Algerian WW2 survivors recount their stories

 Following the news that Germany is to compensate 25, 000 Jews who survived the pro-Nazi Vichy regime in Algeria, Judy Maltz interviewed several ‘survivors’ now living in Israel for Haaretz (with thanks: Imre; Pablo) :

As a child living in Algeria under the pro-Nazi
Vichy regime, Yehuda Bar-Yechoua has one vivid recollection. “It was
Friday night, when we would usually be having Shabbat dinner, and my
brother – who was a few years older than me – was crying for food,” he
recounts. “‘Just give me a piece of bread,’ he begged. ‘I’m so hungry.’” 

Bar-Yechoua
was 4 years old when the Vichy regime set up headquarters in Algeria.
Like other Jewish children in the country, he and his eight siblings
were told they could no longer attend school. His father, who was chief
rabbi of Batna (Algeria’s fifth largest city), lost his job and the
family was suddenly without any source of income. 

“We were totally isolated and the only food we had was bread,” recalls Bar-Yechoua, who lives in Be’er Sheva. 

The
retired Israeli diplomat is among thousands of Algerian Jews now
eligible for compensation for the hardships they suffered during World
War II. Earlier this month, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims
Against Germany (also known as the Claims Conference) announced that
Jews who suffered persecution in Algeria between July 1940 and November
1942 – when the Vichy government was in power – will be eligible for a
one-time payment of €2,556.46 (about $3,140). 

The Claims Conference estimates that about 25,000 Algerian-Jewish Holocaust
survivors are still alive worldwide, with 3,900 of them living in
Israel. An estimated 110,000 Jews lived in Algeria during the war.

“Even
at this late stage, it’s very important both for the individuals,
because it acknowledges what they went through, and in general, because
it creates a historical record which will stand the test of time,” Greg
Schneider, who serves as executive vice president of the Claims
Conference, told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle about the belated
recognition. 

“The
further we get away from the events, I think there’s the greater
possibility of Holocaust revisionism. When the German government takes
responsibility and acknowledges the event, then it makes it a lot harder
to refute it.”

 

Yehuda Bar-Yechoua: “We felt extremely persecuted.”(Photo: Eliyahu Hershkovitz)

Bar-Yechoua,
who immigrated to Israel in 1961 and has since held various diplomatic
posts in Africa, is grateful that the hardships suffered by the
Algerian-Jewish community during World War II are finally being
acknowledged. “We felt extremely persecuted,” he tells Haaretz.


Meir
Zenoude, a retired textile engineer from Netanya, is another Israeli
eligible for reparations. He was 5 years old and one of four children in
his family when Algeria was taken over by pro-Nazi forces. By then, his
father and several relatives had returned to the country after joining
French forces in their failed attempt to push back the Nazis. Two older
cousins, Zenoude recounts, were captured by Nazi forces in France and
ended up in Buchenwald concentration camp. 

“After
the great failure of the French army, we all understood that what was
happening in France would spill over into Algeria and the rest of
Europe,” he says. 

Soon
after the pro-Nazi regime was installed in Algiers, all the Jews of
Algeria were stripped of their French citizenship. “We were stateless,”
recounts Zenoude, “and people would say to us, ‘Why do you even care?
There isn’t going to be any Jewish community left here in Algeria.” 

Zenoude
recalls many members of the Jewish community being sent to forced labor
camps in the country’s south Saharan region. “We were told this was to
make sure the Jews didn’t join the underground resistance,” he says. 

He
also remembers the local, pro-Nazi police conducting searches in his
home. “We were absolutely terrified – it was like a scary movie. Of
course, this was not like the Holocaust taking place in Europe,” he
says, “but we did suffer a lot.” 

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