Seventy years since the Tripoli pogrom

 It is 70 years almost to the day since a horrific pogrom in Libya, barely six months after the end of WWII in Europe, took the lives of more than 130 Jews in and around Tripoli. I am re-publishing the reminiscences of

Judah Benzion (Ben) Segal (1912-2003), a
Professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London
University,  who served as an army captain in the British Military
Administration in Tripolitania during 1945-46. The
Jewish Chronicle
(13 November 1970) carried his memories of the major pogrom that
took place in Tripoli 25 years earlier (on 4-5 November 1945), killing
130, and spread to outlying suburbs and towns. As with the Farhud in Iraq, the British army delayed its response to the rioting. Via the excellent
Daphne Anson blog:

Remains of the Zawia synagogue after the 1945 pogrom

Here’s Professor Segal’s account, with no further comment from me:

‘It was 9.30 on Friday morning, a holiday for the Moslem members of my
department. But none of the Christian officials had arrived either.
There was an ominous silence in the air. I realised suddenly that there
was no traffic on the roads. Ill at ease, I brushed aside my
correspondence, and went out into the crisp sunshine. I saw that one,
then another, and finally a succession of the concrete houses of the New
City carried on their walls the freshly painted legend “Italiano.” The
message was clear.

If I had not understood I was to be enlightened soon enough. A low growl
could be heard from the distance. Suddenly they appeared – young
hoodlums in their hundreds, sweeping along the road some ten or fifteen
abreast screaming “Yahud, Yahud.”

Looted synagogue

It was shock, not courage, that made me stand my ground , and, seeing me in uniform, they passed around and beyond me.

Then the looting started, shop windows were smashed, and doors battered down.

I visited the Jewish schools in the ghetto area. There was little panic.
The children who lived nearby had been sent home; they had nothing to
fear, for the Jewish district was too densely populated to be
penetrated by even the most daring of the mob.

The staff, mostly Italian Jews, stood in a little knot, speaking in
whispers, making their plans calmly with their leader, a professor from
Rome, a small ungainly woman with an aquiline nose and nervous smile. I
put some children on my lorry and returned them to their mothers in
the New City.

From a remote building I heard moaning. In the bare courtyard, an old
Jewish woman in Arab dress sat on the ground, her face streaked with
blood, swaying to and fro, keening rhythmically. Some yards away a man
lay wrapped in his coat; his head had been battered like the cheap pans
beside him. Where had the mob gone? Where had they entered here? It was
useless to question the woman; God had given and God had taken away.

The police and the military had been alerted. I drove back to my
quarters – to be sickened by the contrast. In the palatial villa of the
mess everything appeared normal. The fountain played in the sunshine,
deck chairs were set out, as usual under the arches, aperitifs stood on
the table. The servants reminded me that the Brigadier had gone on
leave to Cairo. And only a few hundred yards away murderers were
hunting down their victims.

It was the unsuspecting Jews of the outlying villages who were helpless,
and the killings were many – in all, I think, more than 130. We could
chart on the map the progress of murder, rape and looting passing from
Tripoli across the countryside – east, west and south, like a
well-organised contagion. At some points it needed only one or two men
to halt the onset – as at Homs where a brave British officer and a
Jewish doctor from Alexandria stood at the entrance to the Jewish
quarter and threatened to blow out the brains of the first rioter to

Everywhere the bloodshed continued for two days. Jewish refugees were
brought to a hastily constructed camp in the capital, I escorted a
cortège from Zawiya – one lorry heaped with the bodies of the dead,
others with their relatives and friends, some wounded, all dazed and
silent, clutching their mean bundles. There was no passion, but
submission to the inevitable.

After a couple of weeks, the situation – in the words of the Army
authorities – was under control. The Governor had returned to his post
at Tripoli. I suppose there was an official inquiry – there usually is.
Arab extremists who had been detained after the outbreak of the riots
were released. And within a few months (was it by coincidence?) three
Jewish officers in the Military Administration had been transferred to
duties outside Libya – the Major responsible for the municipality (who
had been outstandingly successful in his dealings with Arab officials), a
doctor, and myself.

From 1949 the Jewish community of Libya – even the ancient settlement
of cave-dwellers at Tarbuna – virtually ceased to exist. Many emigrated
to a new life in Israel. Only a handful remained in Tripoli and
Benghazi to become the target of anti-Israel malice after the Six-Day

The Jews of Libya had never played an important part in the life of
their country – they were no more than a pawn in a sinister game of
politics. We need not point the finger at the fanatical ignorant Moslem
mob. But it should be part of the training of every Foreign Office
official and of every responsible journalist to witness at first hand
the violence of a rampaging mob – and to learn how fanaticism and
violence are manipulated.’

Read post in full

The Nazi nightmare of the Jews of Libya (Mida – thanks Yoel) 

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