Monday, April 08, 2013

A Libyan Holocaust survivor's story

More people would know that the horrors of the Holocaust touched North Africa  if the media had shown greater interest in individuals like Shimon Teshuva, a Libyan survivor.   Many thanks to Orna for translating Shimon's story, which appeared in the Hebrew evening daily Maariv of 5 April.

When we talk about the Holocaust, the first thing that comes to mind is the famous picture of Auschwitz; Birkenau or the fact of 6 million dead.

Most of the evidence and films deal with the European Jewry, that is why it is important to hear Shimon Teshuva’s story (85) from Michmoret.
It started in 1940 in Bengazi, when the family Teshuva was one of the important families in the community.  Benghazi had changed hands five times between the Italians, Germans and British. Every time, there were lootings; pogroms; the burning of shops.
“I remember one night when there was loud knocking on the door and then the door was broken down and people came to our house looking for gold and valuables. We moved to Puerta Barida – a small town near the Egyptian border. I remember Mussolini coming to visit us. There was an increased anti-Semitic atmosphere, Jews were forced to open their shops on Shabbat, at school children were called 'donkey' and made to walk on all fours. I never went back to that school.
My father sent me back to Benghazi for my education but he was not aware that the situation had become worse there - Jewish children were not allowed to study at Italian schools anymore so we studied at home with private tutors.
"In April 1942 Mussolini ordered all the Jews to a concentration camp in the desert: they were allowed to take clothes and bedding only. It was a five-day journey; we were loaded like cattle onto the lorries. During the day, we were in terrible desert sun and at night freezing desert cold. I was 12 years old then. We arrived at a military base in the middle of the desert surrounded by mountains: 2,700 families were at the Giado camp.

"The area was divided and each family was given 1 meter squared marked off by a rope. A long wooden plank with holes was used for latrines.
"There were no showers; no running water, we were covered in lice.
"The majority of the camp inhabitants contracted illnesses, including typhoid. There were no doctors in the camp as Jews were generally employed in the Civil Service or Commerce.
"It was a miracle that I survived.
"People brought with them (smuggled) gold and valuables and they managed to bargain with the Bedouins around them. My mother smuggled a small sewing machine which she used to sew colourful scarves for the Bedouin women.

"There was nothing to do on the camp; we could not run away as there was nowhere to go to.
I lost my father, my brother and 5 more from my extended family to illness."
Giado Camp operated from April 1942 to March 1943 when the British managed to take control, after defeating the Germans.
When the family returned to Benghazi they found that it was destroyed. Their father dead and their mother a seamstress – the family fell on hard times.
Shimon was only 13 years old but he realised then that the Jews had no future in Libya; he had to stay and look after the family.
Shimon tried to get a job at the British Army camp and after a few attempts, with lots of help, he got a job there. "Around this time I started thinking of Aliya. I managed to grow a small vegetable plot which made the Israeli soldiers think that I was serious."
In 1945 he obtained a uniform and paperwork. He parted from his family;' the night before he left Libya, he received his mother’s blessing.
He spent the first year in Israel in Ein Vered then he transferred to Ben Shemen boarding school. At the time the students were surrounded by Arabs who stoned their bus and made life very difficult. He was drafted to the Israeli army in 1948 and fought in many wars.

Asked why not many people know about this aspect of the Holocaust, he replied that if the media took interest, then it would have been better known. People are not aware of this story as the media chose not to emphasise it.
He concludes: "I am very proud to have survive all hurdles.  Israel is my home – there is no other place for me."


suzy pirotte vidal said...

What a horrendous experience. I thought we were badly off in Egypt but this surpasses everything we knew!
I feel strongly for this Jewish family and hope that one day justice will prevail.
Yes i am certain that Israel is the place for us Jews. Unfortunately we are not all there

andrea said...

How many jews died in fascist Italian concentration camp ?
Was this a sole Italian initiative ? Did this involve the Italian army ? I am very interested to know about it, please

Thank you very much !

bataween said...

For Andrea:
From 'Jews of Libya', by Maurice Roumani(p33):
Foreign passport holders in Libya were sent to detention camps when Italy entered the war in 1940. However the regime was quite lenient and they were later freed. Some 1860 Jews were among Libyans expelled to Tunisia. Some died in the bombing of La Marsa. British nationals were sent to Italy and were fairly well treated. When the Germans took control in 1944, they sent a group to Bergen-Belsen. All apparently survived.
Some Jews in Libya were press-ganged to work on roads and railways near the Egyptian border until bombing forced their evacuation.
The worst experience was internment in Giado, some 235 km from Tripoli. In 1942, the Italian authorities began to apply Mussolini's sfollamento order, believing that the Jews had destroyed Italian property in Cyrenaica. The Cyrenaican Jews -20/30 families a week - were transferred in stages. The process was overseen by a 'kapo'. 2,537 were Libyan 47 Italian Jews: Some 5 - 600 people died of typhus malnutrition and infection in Giado. According to Roumani, the Italian officers were especially cruel. One used to kick and urinate on the special Sabbath food.

andrea said...

thank you for your kind reply.
italian sources reports actually same thinghs and even worse. Giado was under direct Gen. Bastico's supervision. Well named for his ideology was nicknamed by Rommel "bombastico" . Combination of two kinds of racism : against Libian Jews as Jews and as African not white people.