How Jews of Rome welcomed in fleeing Jews of Libya

The Libyan-Jewish association ASTREL marked  20 June, World Refugee Day, with a special event recalling the exodus of the last Jews of Libya after June 1967. The memories of one of the speakers, Lello Anav, who was then head of  the Jewish Aid Committee in Rome, have been transcribed in the  Reflessi Menorah community newsletter. They tell how the Italian-Jewish community assisted in the resettlement of the remaining Jews from Libya.

Lello Anav (left) with David Gerbi, president of ASTREL, who organised the World Refugee Day event on the last Jews of Libya

” I remember that the Community, after the victory of the Israeli army on 10 June 1967, was shaken by what was happening in Libya, following the hatred and anger of many Arabs in Tripoli towards the Jewish population.

Jews were locked up in their homes, shops were set on fire; King Idris, following international pressure, transferred part of the Jews to an old military fort, Camp Gurgi, and sought a way to expel all the Jews as soon as possible, issuing temporary TTD (Temporary Travel Docunent) permits for those who did not have an Italian or English passport (the majority).  The Libyan police then took the families to  Tripoli airport.

The first groups arrived at Fiumicino airport around 20 June, almost always at night and above all with Alitalia planes crammed full with many more passengers than the seats available. The credit for this goes to employees of Alitalia itself. The flights continued until the end of July and even August.

The reception was organized by the Joint, the Community of Rome, the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, the Israelite Deputation of Assistance and the OSE. Guest houses were booked in the city and the Italian authorities were asked to make refugee camps available. Mrs Lony Mayer, director of the Joint in Rome, summoned  young Tripolitanians  who had just arrived and asked them to form a group  who would shuttle  to Fiumicino airport to greet families by speaking their language.

The young people welcomed the new arrivals and arranged for them to find accommodation. Some families were taken to boarding houses, others were placed in the refugee camps of Capua, Latina and Canzanella (Naples), made available by the Italian government.

Bino Meghnagi, then a young 22-year-old, told me that he himself provided  a minibus to take the families to the Campo di Capua. In addition to arranging their accommodation he also organised important religious services, such as prayers in the Campo. Kosher slaughter was also ensured. The camp manager praised the industriousness of the guests who did not remain idle, but went to work in the countryside near the camp doing agricultural work to earn money.

In addition to the Joint, the Union of Communities, the Community of Rome, the Deputation and the OSE, a Committee formed by Libyan Jews was also formed, including Lillo Arbib (President of the Tripoli Community) Simone Habib and  Josef Habib, Vittorio Halfon, Climo Habib and, as reported in the minutes of the Community of Rome, Saul (Lino) Haggiag, counsellor of the Community of Rome.

In the minutes of the session of 25 July 1967 of the Council of the Community (President Prof. Gianfranco Tedeschi), in fact, the Refugee Committee noted:

Mr. Saul Haggiag…. proposes that the Council make a recommendation to the Committee… that it would be appropriate for the President to be  present on a daily basis.

The Committee met and worked in the rooms below the Tempio Maggiore in Rome, where the Museum is now located; very active was Vittorio Halfon, who was then employed by the Community to provide assistance until 1970.

Assistance consisted of, among other things, compiling forms requesting economic aid as a refugee; if it concerned refugees with Italian citizenship, the request was made directly to the Italian State,. in the case of stateless persons,  the request was made to international institutions; other assistance was given to those who wanted to move to Israel.

The beginnings in Rome were hard, but the Tripolitanians immediately adapted, doing even modest work,  and not long afterwards became progressively integrated. Marriages between girls from Tripoli and young Romans, and vice versa, helped cement friendships.

As children from Tripoli were sent to to Jewish schools, Tripolitanian and Roman families interacted. Among my dear friends  I remember Climo and Giulia Chabib, Alberto and Iris Fellus, Bondi and Fortuna Nahum, whom we met often. I had a deep bond of esteem and friendship with Shmuel Naaman and Shalom Teshuba.

In the first months of 1968 Shmuel Naaman z”l, told me that he had rented an apartment of about 40 square meters on the mezzanine floor of Via Cremona 30 and that he wanted to use it as a synagogue. The apartment was located by Shaul Guetta z”l, who had moved to Israel in late 1967.

Shmuel asked me to fund a basic space for the Ark and services.  They would think about extending it later. I accepted with pleasure and by September 1968 the synagogue hosted the Tripolitanian Jews who had fled from Libya.

Subsequently, the space was enlarged with the purchase of the adjacent apartment with its entrance on Via Garfagnana. By a strange coincidence the seller of the apartment was called Tempio, so that the name on the intercom of Via Cremona 30 remained TEMPLE.

Read article in full (Italian)

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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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