UK Jewish charity aided 1956 refugees from Egypt

 Jewish refugees arriving from Egypt by ship

The year 1956 disgorged two refugee communities – 20,000 Hungarian Jews fleeing the Revolution, and 25,000 Egyptian Jews expelled by Nasser.

The inflow of refugees presented a challenge to the Central British Fund, the main body for resettling Jewish refugees in Britain (now known as World Jewish Relief). A JTA articlepoints out the differences between the two sets of refugees: for example, the Hungarian women immediately put their skills to good use, while upper class Jewish women arriving from Egypt ‘ had never worked in their lives’.

The 26th Annual Report of the CBF, uncovered by researcher Liran Morav, reveals that  some 622 families representing 1,937 individuals had registered with the Jewish Refugees Committee. Of those, 338 families had British nationality, although most had never set foot in the country, still less spoken the language. As British subjects, however, they were eligible for help from the Anglo-British Resettlement Board, established in 1957 to deal with British expellees. The first arrival to join the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation was Joseph Savdie, chairman of the Cairo Stock Exchange.

The refugees, says the report, ‘needed every kind of assistance’ – including housing and furnishing grants. They received ex-gratia loans against personal  and business assets left behind in Egypt, on a sliding scale. These loans amounted to about half the losses suffered. The maximum a refugee could receive was £10, 000 for lost assets of £20,000 or more.

Some 284 families (930 people) were ineligible for help, being stateless or of other nationalities. The Jewish Refugees Committee stepped in to help supply funds for rehousing, in addition to supplementing inadequate family incomes. It also subsidised students.

Another 44 cases, or 118 individuals immigrated into Britain that year. All were sponsored by a guarantee from relatives that they would not be a charge on public funds.

One of the more startling findings of the CBF report is the aid given to Moroccan Jews, then the largest Jewish community in the Arab world. Some 30 percent received help from the American Joint, with which the CBF collaborated closely. “The living standards of most of the Jewish population of Morocco are very low and basic needs correspondingly great”, states the report.

The Joint had to step in to fund the schooling of 40,000 children when the Moroccan government (Morocco became independent in 1956) froze its subsidy at the 1957 level, leaving the Alliance (AIU), which educated 30,000 Jewish children, with a large deficit.

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