The real refugees of Casablanca


On Thanksgiving Day, 1942, an audience stuffed full of holiday cooking settled into the plush seats at the Hollywood Theatre on New York’s Fifty-First Street to watch the premiere of Casablanca, a new film from Warner Brothers. With few Americans knowing Casablanca was a city in French Morocco — let alone how to find it on a map — the studio banked on audiences’ love of wartime intrigue, along with the star power of Bogart and castmates Claude Rains and Paul Henreid, to sell the film.

Casablanca made its debut two-and-half years after Germany marched into France, triggering a massive refugee exodus. As the Nazis advanced, the population of France fled south, hoping to avoid being swallowed up by Hitler’s burgeoning empire. Hungarians, Poles, Russians, Austrians, and Spanish Republicans who had fled their homelands to seek sanctuary in France before the war, once again found themselves on the run. Thousands would end up in Casablanca.

Casablanca is my favorite movie of all time and, while I knew the circumstances were based in fact, this story goes much deeper.