Sylvain Shalom (AP)
To mark Holocaust Memorial Day, Deputy Prime minister Sylvain Shalom explains in this Jerusalem Post report how his family in Gabes suffered under the Nazi occupation of Tunisia. At least 160 Tunisian Jews were deported to the European death camps. Shalom is pressing the case for compensation for North African survivors.
"Every family knows the pain, and my family included - my wife's grandfather and grandmother and seven of their eight children were taken away and murdered. Paula, my wife's mother, may her memory be blessed, succeeded in escaping into the forests and joined the partisans, which saved her life.
"My mother also succeeded in escaping from the Nazis. When the Germans invaded Tunisia, they very quickly arrived at the town of Gabes where my forebears had lived for many generations. The community in Gabes was required to provide forced laborers every day. The Germans set up an improvised labor camp near the airport. My mother's uncles were also taken there.
"My family's story is similar to many other stories of Holocaust survivors in Poland and in Austria, and of course also in Tunisia and Libya. Fortunately for us, the Germans did not succeed in activating SS forces in Tunisia for the extermination of the Jews and the total destruction of the communities and their institutions.
"However, they did start to implement the horrific process of the Final Solution. Seventy-seven transports left Tunisia for the Auschwitz, Sobibor and Buchenwald extermination camps. We now know the names of at least 160 Jewish victims from North Africa who were on these transports and there are many others whose names and traces remain unknown.The Nazis planned to exterminate all the Jewish communities in Tunisia and Libya by the same methods that we know they used in Auschwitz.
" That they were unable to carry out their plans was not due to kindheartedness or humanity but only because they had to transfer some of their forces in Tunisia to reinforce the German forces fighting on the Russian front, and in particular for the Battle of Stalingrad. Had the Germans won at Stalingrad and at El Alamein, they would no doubt have also returned to complete their crimes in Tunisia.
"On Sunday, at a meeting of the cabinet we marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day and it was decided to establish an interministerial committee to deal with anti-Semitism. At the meeting I asked the prime minister to include in the committee's terms of reference the subject of dealing with recompense and compensation for North African Holocaust survivors.
"International Holocaust Remembrance Day is not a case of just paying lip service. The resolution regarding this day is a dramatic turning point in the world's attitude to the Jewish people, to its past and its future. But there is more. We must view this day as an opportunity not only for remembrance but also for steps that we take here in Israel regarding the Holocaust survivors."
Read article in full