Who has heard of the 1947 Aden riots?

To mark 30 November, the memorial day for Jewish refugees from Arab lands, Haaretz published this article by Ofer Aderet.  It contains testimony from Shimon Sassoon, who complains that schoolchildren are taught nothing about the Aden pogrom which killed 87 Jews in December 1947. (With thanks:Michelle; Lily)

 Arab rioters set alight the Jewish school for boys in Aden in December 1947 (Photo:AP)

Shimon Sasson, 84, of Tel Aviv, was 15 when the riots broke out in the
port city of Aden. It happened just after November 29, 1947, the date on
which the United Nations approved the partition plan for Palestine,
paving the way for the founding of the State
of Israel.

“I heard the report on the UN vote on the radio with my family at home
in Aden,” Sasson told Haaretz this week. “Afterward we went downstairs
and told everyone who’d gathered outside the house who had voted for,
who against, and who had abstained. There was
cheering.”

But the joy was premature and replaced very shortly with alarm. “What
happened was totally unexpected and hit us out of nowhere,” wrote Ovadia
Tuvia, a Jewish Agency representative, describing the pogrom against
local Jews to his superiors in Eretz Israel.

Today, November 30, Israel observes the Day to Mark the Departure and
Expulsion of Jews From the Arab Countries and Iran, an official memorial
day established by the Knesset two years ago.

In Aden, which at the time was a British colony and today is part of
Yemen, there was an ancient community of Jews numbering around 5,000
people, who lived alongside the local Arab population. The rioting began
on December 2, 1947 and lasted three days. “On
the night of December 2 the Arabs started to burn Jews’ cars in the
streets,” Sasson recalled. “The next day they invaded our neighborhood.
The streets were totally empty. We threw bottles at them.”

A day later Arabs started to torch Jewish stores, businesses, and homes.
“A few families fled their homes and ran to our house, which was in the
middle of the neighborhood. I opened the door and took in five
families,” whose names he still remembers.

The Jewish leaders asked the British for help. In response, they sent a
unit of Bedouin policemen under British command. “That’s when the
disaster started,” Tuvia wrote. “The hooligans started to loot Jewish
stores. The policemen stood aside and smiled. Another
minute and you could see them assisting in the looting and pillaging.”

The British declared a curfew. “I didn’t know what a curfew was, so I
went up on the roof to see what was happening in the street. I saw a
soldier there with a rifle. I ducked and he shot at me.” The bullet
didn’t hit him, but hit a 15-year-old girl who had
found refuge in his house. “The bullet hit her in the head. She died on
the spot,” he said. “There was great turmoil in the house.” They had to
wait three days until they could put the body out for burial in a
collective grave.

“Any Jew who called out for help or who went up to the roof to put out
the fires in his house or to escape it was greeted with a hail of
bullets,” wrote Tuvia, who had been born in Aden in 1920, immigrated to
Palestine and returned in 1945 to organize aliyah
to the soon-to-emerge state. “The mad cries in the Jewish neighborhood
tore the heavens. All the Jewish homes were pockmarked with bullet
holes. One house was burned. Dozens of bodies fell, one after the
other.”

Gavriel David, who was an infant at the time, lost his grandfather,
Yihye, in the riots. His recollections are based on the stories he heard
from relatives. “Eighty-seven Jews were shot, slaughtered and burned to
death. My grandfather was shot in the head by
a sniper,” he said. “He didn’t die on the spot. He bled all night at
home.” Yihye was evacuated to a hospital the next day, but died of his
wound.

After three days, when the British army finally came into the Jewish
quarter, the rioting stopped. “On Friday morning they went out to
collect the dead,” Tuvia wrote. “A truck went from street to street to
collect them. Every home brought down its dead to the
middle of the street and Yemenite refugees buried them in a collective
grave, with no funeral and no ceremony. The streets were filled with
crying and wailing.”

Thirty days after the riots the Aden Jewish Association in Eretz Yisrael
held a memorial for those murdered, in the community’s synagogue at 5
Lilienblum Street in Tel Aviv. There, the community issued a call for
the Jewish Agency and the country’s institutions
to do all in their power to bring Aden’s Jews to the holy land.

Five years ago, a small museum was set up in the synagogue to document
the community’s history; it contains testimonies, documents, artifacts
and photographs. One corner of the museum is dedicated to the pogrom. A
memorial pamphlet lists the names of the 87
people killed in the rioting.

“The Aden community lost 87 people because of the declaration of the
Jewish state. Their only sin was the founding of the State of Israel,”
said Sasson. A few months after the state was declared, he made aliyah
alone. His mother, who was heavily pregnant, and
his sisters joined him afterward. His father remained in Aden until
1967, when the British withdrew from the territory.

There were those left behind in Aden, Sasson said. “Not everyone hurt
during the disturbances was located in the end,” he said. “There are
those who disappeared and were never found. To this day we don’t know
where they are.”

Prof. Michael David, director of the Skin Department at Beilinson
Hospital and the brother of Gavriel David, is angry at the state for not
preserving the memory of those murdered in the disturbances.

“When they mark November 29 in schools, they don’t talk about this
pogrom, which was directly connected,” he said. “It’s terrible to make
this comparison, but fewer people were killed in the Kishinev pogroms
than were killed in Aden. Perhaps if we’d had a Bialik,
our memory would look different,” he said, referring to Haim Nahman
Bialik’s famous poem, “In the City of Slaughter,” written after the
Kishinev pogroms in 1903.

Read article in full (subscription required)

5 Comments

  • An older Jewish Yemenite male neighbour of mine here in Jerusalem told me that he'd left Yemen for Aden & that while he was there Adeni Arabs attacked Adeni Jews so the Jews when up to their rooftops to get away. But the Adeni Jewish community was EXTREMELY HOSPITABLE & CHARITABLE & had hosted many Yemenite Jewish refugees or seekers of employment amongst themselves. Those Yemenite Jewish refugees were tougher than the Adeni Jews who were more delicate. So a lot of those Yemenite Jews went out of the Adeni Jewish buildings & beat up the Adeni Arabs who were harassing the Adeni Jews. The Adeni Jews in Israel seem to consider themselves different from Yemenite Jews, but it's seems that their customs are exactly the same.

    Reply
  • It was worse than described here: lasted longer, one-third of Jewish property destroyed, etc.

    If the Aden riots are obscure, one part is sadly more obscure:

    "more than 100 Jewish women and children were burned to death in a single building while others were shot down"

    This was in addition to the 87 casualties mentioned in the article, based on a Dec. 10, 1947 newspaper (i.e., days after the riots were supposedly "over": https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=8_tS2Vw13FcC&dat=19471210&printsec=frontpage&hl=en)

    But you won't find out about this additional fire horror easily, even with the link–it is reported PARENTHETICALLY (literally stated within parentheses) as the LAST PARAGRAPH of an article on PAGE FOUR.

    Now compare the above to Deir Yassin, with approx 103 dead, and global commemorations annually.

    Reply
  • I've heard of it.
    I've been reading and studying the history and life of Jews in Arab lands, Turkey and Iran for al long long time.
    It's important to know and more Jews should, not just Mizrahi Jews. If this is news to Israeli Jews that's a disgrace.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

About

This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.