Today is Yom Hashoah, the official memorial day observed in Israel for the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The Shoah was not a calamity that befell only the Jews of Europe. Jews in the Arab world suffered from the effects of Nazism, whether it was the Nazi-inspired Farhud massacre in Iraq, or the anti-Jewish measures taken by the Vichy regimes in North Africa, to say nothing of years of postwar trauma. For six months, Tunisia came under direct Nazi occupation. Thank you to Danielle Abel-Bismuth for sharing with us this heart-rending story:
“Jews in Tunisia also suffered from the Nazi occupation. My father was sent to the forced labour camp at Bizerte. He never spoke of his experiences. From time to time he would hum Khamous Jené, the song which Tunisian Jews composed in honour of the Allies* who arrived in Tunisia in May 1943.
Six years ago I learned much on this topic from Au camp de Bizerte by André Guez.
My father became religious owing to the influence of Rabbi Haim Assuied who was also in the camp and became a lifelong friend. (Dad is mentioned in Roland Fellous’ book Le Rabbin Haim Assuied.)
Dad’s brother-in-law, Prosper Hassid, was deported to Auschwitz. For three years, his job was to whistle twice as each transport arrived. At the first whistle, the Jews had to undress; at the second whistle they entered the ‘showers’ to be asphyxiated. It affected Uncle Prosper to such a degree that when he returned to Tunis he had a breakdown.
One Shabbat noon in July 1946, he was standing by a train bound for La Marsa. At the first station master’s whistle, Prosper took off his jacket and hat. At the second whistle, he threw himself under the moving train. He left behind a widow and a six-year-old orphan.
G-d bless his soul!”
*Khamous was how Tunisian Jews called the Allies, after Hamsa, the five-fingered hand that was supposed to bring good luck. A fifth boy born to a Jewish family was called Khamous to ward off the evil eye, and a girl was given the name Khamisa.
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