Algerian Resistance Fighter During World War II - World Jewish Congress
Algerian Resistance Fighter During World War II
José Aboulker (1920–2009)

José Aboulker (1920–2009) was a leader of the French resistance in Algeria during World War II. He was born into the distinguished Aboulker family in Algiers.  His grandfather Moise Aboulker was the first Algerian Jew to obtain the French title of doctor of medicine. His father, Henri Aboulker, was a notable surgeon, professor, leader of the local Zionist movement, and World War I veteran. His mother, Berthe Bénichou-Aboulker, was a celebrated poet and playwright. José followed in the family tradition by practicing medicine and eventually become a neurosurgeon. He grew up in the comfort of the bourgeois Jewish elite of Algiers, but his life, like that of all Algerian Jewry, was completely upended in World War II.  

In the wake of Germany’s invasion of France in the spring of 1940, a collaborationist regime, located in Vichy and headed by Henri Philippe Pétain, proceeded to govern the country, including French Algeria, home to 110,000 Jews among whom were the Aboulker family. Antisemitic laws soon stripped Jews of their rights and subjected them to persecution and deportation to Nazi concentration camps. As a consequence, Algerian Jews, who had been granted universal citizenship in 1870 by the Crémieux Decree, lost their French citizenship in October of 1940. 

José Aboulker's False identification paper during World War II.
José Aboulker's False identification paper during World War II.

José Aboulker, then a medical student at the University of Algiers, was among the 110,000 Algerian Jews to lose their citizenship due to the Pétanist regime. Aboulker began to organize his fellow students to become members of the resistance fighting the Nazis. Supported by the “Group of Five,” a circle of patriotic French businessmen and officers in contact with the Allied forces, Aboulker recruited friends and family members, including his cousin Bernard Karsenty and the young Jean Daniel, both important Jewish members of the French resistance in their own right. Other members of the family, including Colette Aboulker-Muscat, Raphaël and Stéphane Aboulker, and Marcel Aboulker, were also involved in the resistance. An account of this period and the “Group of Five” entitled Alger et ses complots (Paris, 1945) was written by Marcel Aboulker.  

The apartment of Henri Aboulker, José’s father, became the headquarters of the underground and was the site of secret strategy meetings with the American consul, Robert Murphy, President Roosevelt´s representative in Algiers. These meetings were partially responsible for brokering the American supply of weapons and radios to the resistance in Algeria. In October 1942, a plan was made according to which the members of the resistance would temporarily neutralize the twelve thousand-man French garrison in Algiers to pave the way for the Allied landings. On the night of November 7, 1942, 800 resistance fighters were expected. Ultimately, only 377 showed up, 315 of whom were Jews. The promised American arms never arrived, and the French officer designated to lead the operation deserted. It was in this dire moment that José Aboulker took command. At 11 p.m., the resistance members, organized in small “shock” units, deployed to their appointed posts throughout the city; by midnight, they had taken over all of its political, military, and communication centers and arrested Vichy loyalists Admiral François Darlan and General Alphonse Juin. By all accounts, Aboulker and the largely Jewish “shock” troops played a crucial role in the success of Operation Torch, the Allied landing in Algiers on November 8, 1942.  

On December 24, 1942, José Aboulker, his father, and other members of their group were arrested by the Vichy regime. They were held in the notorious Laghouat prison camp in central Algeria under harsh conditions for two months. Once freed due to American intervention, Aboulker joined Charles De Gaulle in London and carried out two more resistance missions. From 1944 to 1945, he served in the Provisional Consultative Assembly, the government organ of Free France. In this capacity, he testified about the bloody repression of Muslims in Sétif, Algeria at the hands of French soldiers only months earlier.

After the war, Aboulker joined the French Communist Party, vocally supporting Algerian independence, and in 1946 he resumed his medical studies. He passed the internal examinations at the American Hospital of Paris and finally became a professor of neurosurgery. Aboulker was honored numerous times by the French government, and received the Légion d’Honneur and the Croix de Guerre; in 1999 he became a member of the Liberation Council. He died at his home in Provence, on November 17, 2009.  

  • Kirshner, Sh. (2020) Shadows of freedom. Times of Israel Blogs. Retrieved from:
  • Ayoun, R. “Aboulker (Abū ʾl-Khayr) Family”, in: Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World, Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Retreived from:
  • Katz, E. “Aboulker, José”, in: Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World, Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman.
  • Thomas Wieder, « José Aboulker, neurochirurgien, grand résistant », Le Monde, 2 décembre 2009, p. 24.
About Algeria

The coastal region of Algerian Jewish communities has been central to the history of Algerian Jews for centuries. From the Roman period, when Jewish traders first navigated the ports of North Africa, to the thriving communities of the Ottoman era, Algerian Jews have been an integral part of the region's fabric.

Read more on Algeria