Monday, December 17, 2007

An English gentleman 's mission to Morocco

The amazing story of Operation Mural, David Littman's mission to spirit hundreds of Jewish children out of Morocco into Israel in 1961, is now told in a documentary film which was shown last night on Israeli television, Yair Sheleg of Haaretz reports.

At the start of 1961, David Littman's life seemed to be moving along nicely. He was 28 years old at the time, from a wealthy Jewish family, a graduate of prestigious Anglican schools. About a year earlier he had married Giselle, the daughter of a Jewish family that had immigrated to Britain from Egypt (today Giselle Littman, under the pseudonym "Bat Yeor," is a well-known historian and writer focusing on Jews and Christians in Islamic countries). They already had their first child, Diana, and had moved to Switzerland. Littman's original plan was to continue the family's real estate business, but he was not pressed for time, as he had already inherited considerable wealth from his father. And so he spent his time reading journalist William Shirer's thick volume, "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich."

The book, he says, left him unsettled. "I asked myself two questions: What should a Jew who lived in neutral countries like Switzerland or Sweden have done in those times, and what could I do today for the sake of the Jewish people?" He decided to knock on the doors of all the Jewish organizations in Geneva to ask them to give him something to do. But none of the groups had anything to offer him. And then, just as he was about to give up, he approached an organization called OSE (Oeuvre de secours aux enfants - the Organization for the Rescue of Children), which dealt with rescuing Jewish children during and after the Holocaust.

For the director of the organization, Prof. Jacques Bloch, Littman was heaven-sent. Only two days earlier, the emissary of the Jewish Agency in Switzerland, Naftali Bar-Giora, had asked him for help in finding a volunteer for a secret mission to get Jewish children out of Morocco. Ever since 1956, when Morocco had won its independence from France, the authorities had prohibited Jews from leaving the country freely. Many Moroccan Jews suffered from harassment and the Mossad was organizing clandestine departures. But in January 1961, a disaster had occurred: The illegal immigrant ship Egoz, which had left Morocco in the dark of night, sank and all 44 passengers (about half of them children) perished.

A new route to Israel was needed, which was why the Mossad had come up with the following idea: One of the secret service's emissaries would pretend to be the representative of a Swiss humanitarian organization and would make the following proposal to the Moroccan government to take hundreds of children (not necessarily Jewish) for a vacation in Switzerland. The Jewish children gathered by the volunteer, who would be posted in Casablanca, would indeed go to Switzerland first - but after a brief stay they would continue on to Israel.

To carry out this mission, a person was needed whose appearance and biography would befit that of the representative of a Swiss humanitarian organization. The tall, wealthy and supremely self-confident Littman seemed to fit this description like a glove. Thus Operation Mural (a name chosen at random) was born, in the course of which 530 Jewish children from Morocco immigrated to Israel. Last night, Channel 1 aired a documentary film about the affair, directed by veteran documentary film-maker Yehuda Kaveh ("Operation Mural - Casablanca 1961").

Read article in full

Harif and Spiro Ark hope to organise a screening of the film Operation Mural - Casablanca 1961 in London in the autumn of 2008.

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