After decades of suppression, it is becoming more acceptable to acknowledge that Jews in Arab countries suffered persecution, internment and even extermination. The stories of those who survived the Holocaust of World War 11 in North Africa are slowly coming to light, writes Eli Hazan in Israel Hayom. But is it enough?
For most Israelis, the words "Holocaust," "concentration camp" and "extermination" refer solely to what happened to the Jews of Europe.
This was the general perspective among academics too, until recently. A shift began a few years ago, although only time will tell whether this will become fundamental and slowly integrate new stories into the existing canon of Holocaust literature.
The new stories cover persecution, murder, extermination and the internment of Jews from mostly North African countries during World War II. Author Yossi Sucary's recently released book, "Benghazi Bergen-Belsen," a collection of stories recounted by Jewish victims of Holocaust policy in Libya, is an important compilation that joins the research and publications that seek to completely change the fundamental way in which we remember the Holocaust. Other examples of such literature include Robert Satloff's "Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands," and Martin Gilbert's anthology, "In Ishmael's House: A History of the Jews in Muslim Lands," which covers several generations of Jews living in the lands of Islam and devotes a significant chapter to the hardships suffered by the Jews of North Africa during World War II.
This shift could be added to a list of changes. Indeed, it took the state until its second decade to pass a law legislating a remembrance day for Holocaust victims and survivors. Unforgettably, during the state's first few years of existence, the Zionist founders, especially David Ben-Gurion, found identification with the Holocaust problematic because it did not serve the Zionist ethos they were seeking to promote. This was why Holocaust survivors from Europe encountered a wall of silence, a wall which also silenced their horrible stories -- stories whose significance was only minimally discovered by Israelis during the Kastner and Eichmann trials.
Even so, during the nearly six decades that followed, it was still not acceptable to mention that labor camps were also built for the Jews of North Africa while extermination and concentration camps in Europe were underway. Survivors from these camps, Jews from Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, the grandfathers and grandmothers of young Israelis, had to keep their histories to themselves, resulting in the gradual, cross-generational discovery of their pasts.
At first, Holocaust survivors from Europe had to keep their suffering to themselves. Only two decades later did their stories become acceptable and proper to remember. Meanwhile, the survivors of camps in North Africa continued to withhold their own secrets. Currently, in an increasingly pluralistic country, the stories of these other survivors are also becoming acceptable.
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