Bernard and Lillianne Bekech had no choice but to pay the ransom.
In 1961, their two-year-old son was kidnapped by gangsters during the chaos of the Algerian War of Independence — during which the Jews of Algeria suffered mightily. The couple paid everything they had to rescue him before immigrating to France along with 130,000 of their fellow Algerian Jews.
Recently, the San Francisco-based organization JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) captured several of those stories on film. Shot in France over three weeks earlier this year, these interviews constitute JIMENA’s most extensive trove yet of testimonials from Algerian-born Jews.
French actor-singer Miléna Kartowski and American filmmaker Manny Benhamou conducted 25 interviews — most in French, some in English and Arabic — and gathered 50 hours of footage. Participants represented a cross-section of the community, including presidents of organizations such as the Algerian synagogue Les Tournelles and Morial (the Association to Safeguard the Memory of Jews from Algeria).
The Bekech family sat for an interview filmed by Benhamou, himself the son of an Algerian Jew who fled in 1961. That man, Eric Benhamou, went on to become a successful Silicon Valley venture capitalist, and the Benhamou Family Foundation funded the project.
“Most Jews of Algeria have a strong personal stake in this,” said Benhamou, a Washington, D.C.–based documentary filmmaker. “It’s an untold piece of history, with a limited window to tell it.”
That’s because many of the people interviewed were in their 80s and 90s. As with Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Project, JIMENA has sought to record as many testimonials from Mizrachi Jewish refugees as possible.
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