Morocco's Human Rights Activist - World Jewish Congress
Morocco's Human Rights Activist
Hélène "Nelly" Bénatar (1898–1979)

Hélène "Nelly" Bénatar (1898–1979) was a prominent Moroccan human rights activist and lawyer. She received her law degree in 1930 and passed the French bar in 1933, becoming Morocco's first native-born female lawyer.    

In the 1930s, Bénatar played a prominent role in local Jewish community life in Morocco. She wrote articles on topics such as agriculture and childcare within the Jewish community that were featured in the Casablanca-based Zionist newspaper L'Avenir Illustré. In 1936, she became the first female member of the Governing Board of the Moroccan Zionist Congress. She later became the President of the local branch of the Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO). Together with her husband, in 1938, she authored a “Plan of Reform,” aiming to introduce democratic procedures into Jewish communal elections. 

In 1939, because of the humanitarian crisis caused by the vast number of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe, Bénatar founded the Comité d'Assistance aux Réfugiés étrangers Committee for Assistance to Foreign Refugees. Through this organization and Bénatar's efforts, which provided Jewish refugees with food, shelter, financial assistance, medical help, visa application assistance, and travel assistance, hundreds of Jews were granted asylum in the West. She collaborated with the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and became a renowned representative. 

In 1943, Bénatar lobbied the U.S. military to agree to the liberation of approximately 1,000 Jewish and Spanish Republican ex-soldiers held in Saharan forced-labor camps. Upon their release, she ensured that they were provided with housing, jobs, and new identity papers when necessary. In 1944, she joined the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration as a welfare officer at the refugee camp at Fedala in Morocco. Afterward, she was transferred to the refugee center in Philippeville, Algeria. 

After World War II, Bénatar continued her work as a lawyer in Morocco until her resettlement in France in 1963. In parallel, she focused on assisting Jewish refugees following the Holocaust. Additionally, she continued her work for the JDC as its North African delegate. 

  • Diarna "Luna Park, Casablanca, Morocco” accessed at
  • Meredith Hindley “The Real Refugees of Casablanca” accessed at
  • Michal Ben Ya'akov “Cazès-Benathar, Hélène” in the Encyclopaedia of Jews in the Islamic World Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman.
  • Miami News Newspaper "French Heroine to Talk at Life Saver's Luncheon" (16 March 16 1953) accessed at
  • Jewish Women's Archive (Susan Gilson Miller) “Hélène Cazes Benatar” accessed at
About Morocco

In the winding medinas of Fez and Marrakech, Moroccan Jews have been part of the Kingdom’s vibrant fabric for centuries. The Jewish coexisted with Muslims flourishing as scholars, artisans, and traders from the time of the Phoenicians. By the 1940s, Morocco had the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world.

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