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Si Ali Sakkat

In the lush Zaghouan valley, southwest of Tunis, Si Ali Sakkat was enjoying his retirement. A former government minister and mayor of Tunis, Si Ali was an aristocrat who could trace his lineage back to the Prophet Muhammad himself. By the early 1940s, after a life of public service, he was living an idyllic life of a country squire on his 740-acre hacienda-style farm at the base of Jebel Zaghouan, overlooking the valley below.

Si Ali's farm was also the closest private property to a German-run labor camp for Jews, located near an arched, stone bridge about a mile away. There, according to an Arab eyewitness, Germans regularly beat the Jews to force them to work harder while they cleared land and repaired a nearby airstrip, which had been pocked by British and American bombs.

Si Ali's farm was also located near the epicenter of fierce fighting between Allied and Axis forces during the great battle of Tunisia. In the heat of battle, sixty Jewish laborers escaped from the camp, making their way through the fields, looking for shelter. The tall, thick walls of Si Ali's farm compound were the first structure they found. They banged on the imposing gate and begged for shelter.

Si Ali Sakkat had no idea which way the tide of war was turning: Would the German hold their ground? Would the Allies take Tunis? But he had to make a quick decision. He ordered his farmhands to open the gate and find food and shelter for all sixty Jews. The Jewish laborers of Zaghouan found safety and comfort under Si Ali's watchful care.

--Robert Satloff

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