Friday, August 04, 2017

Baghdadi sophisticate who survived Japanese camp

Helen Reuben Bekhor died in May 2017 aged 91. Her peripatetic family history - born in Bombay of Baghdadi parents, she was interned in a Japanese PoW camp during WWII - is uniquely preserved in the meticulous records she kept in her Australian home. Here is a potted biography in the Earthy Report by her relative Carola C. Reuben, written seven years before Helen's death.

 Helen Reuben Bekhor: cleared rubble with long, manicured nails

The first member of my extended family who found a home in Australia is the keeper of family records that date back for centuries in Iraq.

Australia became home some 60 years ago to Helen Bekhor ( bottom photo), born Habiba Helen Reuben in Bombay, India to Iraqi Jewish parents in 1925. She picks stories to tell from the meticulous records she keeps in her Melbourne home.

For instance, she might tell you about a relative, Reuben Battat, who froze to death in 1950 when he tried to escape from Iraq to Iran, hidden inside a freezer on a truck. That was during the mass exodus of relatives from Iraq after Israel became a nation (1948) when the Muslims in Iraq persecuted Jews.

Meanwhile for Helen the post World War II years were good. She drank Coca-Cola and sang, “drinking rum and Coca-Cola, working for the Yankee dollar.” It was a time of celebration for her in Shanghai, China. Helen and her sister, Florence, (now Florence Ovadia of Chicago, USA ), were working as mail sorters in a U.S. army base.

They had just been freed from a Japanese Civilian Internment Center in China along with their sister, Grace, brother, Felix, and mother, Naima. World War II was over (top photo, Helen, after the war). During the war, the Japanese had imprisoned Helen and her family as “enemy subjects” because they were British. They had become British citizens while living in India under British rule.

When Helen first became a prisoner, she went to work clearing rubble with her long, manicured nails. Before camp she had been living in a Shanghai she called “a shopper’s paradise” with an elegant social life among foreigners.

Asia became home to the Reubens since before her birth when her father, Sassoon Reuben (my great-uncle), opened an office in Bombay to export textiles and other goods to Iraq. Then, in 1932, my grandfather, Salim Reuben, left Baghdad with his wife and children to open a Reuben Import Export Company office in Kobe, Japan.

Political upheaval then blew Reubens to other lands. In 1939, Japan became Germany‘s ally; all foreign schools closed down in Japan, and the Reubens sailed to Shanghai.

Read article in full

No comments: