Airline staff who helped Libyan Jews flee finally gain recognition

Fifty-five years ago, as the Six Day War broke out, hostile mobs rampaged in Libya, threatening the 2,500 Jews still remaining. The staff of the Tripoli Alitalia airline office realised Jewish lives were in danger and did everything possible to give them priority on their flights out of the country. They also helped Jews get money out by giving them refunds for unused tickets to far-flung destinations. The part played  by Alitalia employees was finally recognised at a ceremony in Rome organised by Walter Arbib. Yossi Melman, who has written a biography of Arbib, tells this unknown story  in  Haaretz (with thanks: Imre, Tom)

Surviving members of the Tarantino family accepting the certificate on behalf of Renato Tarantino, who ran the Alitalia office in Tripoli, Libya, in the 1960s.
The family of the late Renato Tarantino, manager of the Tripoli Alitalia office, accepting a certificate recognising his part in the rescue of 2,500 Jews in 1967 (photo: Yossi Melman)

The police were unable to control the mobs and a state of emergency was declared. It was not unusual to find policemen collaborating with the rioters, or not intervening to stop them from rampaging. On that day, 60 percent of the Jewish community’s private and public assets were wiped out. The Bet El Synagogue and its 10 magnificent Torah scrolls decorated with silver and ivory, along with hundreds of religious books and Judaica items, were completely destroyed in the day of rioting.

During the pogrom, which went on for several days, at least 10 Jews were killed and dozens more injured. Fearing for their lives, the Jews hid in their homes. They didn’t dare come out and their supply of food steadily dwindled.

Jews who held foreign citizenship pleaded for help from those countries’ embassies and consulates, but these were unable to be of much assistance. And then, at the height of the terror, salvation arrived from an unexpected source. His name was Renato Tarantino – a non-Jewish Italian who ran the Alitalia office in Tripoli and displayed real nobility and compassion when he saw what was happening in the city.

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