It is a little known fact that Egypt took its revenge for its defeat at the hands of Israel in the Six Day War by arresting 400 Jews – almost the entire Jewish male population in the country between the ages of 16 and 65. They were paraded as Israeli PoWs and sent to the Abu Zaabal and Tourah detention camps near Cairo. Some were released after a few weeks; the last prisoners were only freed after three years and summarily deported.
Scholars appear to have ignored this episode. Egyptian historians deny that Jews were imprisoned. The story is mentioned by the historian Michael Laskier. But it does not figure in the book The dispersion of Egyptian Jewry by Joel Beinin, although while researching his book, Beinin had actually spoken to several people who had survived the ordeal.
It was to plug this gap that Dr Rami Mangoubi recorded a series of videos in October and November 2021 with Sami Douek of the organisation of Jews from Egypt in Brazil.
Rami Mangoubi was 15 in 1967. His brother Sami was interned in the notorious Abu Zaabal camp. The police who came to take Sami away from the family apartment promised it would only be for 10 minutes. As Rami wrote in the Jerusalem Post, ten minutes turned into three years, nine days, 17 hours and 58 minutes.
The third and fourth of Rami’s video diaries carry a health warning – not for the faint-hearted : in them Rami describes the appalling conditions in the detention camps, where 70 inmates were crammed into a 9-square metre cell. Each prisoner had so little room he had to sleep on his side. Disabled Jews were interned and abused, often by prison guards who boasted they had been trained by Nazi war criminals given refuge in Egypt. Rami’s uncle was left with a permanent twitch after he was tortured. Inmates were made to walk on broken glass, the rabbi of Alexandria was chained to a door and publically beaten. Young and fair-skinned prisoners were sexually abused. Some were so traumatised they committed suicide after their release.
At long last, a book describing this painful chapter in Egyptian-Jewish history, Cinq minutes tout au plus, was published in Hebrew in 2018 and in French in 2019. It is by Ovadia Yeroushalmy who spent two years incarcerated in the Cairo prison camps after the police had told him they wanted to see him for no longer than five minutes. Yeroushalmy Hebraised his name from Abdel Aziz Al-Afrangi. Al-Afrangi was not allowed to study at Cairo University’s Department of Economics and Political Science as he was not an Egyptian citizen. He moved to Israel on his release. His book was turned into a play.