Year: 2022

Nazis influenced Egyptian oppression, torture and deportation of Jews

According to a recent book, Nazis on the Nile: The German Military Advisers in Egypt,1949-1967 by Vyvyan Kinross (Nomad), some 6,000 Nazis may have moved to Egypt after WWII. They incited the 1948 pogrom against Egyptian Jews, and helped subject Egypt’s Jews to torture and deportation, Kinross argues. Their legacy may even persist today. Review by Justin Marozzi in The Spectator:

Aribert Heim, known as ‘Dr Death’ and the ‘Butcher of Mauthausen’, escaped justice. He lived quietly in Cairo as the Muslim convert Tarek Hussein Farid until his death in 1992. [Bridgeman Images]

As the government communications specialist and Middle East watcher Vyvyan Kinross reveals in this darkly gripping story, this wasn’t a question of a handful of advisers. At its height, the colony of German experts in Cairo – working across the entire spectrum of the military and security portfolio, from rocket and missile programmes, arms manufacturing and internal security to foreign service, intelligence and propaganda – may have numbered around 6,000.

The author admits that these characters were ‘sometimes unsavoury but always compelling’. This seems an understatement when it comes to Johann von Leers, a key Nazi propagandist and ideologue, honorary Sturmbannführer in the Waffen-SS and a baby-faced anti-hero of Nazis on the Nile. An acolyte of Joseph Goebbels, this was a man who dashed off 27 hate-filled books, including Jewry and KnaveryBlood and Race and Jews are Looking at You, between 1933 and the end of the war.

Having spent several years spewing out anti-Semitic propaganda in Juan Perón’s regime in Argentina, in 1956 von Leers relocated to Cairo, where he served as a political adviser and anti-Israel propagandist for Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s firebrand president, until 1965. When a Toronto Star journalist ferreted him out in his office in the ministry of national guidance in 1956, after a few nervous moments the unrepentant Nazi revealed his true self, launching into tirades against American Jews, Zionist-driven press attacks on Nasser and his uncompromising position on the new Jewish state. ‘Israel is abnormal,’ he told the newspaperman. ‘It must go. It causes trouble.’ Like several of his compatriots, he later converted to Islam, and changed his name to Omar Amin.

Kinross’s timeline is carefully chosen. It encompasses the trio of humiliating Egyptian military defeats: the Arab-Israeli War of 1948-9, Suez in 1956 and the Six-Day War of 1967. By the time Egypt suffered its fourth military loss in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the German military, scientific and intelligence advisers at the heart of this engrossing narrative had long gone.

Humour is a scarce commodity here, but there is something bleakly comic about the clash of Teutonic efficiency with the rather more relaxed Egyptian approach to work and the inability of former Nazi and Wehrmacht officers to bend the world around them to their will.

At the centre of the hub of military advisers was Dr Wilhelm Voss, a hyper-efficient man who combined a flair for big-picture thinking with an impressive command of detail – ‘a skillset with which Egyptian management culture at the time was not widely blessed’, Kinross writes. General major Oskar Munzel, a highly decorated Wehrmacht tank officer, shared his frustrations with the Israeli spy Paul Frank: ‘A thousand times I’ve tried to beat into their dead heads that pretty paint and big identification numbers do not a fighting panzer force make.’

In 1952, the German war hero Baron Theodor von Bechtolsheim, a senior naval officer-turned-military adviser, complained that ‘the oriental sloppiness irritates me again and again, while here they just shake their heads about it. Malaish!’ This will sound an echo for anyone familiar with Egypt in the 1980s when the old expatriate joke was that the country was run by IBM – Inshallah (God willing), Bukra (tomorrow) and Maalesh (never mind).

Notwithstanding their many talents, the Germans often struggled to adapt to the different professional challenges in Egypt, not least being their strictly advisory roles. This meant, for example, that they could advise on the persecution and deportation of Jews rather than eliminating them directly, as the Nazis had done in Europe.

One of the darkest chapters in the book surrounds the persecution of Egypt’s embattled Jews who, with the arrival of cold-blooded German know-how, were subjected to oppressive legislation, economic strangulation, dispossession, detention, torture and deportation. The FBI claimed that the 1948 pogrom against Egyptian Jews in the wake of the Arab-Israeli War had been instigated by Adolf Eichmann, one of the key architects of the Holocaust, who was in Cairo at the time. Mass expulsions of Jews began with the Suez invasion of 1956 and within three months around 10,000 had left. ‘The methods used are so similar to what Hitler did before the war as to be frightening,’ the New York Times reported.

The similarity was no mystery. The leading light of Egypt’s new state security cadre was Leopold Gleim, an SS Standarten-führer and former head of the Gestapo’s Jewish affairs department in Poland. Serving under him was the former SS Gruppen-führer Alois Moser, then wanted in the USSR for crimes against Jews, and Bernhardt Bender, a former SS Sturmbannführer, who ran an interrogation centre in a disused cargo ship nicknamed ‘The Floating Hell’ by Jewish victims. Bender was alleged to have been the brains behind five camps for Jews, one of which was supposedly modelled on Dachau’s Block 10 sterilisation unit. Kinross acknowledges that if there is uncertainty here and over-reliance on western, especially American and CIA, sources, this is because ‘Egyptian records still remain inaccessible’.

Although the competition for most disgusting Nazi exile in Cairo was stiff, the Waffen-SS Untersturmführer Aribert Heim, known as ‘Dr Death’, arguably made it to the podium. As a doctor at Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, one of his party tricks, according to the testimony of a survivor, was to kill a prisoner selected for his impeccable teeth by injecting him with poison, cut off his head, cook it in the crematorium until the flesh had been burnt off and then give the skull to a friend as a desk ornament. To evade an international arrest warrant issued in 1962, he fled to Cairo, where he successfully dodged justice until his death in 1992, having lived quietly as the Muslim convert Tarek Hussein Farid.

 

 

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Algerian-born singer Daniel Lévi dies

French Jews are mourning the passing of singer-songwriter Daniel Lévi from colon cancer aged 60. (With thanks: Véronique)

Daniel Lévi z”l

Daniel Lévi starred in several musicals. His most famous role was in 2000 as Moses in Les Dix Commandements, written by Elie Chouraqui and Pascal Obispo. There he sang the song which made his name, L’Envie d’amour’ (The Great Reward) – a song he performed in a duet with the Canadian singer Céline Dion. He also worked with Gloria Gaynor and Michel Legrand.

Born in Constantine, Algeria, in 1961, Lévi was the youngest of seven. He represented a strand of traditional Judaism, refusing to perform on Friday nights and Shabbat.

Lévi had three children from a first marriage. Barely three weeks before his death, he popped up on Instagram to announce the birth of his fourth child.

The last Jew of the Marrakesh mellah

The last Jew in the Marrakesh mellah is a cloth salesman, Mushi Halioua. La Prensa Latina met him:

Mushi Halioua with a bolt of cloth in his shop

Halioua’s shop as become popular with tourists, who exchange a few words with him in Hebrew.

He has even received the chief of the Israeli General Staff, who included his shop in his official visit to Morocco at the end of July. “I’m the only one, there’s no one else,” he says.

Halioua remembers growing up among many Jews in Zagora, but they all left in the 1960s, he says.

“All these stores that you see around here belonged to Jews. In the neighborhood there were no Arabs before,” he says, sitting at a table surrounded by colored fabrics that are sold by the meter in a country where many people still make their clothes in dressmakers and tailors.

He remembers how the Jewish quarter, a crossroads of streets in the ancient city, was closed every Friday and reopened on Saturday night for Shabbat. “There was a wall and the Muslims did not enter.”

Halioua says he does not want to go live in Israel, where he had already tried living in the 70s. “It didn’t go well and I came back, I work very well here,” he says.

His relationship with his neighbors is very good. “I don’t work with the Jews, but with the Arabs,” he adds.

Halioua, who lives with his wife on the top floor of his store, remembers how in Marrakech “there were many synagogues and there are only two left.”

One of these is Alazmah, located a few blocks away from Halioua’s shop. It was built by the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492, earning it the nickname of ‘the synagogue of the deportees’.

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Tisha b’Ab falls this weekend

Orthodox Jews around the world are preparing to observe Tisha B’Ab (Hebrew: תשעה באב or ט׳ באב, “the Ninth of Ab,”) this weekend. It is an annual fast day in Judaism, named for the ninth day (Tisha) of the month of Ab in the Hebrew calendar. The fast commemorates the destruction of both the First Temple and Second Temple in Jerusalem, which occurred about 655 years apart,  and other disasters to befall the Jewish people, such as the Expulsion from Spain in 1492. Tisha B’Ab is never observed on Shabbat. If the 9th of Ab falls on a Saturday, the fast is postponed until the 10th of Ab.

Here is what the late Suzy Vidal, in her memoirs The Jasmine Necklace, had to say about 9th Av, and its significance for the Jews of Egypt:

My mother was born on July 23, which happened to be 9 Av, the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and also the date of the Expulsion of Jews from Spain. Everyone called it Yom Ekha. Anyone who knows his Jewish calendar could easily guess which year Yom Ekha happened to be on July 23. But people were not te-ill el dam, heavy-blooded, and were not going to complicate their lives or waste time with such futilities.

“Yom Ekha is a very bad day in our calendar. It is not the day to sign an important contract, getting engaged or married. Sexual relations are forbidden. You cannot go the swimming pool or have a swim in the sea;you just sit around, pray and wait for Yom Ekha to pass away.

“Several expressions are attached to that day. It is an expression of disbelief.
If someone says,” I’ll do this or that,” you can answer “Oh yes, Yom Ekha”. It is the same as saying we’ll never see that. Of someone who is not resourceful you could say Ekha aleh or Ekha alehaAleh means on him and aleha on her.

“My mother was convinced that being born on Yom Ekha she was bound to be unlucky: fall off her beloved ladder, burn her hand with boiling oil or have money stolen from her bag when shopping. All the misfortunes that happened to her were because she was born on July
23, which in the year of her birth happened to be Yom Ekha.”

Here is a recording of kinot (lamentations) for Tish B’Ab traditionally sung according to the Algerian rite. It was made in 2021 in France.

More about Tisha B’ab

A witness to the Constantine pogrom of 1934

It was a hot August day almost exactly 88 years ago that some 25 Jews were killed in  a pogrom in Constantine, Algeria. Josy Adida-Goldberg was too young to be told what was happening, but sensed that things were not right. Here is her account, from Morial, the Association representing Algerian jews in France. (With thanks: Leon)

The city of Constantine, built across a steep gorge

In my childhood, there was that terrible day of August 5, 1934.

I was five and a half years old. It was a hot summer day. We were all gathered at my grandfather’s house and Bouchareb, our trusted servant, did the shopping alone, so dangerous was it to go out into town.

Our customary car ride had been cancelled. At the time, I didn’t understand why. To the questions that we children asked – we  who were gathered at my grandfather’s house – there was only one answer: “you are too young to understand.”

When we were allowed to play, we felt we had to do it quietly. On August 5, 1934, things puzzled me. What was going on? The front door was never locked: it could  be opened only by turning the latch. It was now locked and the iron bar in place. The phone often rang in the hallway. At times, by straining our ears, we managed to catch snippets of adult conversation: basin, blood, throat cut.

Later, when I was old enough to understand, the tragedy was explained to me at length: Jewish families had been slaughtered by Arab rioters. The French government had done nothing to stop the massacre. I had been particularly struck by the murder of an entire friendly family, with the exception of an eleven-year-old child, hidden by his father in the attic of their house. Crouching  and dazed in the attic, he witnessed the killing without crying out.

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More about the Constantine pogrom

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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.

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