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23 January 2015

The Jews of Algeria

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.

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