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Scemama, Georges

(242 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Georges Scemama was born into a Jewish family in Tunis around 1905. He held Tunisian citizenship and worked as a clerk. In the early 1930s he was active in the Union of Business Employees. He was also a member of the underground leadership of the Communist Party from 1933 to 1936, and in June 1936 became a member of its secretariat. He represented Tunisia at the Congress of the French Communist Party in Arles from December 25 to 27, 1937, and was elected secretary of the Tunisian Communist Party at the Ariana Congress  in Tunis on May 20–2…

Naccache, Gilbert

(418 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Gilbert Naccache was born in 1939 to a Jewish Tunisian family. After completing high school at the Lycée Carnot in Tunis, he studied agronomy in France, under the guidance of René Dumont at the National Agronomy Institute in Paris. Upon his return to Tunis in the early 1960s, he worked as an agricultural engineer for the Tunisian Ministry of Agriculture from 1962 to 1968. But Naccache is best known for his political and literary activities. At the age of fifteen, he joined the Tunisian CommunistParty, but was expelled in 1959 for his Trotskyite leanings. In the mid-1960s, h…

Valensi, Maurizio

(731 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Maurizio Valenzi was born in Tunis on November 16, 1909 into a Livornese Jewish family (see Leghorn). After graduating with a baccalauréat from the Italian School in Tunis, he went to Rome to study law. He never completed the course, however, because he had developed a passion for art, which he began to pursue in a painting studio with a friend from Tunis, Antonio Corpora.       Returning to Tunisia in June 1932, Valenzi attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Tunis for a few years.With Antonio Corpora, Loris Gallico, and Jules Lellouche, he joined the cubist and…

Nataf, Elie

(427 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Elie Nataf, born in Tunis on February 14, 1888, came from a family of Jewish qāʿid s (community heads) and other communal leaders on his father’s side, and from the Borgel dynasty of rabbis on the side of his mother, Maïa Borgel. His father, Ange Nataf, was a civil servant in the central Finance department, one of the few Jews who worked in the Protectorate administration. His maternal uncle, Moïse Borgel, was the president of the  Jewish community. After graduating the Lycée Carnot in Tunis, Nataf attended law school at the University of Aix-en-Provence. Upon completing his law degree,  he o…

Attal, Georges

(198 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Georges Attal was born in Tunis on December 27, 1918. He had French nationality and was a lawyer at the Tunis bar. As an active member of the Communist Party, Attal participated in the resistance against the Vichy government and the German occupation forces during World War II. In January 1942 he had to go into hiding to avoid arrest, and on March 18, 1942 he was sentenced to death in absentia by the Special Section of the Maritime Tribunal of Bizerte. Attal emerged from the underground on May 7, 1943, the date of Tunisia’s libe…

Alliance Judéo-Musulmane (Comité de l’Union judéo-musulmane)

(535 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
After outbreaks of antisemitic violence in Tunisia in 1917 and 1918, members of the country’s Jewish and Muslim intelligentsia attempted to bring about a reconciliation between the two communities. They were motivated in part by President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points and the Versailles Treaty, which had aroused hopes of emancipation from the French colonial yoke. The Jewish and Muslim elites who came together to discuss the country’s future were motivated by the crisis situation in Tunisia at the end of World War I. They began meeting in late 191…

Adda, Georges

(657 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Georges Adda was born in Tunis on September 22, 1916 into a Jewish family that was religious and conservative; his character was marked with gravitas and seriousness. He worked as an office clerk and  joined the Communist Party in 1934. After the leaders of the Destour and Communist parties were arrested in September 1934, Adda was one of the rank-and-file members who continued the clandestine political struggle. He was arrested in September 1935, but after his release in April 1936, he attended the Conférence Consultative of the …

Bessis, Eugène

(263 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Eugène Bessis (1871–1951) was a Tunisian civil servant and served three terms as president of the Conseil de la Communauté Israélite. In this capacity he was a principal signatory of a published appeal to Tunisian Jews to support the Jewish National Fund (JNF) to further the Zionist enterprise in Palestine. In June 1932 he spoke at a large public meeting in Tunis protesting the government’s cancellation of a lecture by Nathan Halpern of the JNF. Bessis became a unionist in 1930 and wrote for the union newspaper Revendiquons, which was sympathetic to the Communists. He joined the Communist P…

Meimon, Robert

(359 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Tunisian Communist and labor activist Robert Meimon was born in Tunis on November 11, 1916. A bank employee from the 1930s until his retirement, he was active in the union of bank employees and a member of the Tunisian Communist Party, and was elected to its Central Committee at the Congress of Ariana (May 20–21, 1939). After the dissolution of the Communist Party, he became a member of its underground leadership. He was arrested as a suspected Communist on November 28, 1941, and sent to an internment camp in Kef (northwestern Tunisia). Denounc…

La Justice (Tunis)

(404 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
The Tunisian Jewish newspaper La Justice called for the extension of French jurisdiction, citizenship, and power in Tunisia. Its political opponents attacked the paper as a platform of the “assimilation party.” Founded in Tunis in 1907 by Mardochée Smadja, La Justice was named in homage to Georges Clémenceau and his campaign in favor of Alfred Dreyfus. The newspaper’s subtitle was: “journal for the extension of France’s rights and duties in Tunisia.” It called on the French to naturalize the Jews of Tunisia or at least to place them under the jurisdiction of French courts. With the outbr…

Smadja, Mardochée

(424 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Mardochée Smadja (Mardoché Smaja)was born into a traditional Jewish family in Tunis in 1864 and was named for his grandfather, who was chief rabbi of Tunisia from 1898 to 1900. After taking an accelerated course at the Alliance Israélite Universelle school in Tunis when he was fifteen, Smadja subsequently continued his education on his own. Attracted by French culture and the ideals of the French Revolution, Smadja concluded that assimilation to French institutions and ways was the path to Jewish social and political emancipation. He became a leading advocate of …

Zana, Léon

(320 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Léon Zana was a Tunisian Jew born in La Goulette, a suburb of Tunis, on August 16, 1912.  He worked at a bank in Tunis and from 1927 to 1933 was a member of the bank employees union. In 1928 he joined the Communist Party, serving in a leadership role from 1932 to 1934. The bank fired him because ofhis political activities, and in September 1934, along with other nationalist and Communist militants, he was deported to the military territories in southern Tunisia. He was freed in September 1935, but was immediately rearrested and sent to the prison of Borj le Bœuf (now Bordj-Bouguiba) in the south. Fol…

Valensi, Georges

(805 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Georges Valensi was born in Tunis on May 1, 1908. After obtaining his high school diploma, he went to Paris in 1925 to study medicine. While there he mingled in intellectual circles and married Yolande Oliviero, the secretary of the Association of Revolutionary Writers and Artists. She introduced him to the surrealist milieu, where he became acquainted with the novelist René Crevel and other notable figures.        In Paris, Valensi was one of the founders of the Clinic des Bleuets, which served metalworkers in a working-class district. He joined the Communist Party during the Popu…

Bismuth, Roger

(326 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Roger Bismuth was born in the seaside Tunis suburb of La Goulette on May 8, 1921. His family’s background was humble; his father worked as a shop assistant. In 1943, after completing his elementary and secondary schooling, he found work at a textile mill in Tunis owned by Mhamed Chenik, an industrialist and politician who served as prime minister to Moncef Bey and Lamine Bey (1942–1943). While employed there, Bismuth joined the USTT (Syndical Union of Tunisian Workers), which was closely aligned with the PCT (Tunisian Communist Party). In 1944 he became a union offi…

Cattan, Albert

(532 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Albert-Daniel Cattan was born in Tunis on March 16, 1875 to a family from Algeria. He died in Pennaroya on September 4, 1932. After attending the Saint-Charles high school and the Lycée Carnot in Tunis, he studied medicine in Lyon, where he participated in demonstrations in favor of Alfred Dreyfus and joined the Human Rights League. With Marius Moutet, he founded the Committee of Socialist Students. After completing his studies,  Cattan opened a medical practice in Tunisat a time when the first unions, left-wing movements, and newspapers were emerging, and when sc…

Slama, Ivan

(695 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Ivan Slama was born in Tunis on April 17, 1913. He studied medicine in Paris in the 1930s before and during the period of the Popular Front. A member of the Communist youth in Tunis, he participated in the student Communist movement in Paris. During the Spanish Civil War, he joined a convoy of food and medical supplies chartered by the newspaper Ce Soir.  Upon his return to Tunis as a doctor in late 1940, Slama joined the Tunisian Communist Party. During the Vichy period (1940–1942), a house in Khereddine, a northern suburb of Tunis, was rented in his name as a hideout for Velio Spanio, a Communis…

Zana, Victor

(186 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Victor Zana, the older brother of Leon Zana, was born in Tunis in 1904 and died in Paris in 1963. As a student at the Lycée Carnot, he was known for his pro-Communist ideas and acts. He joined the Communist Party at an early age and became the leader of its youth branch. Between 1925 and 1930, he was a member of the Union des Syndicats de Tunis. In 1928, he represented the Tunisian section of the Communist Party at the Sixth Congress of the Communist International (Comintern) in Moscow under the pseudonym “Mustapha.” Very little is known of his activities at the congress, except…

Bessis, Albert

(422 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Albert Bessis was born in Tunis on January 16, 1885. Educated at the Lycée Carnot in Tunis and at a law school in Paris, he was admitted to the Tunis bar in 1907 and was its president  from June 1952 to June 1954. He was also vice-president of the Fédération des Oeuvres Mutualistes (Federation of Mutual Benefit Companies) and president of the Organization for the Protection of Jewish Young Women from 1913 to 1920, a member of the Office of War Orphans from 1919, and a board member of the Alliance Française. He taught maritime law at the Center of Legal Studies in Tunis and was a delegate to the Tunis…

Nizard, Maurice

(449 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Maurice Nizard was born in the Tunis suburb of La Goulette on March 31, 1914. He studied law and became an attorney and a member of the Tunis bar.  In November 1934, he left for France, where he joined the French Communist Party in 1936. He was the propaganda secretary and editor-in-chief of the official  information agency of the Spanish Republic in Paris from 1937 to 1938. When he returned to Tunisia in 1939, he reapplied to the Tunis bar but his request was denied. He then joined the underground leadership of the Tunisian Communist Party. Most of the party’s leaders were arrested in Nov…

Belaïche, Jacques

(351 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Jacques Bellaïche was born in Tunis on July 17, 1913. While working as a sales clerk he joined the Youth Hostel movement in its formative years. Later he joined the union movement during the period of the Popular Front (1936–1937) and was active in the Communist Party. He was arrested in April 1940 for distributing copies of the subversive newspaper L’Avenir Social, held in the civil prison of Tunis, and then moved to the military prison of Algiers. His case was dismissed in July 1941, after sixteen months in prison. He was arrested again on November 28, …
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