My silent departure from Algeria

This year is the 60th anniversary of the mass exodus of some 130,000 Jews from Algeria. Morial, the Association of Algerian Jews in France, is collecting testimonies from  those who left. Here is an extract of an account by Jacqueline Kadji, nee Chichportich, who was nine years old when she left (with thanks: Leon):

Bou Saada, some 400 kilometres from the capital, Algiers.

The town of Bou Saada was known as the city of happiness. Life moved to the rhythm of the Jewish festivals – until September 1956,  when my uncle was murdered on the eve of Rosh Hashana. He was shot at point blank range in his shop selling bolts of fabric. The whole community was in shock. Two months earlier, one M. Touboul had been murdered in a settling of scores. My father also received death threats. That’s when he resolved to leave for Paris where his two sisters and family were living. That meant dropping everything and leaving my mother in charge  of us. There were more and more murders and ambushes in the area. Fear gripped us. Families got ready to leave.

My mother planned our departure. She closed the shop and took all the stock into our house. It was a fun time, I played shops at home – a child’s dream. The days  went by as we worried about our future. My mother had decided to put us three older children on a coach to Algiers – my older sister, 29, my brother, 16, and me, nine.

On the day we left my mother told us something chilling: we had to go our separate ways as there was an ambush en route, ‘so we don’t all die at once’ . Those words carved themselves into my young memory. Was I every going to see my mother again? A tsunami of emotions engulfed me. I was cut adrift, separated for the first time. No tears, no expressions of fear  – I did not want to upset my mum. without  being capable of further explanations, I was already catapulted into the adult world,  aged nine.

Four hundred kilometres and many hours later on the coach, watching the endless desert out of the window, pulling myself  away from my childhood before arriving in Algiers.  My mother had booked a hotel room for the three of us and for a few days we anxiously awaited her arrival and that of my little brother.

The second stage was leaving the port of Algiers, re-united at last, heading for France, first Marseille the Paris, our final destination. The crossing was long and uncomfortable – there were already many of us fleeing the beginnings of terrorism. A new life awaited us.

Read article in full (French)



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