A month after his grandmother’s death, Jeremie Dres was forced to put his grandfather into a retirement home. It was then that the comic book author and multimedia artist realised how urgent it was to record his maternal grandparents’ story. This nostalgic foray into Egypt's past says nothing about the antisemitism which drove Dres's family out - not surprisingly, as Middle East Eye is a Muslim Brotherhood publication. (With thanks: Lily)
Dres, who is based in Paris, headed off on a two-week trip to Egypt, retracing the trail of his grandparents, both of whom were Jews born in Alexandria.
“I’d already tried my hand at the family history genre, with We Won’t See Auschwitz,” he says of his previous work, in which he and his brother try to understand what it means to be Jewish and Polish.
“My grandparents had always been a link for me to the world at large. When they died, I realised the link was going to disappear with them, and I was afraid my roots would too."
His efforts to safeguard his family heritage led to Remembering Alexandria, a compelling graphic novel that captures the heyday of Egypt’s cosmopolitan past.
But what began as an investigation into resurrecting and preserving his family history led him to uncover the forgotten heritage of the Jewish community in Egypt – and sent him on a remarkable adventure, leading to encounters with a number of emblematic figures.
When he reached Cairo, Dres immediately met the few remaining representatives of Egypt’s Jewish community, including Magda Haroun, a lawyer (incorrect - ed) and community leader based in the Egyptian capital, and Amir Ramses, a film-maker whose works include a documentary on the last Jews of the country.
“I wanted to meet them because they could all tell the story of a bygone era,” he says.
“And yet today, these people, who are part of the history of Egypt, are regrettably seen as objects of fascination.”
Cairo’s Jewish community has now dwindled to less than a dozen people, yet it possesses a collection of unique cultural artefacts that its remaining members are determined to preserve.
Remembering Alexandria tells of how Jewish non-profit groups around the world are fighting over the pieces: while some believe the relics should remain in Egypt, others say they should be entrusted to the countries where their rightful heirs now live.
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With thanks: Lily
On the 78th anniversary of the Farhud, it is beyond dispute that more and more people are aware of this brutal massacre of Iraq's Jews in June 1941, which sounded the death knell for Iraq's ancient Jewish community barely ten years later. But with increased knowledge come greater efforts to rewrite history and minimise the role of the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini and his pro-Nazi cohorts, in inciting the pogrom.
Haj Amin spent two years in Baghdad in the company of pro-Nazi army officers, plotting to overthrow the pro-British government. In April 1941, they succeeded, installing the pro-Nazi Rashid al- Geylani as prime minister, until the British army defeated the Iraqi army and forced the pro-Nazi ringleaders into eventual exile in Berlin. Under the Nazi government had begun two months of toxic propaganda and anti-Jewish incitement, culminating in the Farhud.
Thomas Suarez, anti-Zionist author of 'State of Terror: How terrorism created modern Israel', has form for antisemitic revisionism. Most recently on Mondoweiss, he boasted that in 2014 he had successfully persuaded the UK Archives to declassify the first part of a two-part archive (albeit it had been redacted), labelled “Activities of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem” and dated 1940-1941 in Britain’s National Archives in Kew. The second part, CO 733/420/19/1, 10 pages long, remains sealed until 2042, for security reasons.
The de-classified first part reveals nothing more than British anxiety at the Mufti's flirtations with the Italian fascists during 1940.
Typically, Suarez downplays al-Husseini's importance and motivation:
"Al-Husseini’s motivation for embracing the Axis was likely a combination
of selfish political opportunism and the belief that the alignment
would help safeguard against the takeover of Palestine by the Zionists. The reasoning, however grotesque, was the same used by Lehi (the
‘Stern Gang’) in its own attempted collaboration with the fascists:
Britain was the obstacle both to Palestinian liberation, and to
unbridled Zionism, and for both the Mufti and Lehi, defeating that
obstacle meant embracing its enemies."
The Mufti's ideological antisemitism went far beyond a pragmatic alliance with the Nazis: had they won the war, the Mufti would have proceeded with his plans for exterminating all Jews in the Middle East, not just in Palestine. Moreover, Suarez equates the de facto leader of the Arab world, the Mufti, with Lehi (the Stern Gang) an extremist splinter group of terrorists in Palestine with little mainstream support. Meanwhile, under the leadership of David Ben Gurion, thousands of Palestinian Jews joined the Allied armies in order to fight the Nazis. David Raziel, an Irgun leader, had even sought to help the British by engaging in a secret mission in Iraq.
But what might Britain be trying to hide by refusing to release in the second part of the document ?
Suarez speculates :
What could possibly be hidden in a World War II document about a long-dead Nazi sympathizer that would present such a risk to British national security eight decades later, that none of it can be revealed? At present, only the UK government censors know; but the answer may have less to do with the fascists and al-Husseini than with British misdeeds in Iraq, and less to do with Britain’s national security than with its historical embarrassment. (My emphasis).
According to Suarez, Britain was supporting regime change in Iraq all along (prefiguring the 2003 Coalition invasion) and sought a pretext for a military occupation of Iraq. The pretext could have been the Farhud, and Britain could have been behind it: a theory advanced by both the crackpot Iraqi Jew Naeim Giladi and a Lehi communique - and reason enough for Britain's 'historical embarrassment'.