<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none;" alt="" src="https://ct.pinterest.com/v3/?event=init&tid=2613556253294&pd[em]=&noscript=1" /> The REAL Story of Casablanca in 1942 - MarocMama Skip to Content

The REAL Story of Casablanca in 1942

The REAL Story of Casablanca in 1942

Many people come to Morocco and have a romantic version of what Casablanca must be, thanks to the 1943 movie by the same name. But, the reality is Casablanca at that time and Casablanca’s portrayal in the film was merely a Hollywood construct and has very little to do with history or reality. This disconnect has always really bothered me and really made me want to put together something dispelling the myths about the movie vs. the city as well as sharing what the city really was like in 1942. 

What was Casablanca the Movie about?

The film is set on the eve of American involvement in Morocco. The main character is Rick Blaine an American expat who own’s “Rick’s Cafe,” a haven for refugees escaping Europe and attempting to get visas elsewhere. One night his old flame (Ilsa) and her husband show up seeking such papers. The story evolves with twists and turns. While on the surface it’s an adventure/romance wrapped into one it’s also a study in political allegory. Many believe that the character of Rick is meant to symbolize all Americans and the arrival of Ilsa is a symbol of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Rick also befriends Captain Renault and the course of their friendship also alludes to Allied alliances of the war. 

Many of the characters playing refugees in the film had actually escaped occupied Europe to America. Only Rick and Sam (characters) were born and raised in America. The rest either came for work to the U.S. or as refugees of the Nazis. The US invaded Casablanca as a part of Operation Torch in November of 1942, so film producers pushed the release date forward to try to bank on the current events. 

A Few Factual Errors in the Movie

  • In the beginning of the film there is a French tricolor (flag) with crescent and star in the middle waving over the police office. No flag like this was ever used in Morocco. The Moroccan flag at the time of the protectorate is the same as it is today; a red background with a green, five pointed star in the middle. 
  • The extra “Moroccans” seen in the background of the film are dressed in Egyptian clothing. 
  • There was no such thing as letters of transit. If there were, few if any Nazis would have honored these especially had they been signed by Charles de Gaulle. 
  • One of the quotable lines from the film; “What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?” “…My health, I came to Casablanca for the waters.” “The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.” “...I was misinformed.” Except Casablanca sits directly on the Atlantic Ocean and is hundreds of kilometers from the desert. 
  • There was never a Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca. The idea for it was originally inspired by a nightclub in southern France where refugees gathered. Many were en route to Casablanca and elsewhere. 

What Really Happened in Casablanca?

Casablanca in the 1940’s was hugely important not only to the country but to the region. It was a major shipping port as well as home to the largest airport in North Africa. It was near Casablanca that the Allied invasion of North Africa began. At the time Morocco was under control of the Vichy French who controlled much of France after Germany’s invasion of the country beginning in June of 1940. Moroccan Jews (a large majority of whom called Casablanca home) didn’t face the same hardships as their European cousins but the Vichy’s did put in place many discriminatory laws and restrictions. Sultan Mohamed V did attempt to prohibit discriminatory laws but at the end of the day he had limited control to exert. 

Operation Torch is the name of the battle that was launched to liberate Morocco from the Vichy government and move into southern Italy via the Mediterranean. It was successful almost immediately. The landings in Morocco happened in Fedala, Safi, and Mehdiya-Port Lyautey. Allied forces thought the French wouldn’t fight back at all, but rather surrender immediately. This didn’t happen and there was some fighting that happened. The naval battle for Casablanca occurred after the three original landings. 

I have no idea if Patton said that to the Sultan, but he definitely thought it, and once referred to Casablanca as “a city which combines Hollywood and the Bible.”  (Blumenson, The Patton Papers, II, 120.)

The Real Story of Casablanca in 1942 (1)

Art Deco Casablanca – Where to See WW2 Sites in Morocco Today

Unlike European countries, Morocco doesn’t have a lot of preserved memorials or sites. But, if you want to see World War Two sites in Morocco today you can! 

  • Imperial Hotel – This hotel was requisitioned by the American forces and served as General Patton’s headquarters and operation base after the invasion. 
  • The ANFA Hotel – The Casablanca Conference was held at this hotel. It was the first war conference between the Allied powers. 
  • Beach at Port Lyautey and Casbah – Allied landing happened on the beaches here. The Casbah is from the 17th century and was used by the French to hold American prisoners during the invasion. 
  • Hotel Miramar Fadala – After the invasion of Fadala it was at the Hotel Miramar that General Patton accepted the French surrender. The hotel is inaccessible today but can be seen from the outside. 
  • Mohamed V Airport – During World War II this was known as Nouasseur Air Base and was the American air force base during WWII. 

The romantic notion of Casablanca the movie isn’t quite the reality of Casablanca of 1943 however, the city did play a pivotal role in the war and earned a reputation – perhaps just not for Rick and Ilsa! 

Be a part of the MarocMama family!

Do you want access to all things MarocMama? Join our community of readers to get updates on new posts, inside information that won't go on the blog and so much more!

Sound good? Pop your email below and you're in!

Powered by ConvertKit

Sharing is caring!

10 Secrets Helsinki Finland
10 Helsinki Secrets to Discover When You Visit the Finnish Capital
← Read Last Post
airport secrets around the world
Hidden Airport Secrets from Around the World
Read Next Post →

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

carmen Myers

Sunday 10th of May 2020

My Spanish Republican Grandfather got the last ship out of Marseilles in November 1942, before Hitler closed the port. He went to Oran, Algeria and from there to Casablanca. I have a postcard he sent to my grandmother from a Hotel Ocean Plage, Casablanca. He spent two weeks there until he managed to board The Nyassa to Vera cruz in Mexico. I would love to know more about his stay there and more about the hotel. His story is similar to the Movie, don´t you think? I´m translating all his letters from Spanish in to English and trying to research his journey. Any help would be gratefully received. Thankyou.

Amanda Mouttaki

Friday 15th of May 2020

Amazing story - thank you so much for sharing. I'm pretty sure that hotel no longer exists, at least not under that name. Would need a historian to really dig into what happened then and afterwards. Sorry I can't be of more help!

liz pavlovic

Saturday 24th of August 2019

I grew up in Casablanca. My Croatian parents decided to emigrate there while watching the movie :) The movie is indeed not an accurate representation of the place, but the city is noneless mythical and wonderful. I recall listening to WW2 stories told by my old Jewish neighbour :)

الدار البيضاء Casablanca Fish Tajine - MarocMama

Wednesday 31st of October 2018

[…] Flocks of tourists visit Casablanca every year to find it, and they do find a Rick’s Cafe but it’s a restaurant built in the 1990’s to evoke the movie fame. It’s interesting to watch this movie, knowing a bit of history surrounding the area during that time.  Casablanca was certainly an international city though it’s safe to say English wasn’t the language d’jour. (You can read all about Casablanca in 1942 in this post I wrote). […]

Kenneth Moore

Sunday 15th of July 2018

Thank you for taking the time to put this article together. I've watched "Casablanca " many times, and I've often wondered if there was anything factual about the story. I knew a lot of if was pure fantasy; the letters of transit and the Nazi's restraint arresting Lazlo in particular. The real story is just as interesting. I didn't know that Casablanca was the invasion point for Operation Torch.

I wonder what the average American thought when they saw the movie back in 1942. The world was a much bigger place then.

Amanda Mouttaki

Wednesday 18th of July 2018

Very true. I'm sure it was just the exoticness of the place and name that was really alluring back then. It's just too bad so many people still think the movie was/is an accurate representation of the place!

A 10 Day Northern Morocco Itinerary of Smaller Cities - MarocMama

Monday 25th of June 2018

[…] the city but you can find sites that will be reminiscent. You’ll want to read this post on The REAL Story of Casablanca in 1942 to find those […]

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.