Sunday, May 09, 2021
Friday, May 07, 2021
Tunisia was the only country to come under direct Nazi control during WWII, over the six months from November 1942 to May 1943. Up to 5,000 young Jewish men were marched off the forced labour camps; the yellow star was imposed on Jews in the south of the country. But the situation could have been much worse. Here is a summary of a series of talks given by historian Claude Nataf for Akadem:
Paul Ghez, a Jewish hero
The Vichy Resident-General, Admiral Estéva, was not an antisemite. He was a practising Christian who took advice from Bishop Gounod of Carthage, no antisemite either. Estéva managed to delay by one month the implementation of the Statut des Juifs, which was applied on 31 October 1940 in Morocco. (Unlike Morocco, however, even converts to Islam in Tunisia were considered Jews.) The anti-Jewish laws drove Jews - especially those of French nationality - out of the civil service, the professions and public service, banks, insurance and property management. Jews could not pursue debtors. Quotas came into force in secondary schools. Jewish youth movements were banned and Jews could not join the Scouts, for instance.
The Vichy authorities abrogated a 1923 law allowing Jews to request French citizenship. Estéva drew criticism from Vichy officials when he insisted it not be retroactive. He was even accused of being a traitor. He managed to allow Jewish doctors to continue to treat the population, and obtained an exemption for 123 defence lawyers - almost all of whom were army veterans.
However, mindful of the economic clout they exercised, the Vichy regime largely exempted the 3,000 Italian Jews (Grana) in Tunisia from these strictures. Strangely enough, Italy itself would attempt to mitigate the persecution of the Grana once the Nazis had occupied Tunisia.
The new Bey of Tunisia, Moncef, declared that Jews and Muslims alike were his children, but the majority of Jews, on the eve of the Nazi occupation, were marginalised and impoverished.
The Nazi commanding the occupation was Walter Rauff, inventor of the mobile gas van which was used to murder 100,000 Jews in eastern Europe. The Ensatzgruppen he headed in Greece had plans to liquidate the Jews of Egypt and Palestine. But Rauff did not have many SS troops, two thirds of the occupying forces in Tunisia were Italian and only one unit was German, most of the first-rate fighters having been diverted to Hitler's Russian campaign.
Rauff gave the Jewish community 24 hours to recruit 3,000 Jews for forced labour. But only 150 volunteeers turned up. Rauff took over the Great Synagogue in Tuns and his men wrecked Sifrei Torah.
Enter one of the heroes of the Jewish community, Paul Ghez. Ghez was a lawyer who would serve as head of the Committee for the Recruitment of Jewish Labour. He had distinguished himself in WWI and had won the Croix de Guerre after volunteering for the French army in WWII. " At this point I have a single aim," he declared. "I will stand erect and not project the spectacle of a trembling Jew."
Wearing his officer's uniform throughout the war, he protested that the Germans had no right to humiliate the Jews. If they wanted to shoot 10 of the community's leaders, he would be the first to die. Rauff backed down and took 100 Jews as hostages instead. His men rounded up 2,000 men on 9 December. Between 9 and 18 December, another 3,700 were recruited from the provinces. It was the Jewish community's job to feed and clothe the inmates from taxes raised by the community itself.
The question remains: why did the Germans insist on recruiting effete Jews to do forced labour when there was a much better-qualified workforce amongst unemployed Italians? The answer must have been that the persecution and extermination of the Jews was a key war aim.
Some of the camps were run by Italians. When Rauff made it known that he wanted to shoot Jews, the Italian commander of one camp turned a blind eye to escapees. When German soldiers looted from Jewish homes and raped their women, the Jewish community protested. Ghez remonstrated with the Germans. 'Rape is against military honour', he said.
The Germans requisitioned radios from the Jews, bicycles, pianos, crockery, cameras. They demanded jewellery. Rauff threatened to shoot his Jewish hostages. Then came extortion - Rauff demanded 20 million Francs in one day. Estéva was asked to intervene. He arranged for the money to be lent to the Jewish community. The story is told that in March 1943, Rauff took three hostages on the island of Djerba and demanded 100 kg of gold. When the rabbi toured the island in his car on that Shabbat collecing the gold, the Jews of Djerba knew something was seriously amiss. .He collected 50 kg, but the Nazis never returned for the rest.
By the end of the occupation, 17 Jews had been deported to concentration camps in Europe, some 42 Jews were victims of acts of sadism and shootings. Right-wing French were antisemites, but the Catholic church was basically not. The lower class Italians laughed at the Jews' plight, while some Italian consulates protected Jews. The Bey of Tunisia was philosemitic but powerless; Muslim leaders acted responsibly. Some aristocrats hid Jews. But nationalists were anti-Jewish; Arabs did help identify Jews in the round-up and rejoiced to see Jews humiliated. In one terrible case, a Muslim denounced the Chemla brothers and their father; these were deported and beheaded in Germany. Many Arabs were influenced by Nazi propaganda and widespread use of the Yellow Star might have provoked Muslims to act against Jews.
It took two months for the Allies to repeal the racial laws but the rift between the Jews and the French would not heal. The Jews could never trust the French again. Some Jews moved closer to Arabs, some became more pro-Zionist and some became anti-nationalist. The Jews of Tunisia had received a terrible shock - a shock from which they would not recover.
Based on historian Claude Nataf's Akadem lectures (French) 1 -6, December 2020.
Thursday, May 06, 2021
It is 80 years since the outbreak of the Farhud massacre shocked Iraqi Jews to the core. Sarah was an 11-year-old nanny from Kurdistan living in Baghdad who witnessed the Farhud. Dorota Molin tells her story in Times of Israel:
Sarah, who was 11 during the Farhud“My paternal uncle lived in Baghdad. He didn’t have children, so he asked my father to ‘adopt’ one of his. I was the eldest one and my father loved me very much, he said ‘pick any one except for Sarah.’
Wednesday, May 05, 2021
Major K and his family were among the last Lebanese Jews to leave for Israel. Today he works in Israeli intelligence monitoring the activities of Hezbollah and other threats from a country he grew up in. Yoav Limor interviewed him for Aish:
Major K works for Unit 8200 in Israeli intelligence
If K. has one dream, it's to go back to Beirut. To walk around the neighborhood he grew up in, to meet his old neighbors and friends.
Tuesday, May 04, 2021
Sarah Halimi will have a Paris street named after her. But a street name is a poor substitute for justice: Dr Halimi's murderer is to walk free after the French Court of Appeal acted that he was acting under the influence of drugs. The Jerusalem Post reports:
Some 20,000 protested at the travesty of justice that would allow Sarah Halimi's killer to go free (Photo: Geoffroy Van der Hassselt/ AFP via Getty images)Paris will soon inaugurate in its historic Jewish quarter a street named for Sarah Halimi, Mayor Anne Hidalgo said amid protests over authorities’ handling of the killing.
Monday, May 03, 2021
The narrow passageway where the stampede occurred (Photo: TOI)
Sunday, May 02, 2021
One of the fashion industry's leading designers, Alber Elbaz, has died of COVID-19. Elbaz was born in Casablanca and immigrated with his family to Holon in Israel when he was eight months old. Aged seven he was already sketching dresses. His mother encouraged him and sent him off to New York to become a professional designer with $800 in his pocket.Albert Elbaz: ebullient The fashion world reeled with shock and grief to learn that Alber Elbaz, the designer best known for his spectacular rejuvenation of Lanvin from 2001 to 2015, had died at a Paris hospital. He was 59.
Friday, April 30, 2021
Thursday, April 29, 2021
A few masked tourists from France made it to Tunisia this year to mark the Lag Ba'Omer pilgrimage on the island of Djerba, reports the Times of Israel. The pilgrimage took place in the wake of a worrying series of antisemitic attacks on the island.
A pilgrim lights a candle in the Al-Ghriba synagogue, Djerba (photo: AFP) DJERBA, Tunisia — The annual Jewish pilgrimage to the ancient Ghriba synagogue on Tunisia’s Djerba island started Monday without the usual thousands of pilgrims, due to restrictions to stem the coronavirus pandemic.
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
- The King of Morocco visiting a synagogue
Tuesday, April 27, 2021
Eliachar gave his testimony to UNSCOP meeting in the YMCA, Jerusalem, in July 1947
Monday, April 26, 2021
Sunday, April 25, 2021
As many as 600 Jewish women could have married Arab men during the Mandate period in Palestine, according to Rabbi Hanania Dery, the chief rabbi of Jaffa. Dery, who died in 2002, made it his mission to track down these women and reconcile them with their families. Idith Erez, a graduate student at Haifa University, has researched the question. Feature article in Haaretz by Ofer Aderet:
Kamal al-Hussein, seen here with his family. Al-Hussein, the commander of the Arab side against Joseph Trumpeldor at tel Hai in 1920, was said to have had an affiar with Sarah Abadi, a Jewish woman from Tiberias. In one of the interviews Dery gave, he noted that “many of the women who converted to Islam are from the Eastern [Mizrahi] communities. They know Arabic, and the Arabs’ way of life is not something that’s remote for them. Many come from large families that are on welfare. There are also intelligent girls among them who are looking for adventure.” Dery also mentioned other reasons for such relationships, among them “rebellion,” “defiance” and “principles.”
Friday, April 23, 2021
Thursday, April 22, 2021
In the year in which the Iraqi-Jewish archive (IJA) is supposed to go back to Iraq, activists are fighting to keep it in the US. As part of her campaign, lawyer and academic Carole Basri, who descends from a prominent Iraqi-Jewish family, has launched a film called 'Saving the Iraqi-Jewish Archives'.
The film, which Carole directed with Adriana Davis, makes the case that the archive belongs to Iraqi Jews now in exile, and not to the Iraqi state. Some of the 20,000 documents and photos, correspondence and school reports came from the Frank Iny school, the last Jewish school in Baghdad. Frank Iny was Carole Basri's grandfather.
Carole spent several months in Iraq immediately following the US invasion in 2003 and knew all the officials in the Coalition Provisional Authority run by Paul Bremer.
In a Q&A with Professor Henry Green, after a screening of the film at the Miami Jewish Film Festival, Carole Basri described how she and other Jews was not consulted by the Bremer government when it signed a commitment to return the archive to Iraq once restoration by the US National Archives in Texas had been completed.
She had little faith that the IJA might be properly preserved if it returned to Iraq, given that over 300 Torah scrolls were gathering dust in the basement of the Iraqi National Museum. The IJA is the last remaining link between descendants of the community and its 2,700-year history in Iraq.
The IJA was seized by Saddam Hussein's regime from a Baghdad synagogue in the 1970s and stored in the basement of the secret police headquarters. The collection was discovered in 2003 under four feet of water by Dr Harold Rhode after a US bomb damaged the building's water pipes, but failed to explode. It took ten years for the National Archives in Texas to restore and digitise the archive. Highlights were exhibited at various Jewish centres and museums in the US and its stay extended several times after protests by Congressmen.
The US state department has stated that the collection will definitely return in 2021, although only three Jews still remain in Iraq.
You may view the film Saving the Iraqi-Jewish archives until 29 April.
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
Monday, April 19, 2021
A young Canadian Jew has embarked on a project to clean up Khartoum's Jewish cemetery. Chaim Motzen has set up a website where people can share details and photos to help identify graves. Will Brown writes in the Sunday Telegraph (with thanks: Nelly, Lily)
The Jewish cemetery, one of the last remnants of a Jewish community in Sudan, was vandalised as used as a dumping ground
Mr Motzen, who now develops renewable energy projects across Africa, decided to travel back to see the new Sudan after the revolution.
“There was a remarkable difference,” he says. But when he saw the graveyard, his heart sank. The rubbish piles had grown four feet high and there was a pungent smell of urine and rot.
Mr Motzen asked for and immediately got permission from the Minister of Religious Affairs Nasr Eldeen Mofarih in the new transitional government to restore the site as a private individual in January 2020. He paid for a Sudanese archaeologist and dozens of workers out of his own pocket and got to work.
Over several weeks they removed some 14 trucks of almost everything imaginable from the site. “There was about five metric tonnes of glass, car parts, a crazy amount of dirt, medical waste, lots of scorpions, and even beehives,” he says.
Standing in the beating sun with the jangling sounds of the city all around him, Mr Motzen points to a small stone slab marked with Star of David. The grave had been broken apart and scattered across the site. But after hours of work, he had managed to piece together the fragments and translate the Arabic words.
The small grave belonged to Diana Yacoub Ades, a small girl who had died suddenly in 1959 at just eight months. With this information, Mr Motzen explains how he tracked down Diana’s first cousin in London.
The 88-year-old Albert Iskenazi told the Telegraph he was shocked when he heard the news. Mr Iskenazi grew up in Khartoum and remembered his baby cousin clearly. “I remember Diana well. She died suddenly of a fever. It made me feel very happy that he found the gravestone. Now we can mourn her properly.”
“Our happiest days were in Sudan. We used to go to visit our Muslim friends during Ramadan and wish them a happy feast,” says Mr Iskenazi.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” says Daisy Abboudi, founder of the research project, Tales of Jewish Sudan. “He found fragments of my great grandmother’s gravestone, as well as other graves of family members. There is something about the physicality of graves which is so important to people.”
“When I visited in January 2020, I assumed that physical link to my history was lost to time. There was nothing people could point to and say my ancestors were here. And then suddenly there is. It's very powerful.”