943 which counseled him to protect Morocco's underground waters from oil exploration after the war (WW II).  The Sultan's emissary said because of FDR's kindness and concern, the Sultan would continue to allow US air bases in Morocco.

This was perfect timing for Mrs. Roosevelt and she wrote the Sultan the following letter, July 31, 1956:

"Your Majesty:
I wish to acknowledge your kind message transmitted to me through your representative."  She goes on to say that FDR had often told her of his hopes that some day, much of the dessert land in Morocco would be reclaimed through use of water, but not to give away his oil rights as he would need the income this would bring to reclaim Moroccan land.  

She continued by saying how much FDR was interested in improving the lot of poor people all over the world, etc.  And then after elaborating on this, which is really her philosophy, she asked if he would consider releasing those 10, 000 to be able to live in Israel where they could have a better way of life, that Morocco could serve as an example to show the world they have an interest in helping unfortunate people improve themselves and relieve Morocco of the burden of caring for them.

Within a few days of receiving the letter, those Jews of Morocco were released to go to Israel.

I do understand all of the unsaid implications and that FDR did not do all that he could during WW II to help the Jews.  But for Eleanor, it was results that mattered and here it was, her direct intervention that did help.

From: Eleanor, the Years Alone by Joseph P. Lash. Appendix B:  Mrs. Rooselvelt and the Sultan of Morocco.  pp. 338-339.  W.W, Norton and Company. 1972.


  1. I like stories about strong women who triumph through intellect and perseverance. Interesting information and I learned something else about Eleanor, too. An amazing feat.

  2. I did not realize that Jewish people suffered in Morocco as well. This is a very informative post. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I had no knowledge of this story Natasha. Thanks for posting it. I have a French-Morrocan friend and I think her family must have come to England at about that time (1956). I just looked up Ken Burns and it seems he has made documentary films on a lot of interesting subjects. I also learned that Eleanor was Theodore's niece and Franklin was his fifth cousin.
    CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

  4. Hi Nat - fascinating story line - about which I know practically nothing - Eleanor Roosevelt was a strong minded lady, with a mind of her own and a determination to get things - and that you've shown here. I didn't know about Morocco - and I wasn't aware of Ken Burns - though I'm sure I've seen a couple of his films ..but he hasn't been at the forefront - to get into my comprehension ...

    Thanks for highlighting this information - really interesting ... cheers Hilary

  5. Watching the series made me go into my own books on the Roosevelts and there is where I found the story, in Lash's book, in his notes. It poses an interesting question, "What would you do if you had power and influence?" The post war years were tumultuous, refugees especially were a huge problem. I found the Wikipedia reference interesting about Morocco and its own history concerning Jews. Thanks for your comments, DG, Munir, Bazza, and Hilary.