Jewish refugees from Egypt silent on their plight

The Jews of Egypt were genuine refugees but for years kept silent about their plight, speakers at an event in Paris told an audience of 150.

The audience – many themselves Jews from Egypt – crowded into the Espace Rachi at the Jewish centre in Paris on 14 June for an event called ‘Jews of Egypt: the second exodus’. They saw two films, Les derniers juifs d’Alexandrie by Jean-Michel Destang and Richard Zebouloun, and Temoignages: Les Juifs d’Egypte by Micheline Abergel, Minou Azoulai, Emilie Lambert and Sylvie Leprince.

During the discussion, Moise Rahmani, writer and expert on the history of the Jews of Egypt, recalled that 80,000 Jews lived in Egypt before 1956. That memory was buried within him. Nowadays only 50 Egyptian Jews remain. Rahmani had decided to research the forgotten history of his ancestors. In the archives he found documents testifying to anti-Jewish racial laws, reports of riots and massacres and the blow-by-blow expropriation and expulsion of the Jews from Egypt who were by then stateless.

“We are refugees”, he said. “Our homes have been taken over, our graves violated, but I did not nurse any hatred nor bitterness. We Egyptian Jews do not remember the bad.” In fact few have dared talk of their suffering and forced exile out of modesty. Their experiences paled in comparison with what Holocaust survivors had been through.

Simone Diday, chairing the discussion, explained: “We were very discreet. We never said a word. We always put up with everything, with a sense of humour. And we don’t feel vindictive towards Egypt which treated us so badly, more’s the pity.”

Philippe Partouche, Micheline Abergel, David Harari and Fortunee Dwek also gave their moving and useful testimonies. Dwek appealed for more people to come forward with their testimonies so as to preserve the memory for ‘those Jews from Egypt born abroad’ as she put it.

The evening was organised by Jean-Pierre Allali as part of the international ‘Justice for Jews from Arab Countries’ campaign.

See CRIF report in full (French)

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