Even though the Jewish history of Algeria dates all the way to the first century of the Common Era, it wasn't until the 14th century that Jews really started arriving in the country. Those 14th century Jews were Sephardic Jews fleeing Spain and the persecutions there. About 100 years later those fleeing the Spanish Inquisition also fled to Algeria.
Many of these Jews who fled the Inquisition, made their way to the port towns of North Africa. There were large Jewish communities in places such as Algiers, Bejaia, Mostaganem and Oran. Later they also settled more inland, in places such like Costantine. During the 1500's and 1600's the Jews from the city of Livorno in Italy started arriving in Algeria.
These Jews, who were traders and businessmen did very well trading between the business centers of Europe and their new home in the Ottoman Empire. It was in the middle of the 19th century when life began to change for the Jews of Algeria.
In the 1830 there were about 15,000 Jews in Algeria, most still in the coastal areas. More than a third of those lived in Algiers, which was about 1/5 of the population of the city. This was the time of the French Conquest. At first the government allowed the Jews and Muslims to keep their own laws and courts.
In 1841, this began to change and the Rabbinical courts were placed French jurisdiction as were the Algerian courts. In 1845, the French further reorganized and appointed French Askenazic Jews to serve as the Chief Rabbis in each area, ruling over the Sephardic Jews. They were to be loyal to France.
This began to change the relationship between the Jews and the government of Algeria.
Just prior to World War II, the Jewish population of Algeria was about 125,000. This had grown to just under 150,000 by the early 1950's. Algeria gained its independence in 1962, and almost immediately the government started harassing the Jewish community. It sanctioned them and denied them some of the rights they had which had helped them economically. Because of these actions over 90% of the Jewish population immigrated to France. In 1994, a terrorist group announced its plans to eliminate the entirety of the Jewish population. This led to the majority of the remaining Jews to flee to Israel and the closing of their synagogue in Algeria.
With most of the population fleeing to France and Israel, there is not a great amount of records of the Algerian Jews coming to the United States. There are a few however, such as this record which shows Jacob Benarroch, who states that he is a Hebrew, born in Algiers, Algeria, who arrived in New York on board the ship Pannonia on 16 Apr 1913.
There are also not a great deal of Algeria specific genealogical records of the Algerian Jews. However, there is a great website for finding the Jews in the Civil registration records of Algeria. The website Genbriand Chronotheque Genealogique has the Civil Records for Metropolitan France, Overseas Territories and Old French Colonies. This includes Algeria.
The sit is easy to use. The site allows you to research the civil registers from 1830-1912, using the form included.
I performed a very simple search for all records for the surname Cohen. There were almost 5,800 entries returned. The image below shows the first of 290 pages of results. Once the entry is identified, if you click on the icon just to the right of the entry number, who can view the original record.
The image associated with the first entry is located below. This should be a great help for all researchers with French or Algerian ancestry.
Over the past many months we have been remembering the beginning of World War I. A big part of that is paying tribute to those who risked so much to protect those they never knew. In my own family I have very few examples of those who served during that war. One, my father's step-brother, died in battle off the coast of Constantinople.
Maybe it is because of having so few examples in my own family, but I often find myself looking for these great people in every cemetery I visit. Often, I am surprised by what I can find in unexpected places. Recently, on a visit from my grandson, we decided to visit the Hill Air Force Base Museum in Ogden, Utah (www.hill.af.mil/library/museum/). I must admit that I had never been there before even though it is less than a 10 minute drive from my home. It was there that I was made aware of a great man, Colonel Nathan Herschel Mazer, whose picture is shown here.
He was born on 11 March 1911 in Philadelphia to Harry and Fanny Mazer. His parents, both born in Russia, made their living by keeping a grocery store. The image below is the family in the 1920 United States Census.
On 5 March 1935, he married Frances Kalmanovitz in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She herself, was born in Russia. On 26 July 1941 he was inducted into the Army, and that service was then extended indefinitely by the attack on Pearl Harbor. he served in the 13th Bomb Group, flying 50 missions as a bombardier over the North Atlantic between February and August of 1942. At that point he was commissioned as an officer and ordered to the 8th Air Force's 384th Bomb Group in England.
During his time in England he flew many combat missions over Europe as the lead tail gunner. While he was authorized to be on many of these missions, there were some he was not. This lead his commander, Maj. General Dale O. Smith to comment, "He never got caught flying, he was the greatest stowaway in the history of the 8th Air Force". In August of 1944 he was promoted to Captain and in November of 1945 he was discharged. He was recalled into the Air Force in June of 1946 and served honorably until finally retiring as a Colonel in June of 1964. Col. Mazer was recognized for his service and received many medals, including the Bronze Star for Valor.
It is often said that behind any great man you will find a great woman,
and this is certainly the case with Col. Mazer. His lovely bride Frances was no doubt concerned for her husband, but instead of staying home and worrying, she herself did something I consider heroic, she joined the Women's Army Corp in 1943.
Col. Mazer served his country all over the world and earned the right to enjoy a nice quiet retirement. However, not one to sit and watch, he, with his wife at his side, spent his retirement serving the Air Force and the State of Utah. In addition to serving as a Director of many groups he was the driving force behind the Hill Air Force Base Museum. His efforts both during the war and after leave us all with an incredible example to service and commitment.
Col. Mazer died in 2006, just over 6 years after his wife. In honor of their service to the country, they both have been buried at Arlington National Cemetery, in Washington D.C. (http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/).
Over the last week or so FamilySearch has been busy updating some of their existing Historical Record Collections. A couple of these have been discussed in this blog previously, the Argentina, National Census, 1895 and the manyBelgium Civil Registration collections. Below, is the list of the additions for the week.
many of these collections are great sources for records of our Jewish ancestors. The list above is just a small fraction of the almost 1900 collections now available at FamilySearch. The complete list of Historical Record Collections, is search able from any computer and as always is free of charge.
Much has been written in this blog about the Jewish communities of the Caribbean. The islands have a great history for the Jewish people. One location, however that does not share in that same history is the Island of Bermuda. We do believe that Jews were there as early as the early 1600's, because of Jews Bay. Tradition has it that the bay was named after a group of Jews who had their business's on the island.
The main reason for a lack of Jewish history on the Island of Bermuda is the attitude of the British toward Jews in the 1700's. The British ruled the island at that time and their attitude led to laws and policies which made life hard for the Jewish community. The most severe law was passed in 1694 and was called "An Act Laying an Imposition on all Jews, and reputed Jews, Trading or merchandising on These Islands". This law levied a five pound tax on any Jew attempting to do business on the Island of Bermuda. The reason for this law was an opinion that the Jews were doing business and making money yet sending that money out of Bermuda to foreign lands. That law was not revoked until 1760, when it was finally realized that Jews were taking their trade elsewhere and it was hurting Bermuda.
It wasn't until after the World War II that Jews started coming to Bermuda. However these Jews found that the island was not friendly toward them and were still putting restrictions upon them. This led to most Jews avoiding Bermuda completely. In fact the majority of the Jewish community of the second half of the 20th century was made up mostly of military personnel serving on the United States Naval Base. That base closed in 1994, which caused most to leave the island. The community is now almost completely residents of Bermuda. Today the Jewish population is only about 100 people.
The ongoing effort by FamilySearch to add as many death records as possible, today benefits those whose family is in the area of Oakland, California. The newest collection, California, Oakland, Alameda County, Obituary Card Files, 1985-2011, is smaller, only about 69,000 images but the information is incredible.
Doing a basic search of the surname Cohen, 315 results were returned. The image below is the first few entries on that list.
The first person in the results is Sylvia Cohen Zarkin, who died in 2008. The information given shows us the various people mentioned in her obituary, including a spouse, a child and numerous other people. However, if you then click on her name, an expanded record shows the relationship of every person mentioned (shown below).
One more click on the name and you can view the original obituary. The original collection, which has been gathered from various newspapers is housed at the Oakland, California Family History Center. As more obituaries become available, they will be added to the collection. As with all the record collections, it may be viewed from the warmth and comfort of your own home for no charge.