A British airman welcomed in Aden

The other day I got talking to a Jewish gentleman who spent  WWll in  the British Air Force in Cairo and Aden.

Aden was then an important trading post and British protectorate. Our friend told how in 1945 he was welcomed by Jewish families in Crater – the Jewish quarter of Aden built in the crater of an extinct volcano – and invited  for meals. The local Jews, mostly shopkeepers and traders, would introduce the British-Jewish servicemen to their daughters,  in the hope that they would find them too irresistible to leave behind.

The gentleman told me that the Crater families  hid in their homes refugees fleeing trouble in north Yemen. Norman Stillman in Jews of Arab lands in modern times confirms that there were some 6 – 700 Jewish refugees in private homes. The rest were housed in the Hashed refugee camp outside the town as they waited to go to Israel.

I could not find details of the specific events they were escaping in 1945. According to Tudor Parfitt’s The Jews of Redemption, the  Jewish predicament had deteriorated following the 1929 Palestine riots, and many were in poor health, living in dire poverty and under threat of persecution. They were desperate to leave, but the British Mandate in Palestine had a very restrictive immigration policy. Throughout the 1930s and 40s,  a steady stream of Jews fled Yemen for Aden, sleeping on pavements and in shelters, with the hope of eventually reaching Israel.

Our young Jewish airman resisted all temptation to bring home an Adeni bride. Some years later, in London, he ran into a man who remembered him from those days.

He would have been demobbed when the terrible events of December 1947 erupted. A rampaging mob, incensed at the November 29 UN partition plan for Palestine, drove the Jews out of Aden. Some 50, 000 Jews were airlifted to Israel from Yemen.

Eight-two Jews died in the Aden pogrom. Jewish shops were looted. Jewish schools and cars were burnt down. Our airman would not have recognised the place.

Top: the skeleton of the George V Jewish school for boys, with the crater in the background,  after it was burnt down in December 1947. Bottom: looters fight over bolts of cloth seized from a Jewish store in Crater.

1947- 48 Diary of Leon Betensky, sent by the JOINT to Aden


  • i wish all my fellow refugees a most successful shana tova.
    May you all live long and happy far from torturer

  • You are right that it was the British Mandatory immigration policy. No Yemeni Jew was allowed into Palestine if he was over 35 and fit to work. On the other hand, one assumes that the Jewish Agency had some discretion on how certificates were allocated. In 1933, the year the Nazis came to power, some 30,000 Jews were allowed into Palestine from Europe. From Yemen, only 130.

  • it would be more correct to write that the UK govt restricted immigration of Jews into Israel up to 1948. Before then Israel was not self-governing and policy was made in London.


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