Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A difficult departure from Egypt

A view of Alexandria (Photo: Einav Barazani)

Henriette lived in Alexandria with her gentleman friend Haim. Her husband had died, and his wife was presumed to have died in a fire at the Sporting Club. But as her remains were never found, her death could never be proven, so Haim and Henriette lived as man and wife. He undertook to educate her young son and they lived in Lausanne until he died, when she moved to London.

After Suez in 1956 when Nasser expelled Jews and foreigners, the time had come for Henriette and Haim to leave Egypt. As this extract from Henriette's memoirs shows, Jews were not legally allowed to take money and possessions out of the country, and had to be wary of whom they could trust in planning their escape. (With thanks: Michele B)

"There was a young man, a friend of the family, who helped Haim get his money out. Three weeks after we returned to Alexandria, Haim became very afraid as he had sold the title to the house.

"He was really frightened of the consequences of his actions for he had made a great deal of money on it.

"I told him he should leave, and that I would do everything I could to organise the furniture to be sent to Lausanne.

"Haim told the young man that he wanted to leave with his passport, and that he wanted me to follow with my passport too. The young man, who had connections in government, said he would organise everything.

"So Haim's 'plane left and all went well.

"Several hours later, the young man called and arranged to meet me at the station - he told me there were some chairs which were arranged back to back. I was told to sit on one, and he would sit on the other side, behind a newspaper!

"He told me that I was not to touch anything from the house. The title, which had been sold, had plummeted in value, and Haim was responsible. I promised him I would touch nothing.

"I returned home and spoke to the chauffeur: "Here is £10, please give me a hand," I said to him.
So he came round at 4am every morning to collect the suitcases that I would fill during the night.

"The carpets had already gone: I had told the servants that it would not be necessary to clean the carpets, I was sending them out to be professionally cleaned. And thus I rescued the carpets.

"Every morning the chauffeur came and I gave him whatever I had packed during the night - but I needed to get the furniture out. He told me not to worry: everyone is asleep in the early morning and he would bring a lorry and a friend to help him bring down all the furniture that I wanted to send. By pure luck, the neighbour who lived beneath me had a daughter who was getting married. She asked me if she could store her furniture in my place so she would have space to make the wedding party! I told her that would be absolutely fine, she could send me whatever she liked. That was good for me, as people expected to see furniture in my place.

"We shipped it all.

"I went to see the furniture shipper and told him that I had been at a party the previous day where people had been talking about him. They had said that when the furniture arrived at its destination, the packages only contained stones, or worthless bits of shoddy furniture. I confided in him that I had a son, that I needed my furniture to arrive intact so that I could sell it in order to pay for his education.

"I asked him to make sure it arrived safely. He agreed, but told me I should send him a postcard when it arrived, saying, "the weather is superb; the sun shines all day long."

"Everything arrived perfectly."

Extract from the memoirs of Henriette Harrari, 1999.

1 comment:

victor said...

My uncle, together with his wife and two children, left Egypt in the mid-50s (I don't recall the exact year -- it may have been 1957or 1958), because my uncle could no longer find work to support his family. Discriminatory laws against the hiring of Jews prevented him from doing so. When they arrived in Paris, they were declared "refugees" by the UN. Each adult was given the equivalent of 20 British pounds sterling, and each child got 10 British pounds sterling. Which means that they had 60 pounds for the whole family, and in the late 50s that would have equaled approx $144.00. That's what they had to their name. Although they lived in Paris (sounds exotic, doesn't it?) they lived in a small cramped apartment with another refugee family. How much have the Palestinians received?