Friday, September 10, 2010

Diplomat's wife smuggled Jews out of Pakistan

The synagogue in Karachi, Pakistan

The amazing story of a Jewish woman who smuggled Jews of out Pakistan in the 1970s has just began to emerge, this blog can reveal (Point of No Return exclusive!):
The Jewish wife of the Australian Consul-General posted to Pakistan helped smuggle out members of the tiny Jewish community in the 1970s.

Leaving a comment on Point of No Return a Pakistani Jewish man recalled that his widowed sister and niece were smuggled out in the trunk of a car belonging to the Australian diplomat's wife following the Indo-Pakistani war. The border was then closed to all except diplomats.

"My sister told me how she had the centre rear armrest taken out and had a vacuum cleaner hose fitted from the air-conditioning unit to the trunk. We don't think that her husband knew what she did. We believe she may have smuggled other Jews in the same way," the Pakistani Jew writes. The sister and niece now live in New York.

The Jew says that he left Pakistan this year. "For decades we masqueraded as Muslims," he writes.

According to her son, the Australian diplomat's wife provided the small Karachi community - numbering perhaps 1 - 200 Jews - with their needs, including Kosher wine and grape juice. When her husband was not with her she would travel to the synagogue in the diplomatic Mercedes-Benz with the licence plates covered and no Australian flag flying on the bonnet.

She got in touch with the Jews of Karachi via the Chief of Police, a Christian. "Within a week, he came back with addresses," her son remembers. None of the Urdu-speaking community were well-off.

Although other Jews were rarely present, her son recalls attending formal diplomatic dinners on Friday nights wearing a kippa. "Nobody took any notice of it," he told Point of No Return.

Forty years on his mother, now an elderly widow, still insists on anonymity and secrecy about her activities.

" She asked us never to contact her or speak of how we got out in case her husband lost his employment. But this is now 40 years ago and he will have long retired," the Pakistani Jew writes.

The diplomat's wife brought home to Australia for safekeeping the Teba and Ark from the synagogue in Karachi. She also rescued a Torah and candlesticks from a synagogue on the borders of Afghanistan, and bought a beautiful lapis lazuli inlaid Menorah in the bazaar of a village in the tribal area at the base of the Khyber Pass road.

It is not known how many Jews still live in Pakistan, but it is thought that several high-profile business people claiming to be Parsees or Muslims are in fact Jews. One contacted Point of No Return, saying his (or her) family living in the UAE masqueraded as Parsee. "We are terrified here and in Pakistan to say we are Jewish," he (or she) wrote.

In the days of the British empire, the Jewish community in what is now Pakistan numbered several thousand. All but a few have fled for Israel and the West.

Surprise! there are still Jews in Pakistan

12 comments:

Juniper in the Desert said...

Extraordinary! Your posts are always wonderful treasure troves!

bataween said...

Thanks!

weggis said...

Surprise! there are still Jews in Pakistan

And Christians too.

bataween said...

I know, but they are having a hard time

weggis said...

Precisely!

Anonymous said...

I recall being poster to Pakistan then, and I recall the lady in question. She was known for the most lavish parties in town. The airconditioner in her car was boosted and the trunk insulated to keep her charges from not cooking. she also took 2 Indians that I know of back from PAkistan to India (proably more), these were older children from the Indian
High Commission who did not make the evacuation flight out of Pakistan before the war started. She was quite a smuggler, importing medical equipment for charities under the guise of diplomatic luggage ... illegal but morally correct in a corrupt nations where medical imports needed bribes to be imported.

Anonymous said...

quite amazing. in may this year i met with June, the wife of the Australian diplomat who smuggled me out of Pakistan in 1972. She was now quite frail and had flown to Mumbai especially to meet me and we spent at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai and spent several days together chatting. Her husband is now passsed away but she still has the treasures she rescued from Karachi so long ago. She showed me wonderdul pictures of her house in Australia with the treasures on dsiplay like a private Shul. I was amazed to see detailed photos of a Torah she purchased in Quetta in the early 1970s, and a magnifcient candle stick Menorah purchased in Quetta in Pakistan. Then there are the Karachi treasures she rescued so long ago. In addition she has collected much antique Jewish memorabilia from Shuls in from South America. Quite amazing. While in Mumbai she took me to a bazaar she remembered and actually found two Jewish artifacts which she purchased in our day of rumaging. Quite an amazing lady. The bazaar was the old thieves market, and she just looked and behaved like any devout Muslim lady inthe stalls which were owned by Muslims. Quite amazing how she charmed the shop keepers.

bataween said...

Anonymous I would very much like to know who you are and how you came to know June in the first place. You could tell me in confidence via bataween@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

in the 1980s I lived in Buenos Aires and I visited the home of the Australian ambassador .. no doubt the same person as they had a magnificent collection of museum quality pieces t hey had collected from Pakistan.

She was Jewish, not sure about her husband the Ambassador. I can not remember her name, but I can remmber the name of her dog an Airedale called Duncan

bataween said...

Very interesting!

Anonymous said...

Yes, June is now very frail, but mentally fine. She is having her memoirs recorded.

Apparently when driving across the Indo Pakistani border she would take her German Shepard dog in the car. Diplomatic cars were not able to be searched of course, but the border control dogs were only perceived at barking at the dog in the back seat (not the people hiding in the trunk).


Years later her son used this same method to take two East Germans to the West.

andharris said...

Hi there anonymous,

Thanks for telling your story here.

Back in 2011, after requesting further information about this story on another thread on Point of No Return, I received an anonymous call from a man claiming to be this lady's son.

He confirmed all the details and said all the Judaica was in a house in Queensland, Australia.

He said he'd call again when the time was right.

I live in Melbourne, have a writing and photography background, and would love help tell the story, or at least to know about it privately!

Meanwhile, I have worked out who the Australian Ambassador to Argentina was in 1980, and I've emailed him to see if he can help me -- perhaps, indeed, it could be the same man you mention.

Anyhow, if you could get in touch with me, at andrew.harris.ah@gmail.com or +61 455 052 757, that would be great.

Thanks again,

Andrew