‘Why kill the canary? It was not Jewish’

The anti-Jewish riots of June 1967 in Tunis resulted in one casualty – a canary. However, they shook the remaining few thousand Jews to the core. Writing in Harissa blog, Jean-Pierre C. describes the scene on 5 June, the day the Six-Day war broke out. (With thanks: Michelle)

The Great Synagogue in Tunis: partly burnt

“The bac exam was scheduled for 7th June and on 5th in the morning, I was
frantically revising my maths notes with a friend who lived in the
building next door, on the Avenue de Paris between Le Marivaux cinema and the Great Synagogue, when at
11 am, we heard screams outside. 

Naturally, like good Tunisians, we went down to see what was happening. 

A crowd of protesters came toward us. At first we watched without understanding what the protesters were chanting. They looked even more troubled than at previous events. And then we heard the sound of broken glass, people running everywhere, the atmosphere of an imminent brawl. 

“Barra barra,” (outside), screamed Hajj Mahmoud, the building’s caretaker, while pushing us towards the interior of the building.We double-locked the door and pulled down the blinds. The mob, ever more violent, was smashing doors and shop windows. Then we heard police sirens in the distance.We smelled burning. Firefighters came and went. Opposite, on  Vico St, we saw looters carrying out colourful fabric samples. Smoke came out of the store. My friend’s mother yelled out when she heard a noise while running between the front entrance door and the window. Her husband had not yet come home. 

Unprecedented agitation on the Avenue de Paris. It was not locals who had committed the violence.  Looters with clubs had been let loose in the city. We could watch what was going through the diagonal gaps  between those large wooden Tunis shutters.Those were terrible moments in the house, fear gnawing at your insides. 

Everyone returned safe and sound.Then after a few hours, police sirens increased. The army was deployed, a soldier every 10 meters. Calm returned but no one moved from home that day.We were frightened. 

The same evening, Bourguiba’s speech warmed the heart. I do not believe that Bourguiba had been responsible for this affair. He had nothing to gain, especially at a time in history that he wanted to prove to the world that he was someone you could take seriously. 

The next day, 6th  June 1967, we timidly came out to go observe the damage. Fortunately, no casualties. Soldiers everywhere. It was forbidden for more than two people to walk abreast in the street. Khaki green helicopters flew over our heads. 

What struck me most that day was the partial burning of The Great Synagogue. It was a big shock.  Our symbol had been attacked. The only victim that I remember was the canary belonging to the man who worked for Manino, the alley’s sandwich seller. The shop was burned down and the canary suffocated in the smoke.

 Onlookers discussed the events in front of the burnt shopfront and someone made a comment that stayed with me :“Why did they kill the canary? It is not a Jewish canary !!!!!!!!!”

Read blogpost in full (French)

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