Monday, June 01, 2009
The moving story behind the Brindisi memorial
Tuesday 16 June is a red-letter day for the Jews of Italy - and especially those who came as refugees from Arab countries. On this day, the Foreign Affairs committee of the Italian Parliament will be conducting its first ever hearing on Jewish refugees*. It will be an occasion to recall the Egyptian-Jewish refugees who arrived in Brindisi in 1956, and the very special welcome they received from the people there. In 2006 a memorial or stele was erected on the site of the Brindisi refugee camp. Levana Zamir tells its story:
Carolina Delburgo, born in Egypt and today living in Bologna, Italy, is the initiator of the memorial, or stele of Brindisi. She was only nine in November 1956. Her father had been imprisoned by the Egyptian authorities together with thousands of other Jews. He was then expelled from Egypt with his family, leaving behind his whole life and assets.
Author of the book Come Ladri nella notte (Like Thieves in the Night), Delburgo tells the story of the mass expulsion of the Jews. She is the Italian representative of the International Association of Jews from Egypt, headed in Israel by Levana Zamir.
Many of the 35,000 Jews expelled from Egypt by President Nasser in 1956-57 were of Italian origin. The state of Israel not being able at that time to absorb overnight those thousands of refugees, many found shelter in Italy in the refugee camp of Brindisi, until they rebuilt their lives in Italy, where they and their descendants still live today.
Delburgo visited the refugee camp at Brindisi in 2006, searching for the exact date of her arrival in 1956. She was stirred by memories. But she also heard that the municipality of Brindisi intended to pull down the camp, and replace it with something else. Carolina Delburgo decided to fight and convince the municipality of Brindisi to keep the camp as a memorial to the Egyptian Jewish refugees, as well as to those citizens of Brindisi who helped absorb them.
And she succeeded. Here follows the moving inscription on the stele of Brindisi. It commemorates November 29, 2006, 50 years after the mass expulsion of Jews from Egypt, and the arrival in Brindisi of the ship Achylleos. One ship among hundreds of ships and airplanes, taking out of Egypt those thousands of expelled and fleeing Jews:
On the morning of the 29.11.1956 the ship Achylleos coming from Egypt anchored in the port of Brindisi. It transported Jewish Refugees, especially Italians, expelled from their homes in the darkness and silence of the night, when nobody could see them to express some solidarity.
They left everything in Egypt, and nothing was waiting for them in Italy. But they encountered comprehension, solidarity, friendship in Brindisi, and in the Center of Bocca di Puglia. It is between those very walls that they regained confidence and from here they began to reconstruct their own lives.
This story is an example of the solidarity and commitment that the citizens of Puglia reserved for the refugees, the abandoned and exiled. This is a testimony on stone, and a grateful memory in the heart of those who did not forget.
"Peace and Liberation for Jews will come from another place"
Revàh ve atzalà ya ammòd le iehudìm mi maqòm achèr (Meguilat Esther 4,14)
Brindisi 29 November 2006
The Italian Jews from Egypt, Municipality of Brindisi
The Jewish University of Trani , The Puglia Region
The Stele inauguration was attended by the Mayor of Brindisi, the Cultural Representative of the Region of Puglia, and Carolina Delburgo, representing the Italian Jews of Egypt.
Among other documents found by Delburgo in the Brindisi camp archives is a full list of the Egyptian-Jewish refugees. A very important document, even listing the foods distributed daily to the refugees, it is reproduced in Delburgo's book. One thing is for sure, the spoilt Egyptian Jews did not stay a minute longer than they had to in the camp, given the choice!
*The hearing takes place during the Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) conference in Rome, 15 - 17 June.