Yad Vashem slams ‘incorrect’ Haaretz piece

Yad Vashem’s expert  on North African Jewry during WW2, Irit Abramski, responds  to a Haaretz article alleging that North African Jewry has been excluded from Holocaust memory. (With thanks: Imre)

Eness Elias’ recent article about Holocaust commemoration in Israel (“Why North African Jews Are Missing From the Holocaust Narrative”) unfortunately contained some inaccuracies and claims that have no basis in reality.

In her piece, Elias mentions the terrible tragedy that occurred in the
Giado (or Jadu) camp in Libya. In 1942, the Italian fascists imprisoned
more than 2,600 Jews from Cyrenaica, and a few months later, more than
500 other Jews were sent here. The scenes at
Giado were reminiscent of those in the Lodz and Warsaw ghettos: piles
of dead bodies, with no one to bury them. However, contrary to what the
article claimed, it is not the case that “there were many camps like
Giado across North Africa.”

What happened in the Giado camp did not happen anywhere else in North
Africa – not even in Tunisia, where there were 30 forced labor camps,
most of them under the command of the SS.

Elias is angry at the prejudices against North African Jews and the
silence concerning the fate of North African Jews in the Holocaust –
particularly, seemingly, by Yad Vashem, whose mission “was to
commemorate all the Jewish communities and the Jews murdered in
the Holocaust
. But until 2005, when a small memorial corner was
created, the disaster of the North African communities was completely

This is incorrect. Twenty-five years ago, Yad
 added the communities of Libya and Tunisia to the Valley of
the Communities, which commemorates 5,000 Jewish communities that were
damaged or destroyed in the Holocaust. Among the torch-lighters in the
Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony 36 years
ago (1982), 34 years ago (1984), 19 years ago (1999) and just two years
ago (2016) were survivors from Libya and Tripoli. Also, in the field of
education, 18 years ago a chapter on North African Jewry was included
in the high school textbook “Holocaust and
Memory,” edited by Prof. Yisrael Gutman, while more than a decade ago
Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies produced a
special unit on the subject.

 A display of Shoah victim photos at Yad Vashem Museum

Moreover, it is not accurate to say that research on North African Jewry
and the Holocaust is not done at Yad Vashem but rather at the Ben-Zvi
Institute in Jerusalem. The first Israeli scholarly study on the subject
was edited by Prof. Michel Abitbol at the
Hebrew University and published in 1986 (and in English three years
later). Entitled “The Jews of North Africa During the Second World War,”
it was published jointly by the Hebrew University and the Ben-Zvi
Institute, together with Yad Vashem. Also, a comprehensive
study of these communities was also published by Yad Vashem 20 years
ago as part of the Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities project.

I edited the Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities in Libya and Tunisia,
and collecting the material for it took seven years. It included
research in archives in Israel and abroad, recording the testimony of
more than 100 survivors, historical maps that were constructed
specifically for the study, photographs from private collections and
archives, and a wealth of information about the history and culture of
the communities in the big cities and small towns before, during and
right after the Holocaust. The interviewees – men
and women alike – were very pleased with the final product and proudly
gave the 533-page book as a precious gift to their families.

The meetings to collect the survivors’ testimonies were an emotional
experience for both interviewer and subject, and certainly did not “lead
to frustration and anger among the survivors” and did not entail
“prejudices, racism and stereotyping.”

The use of phrases such as “exclusion from the collective memory” and
the accusation of deliberate racism on the part of the Ashkenazi
establishment all points to a lack of knowledge or a disregard by the
writer for all of the things described above and for
other efforts, such as the annual memorials held by Yad Vashem for the
communities of Libya and Tunisia, just as it does for other communities.

It is important to understand that this “competition” over the degree of
suffering in the Holocaust – the idea at the heart of the article,
which cites a new book by historian Yvonne Kozlovsky Golan, “Forgotten
from the Frame: The Absence of the Holocaust Experience
of Mizrahim from the Visual Arts and Media in Israel” – leads to a
distortion of reality and a loss of proportion.

Read article in full

Why North African Jews are missing from the Shoah story

One Comment

  • Wow! they were mentioned in a book and included in the Valley of communities at Yad Vashem.
    And what about reparations for the survivors? More than fifty years after the war, when representatives of Tunisian deportees mentioned reparations and whether Israel was waiting for all of them to die to remember reparations, the then Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, the late Tommy Lapid ran to the microphones to warn that "Mizrahim want to jump on the Shoah bandwagon". The ironic tone of his voice and the callousness of his words still ring loud and clear in my memory to this day.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


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.