A Jew represented Yemen in 1930s Germany

Israel Subaryi was a Jewish businessman representing the ruler of Yemen who arranged for the export of goods – namely arms – to the Arabian kingdom from Germany in the 1930s. But even as a foreign national he had to leave Nazi Germany in 1939 – when conditions became untenable for all Jews. Haaretz tells his unusual story:

In May 1938, the Sturmfels sailed from Hamburg, Germany to Yemen, with seven rifles, 16 pistols, 340 barrels of gunpowder, water canteens, food and other supplies. During the Nazi years, this was one of many ships that brought arms and other goods to Yemen.

The person who supervised this process, thanks to his close connections with Nazi officials, was none other than a Yemenite Jew named Israel Subaryi. A well-respected businessman, he was the chief representative of his country’s leader, the imam, in Hitler’s Germany, where he resided until war erupted in 1939.

Naomi Herso-Subaryi

Naomi Herso-Subaryi holding a photo of her father, Yisrael Subaryi.

(Photo: Moti Milrod)

Subaryi’s unique personal archive – which includes lists of cargo shipped to Yemen by the Nazis, correspondence with the imam and numerous other documents – has been donated by his daughter and grandson to Yad Vashem.

Today’s Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day marks the “Fragments of Memory” campaign, whose aim is to spur collection of documents and objects held by private individuals since the war. As Yad Vashem sees it, the Subaryi archives exemplifies the importance of such a campaign, which will help shed light on historical events that have been shrouded in mystery.

Subaryi’s story is unusual in many respects. He was born in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, in 1894. His daughter, Naomi Subaryi, relates that her father’s initial dealings in business involved selling hard-boiled eggs to Turkish soldiers stationed in Yemen. He later opened a clothing store and also Sana’s only hotel. In the capital, then a center for researchers, tourists and spies from around the world, Subaryi forged his first ties with businessmen from Europe.

Subaryi had a knack for languages – Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, Italian, French and German. His store, located close to the imam’s palace, attracted the ruler’s attention, and he developed connections with the court. Visitors to Yemen in the 1930s reported that he had access to the ruler’s inner circle, and was considered a loyal adviser; there were rumors that the Jewish businessman even knew the whereabouts of the imam’s hidden treasures. The relationship between the ruler and his colorful Jewish adviser is described in depth in “A Jew in the Imam’s Service,” written (in Hebrew ) by Prof. Yosef Tobi.

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