Tag: Jewish refugees/Syria

How Jews fleeing Syria obtained false Iranian passports

Lebanon had a small Jewish community until the 1970s. The community was given a boost after 1948 by the influx of Syrian Jews fleeing the 1947 Aleppo pogrom and other disturbances. But many of those had false papers, or no papers at all. 

The Lebanese historian Nagi Georges Zeidan has researched a link between Iran under the Shah (then pro-western, and with discreet links to Israel) and the fleeing Jews. Although there were Iranian Jews with genuine Iranian passports in Lebanon, a group of Jewish refugees who came to settle in the old Jewish quarter of Beirut were issued with false Iranian papers.

Lebanon was not willing to issue Lebanese nationality to these Jews, nor would it even grant residence permits. In order to leave Lebanon for the US or Europe, a Jew needed a passport or an entry visa. The Iranian operation began after October 1948, when the Lebanese security services, led by prince Farid Chehab, uncovered a racket to issue false Lebanese passports to fleeing Jews – mainly of the Beida, Anzarut, Matalon and Hazan families. The racket was run by a member of the Chatila family, together with three Lebanese Jews.

The Iranian passports were nominally genuine, since they bore the Embassy of Iran’s stamp in Beirut. They were issued by order of the Shah of Iran after Jews had approached his Prime Minister. However, the passports were effectively exit papers allowing the bearer to leave Lebanon and apply for citizenship in a second country. They did not entitle the bearer to enter Iran, nor did they allow the bearer to vote at Iranian consulates around the world.

In the beginning, the passport holders had no trouble renewing their documents. But Iranian embassies and consulates abroad – especially in Athens, Paris and Milan – began to have their suspicions. The passports bore false civil identity registration numbers.

The game was up, and the passport holders found themselves back to square one – stateless. After he was visited by a Jewish delegation, the Shah of Iran agreed to grant Iranian nationality to the holders of false Iranian passports. There was a price to pay, however: a donation of some hundreds of thousands of dollars  had to be made to the Iranian Red Crescent and Red Lion services.

In the 1960s, Iraqi and Syrian Jews managed to buy Panamanean passports.

How a Syrian-Lebanese Jew became master of the arts

Jews of Lebanon: joie de vivre in exile

How a Syrian-Lebanese Jew became a master of the arts

It was in 1947, when violent anti-Jewish riots broke out in Aleppo Syria, that the scion of the Nahmad family, Hillel, fled to Lebanon and thence to Italy. L’Orient-le jour tells how Hillel became a self-made millionaire and one of the most successful of modern-art gallery-owners and dealers. (With thanks: Nagi)

Hillel’s son David, who runs the family art-dealing business in Milan (Photo: Getty images)

Many Alépins take the road to Lebanon, among them Hilel Nahmad, his wife Mathilde Youssef Safra, as well as their children Denise, Albert, Joseph, Jacqueline, Nadia, Évelyne and Ezra. They settle in Wadi Abou Jmil, where David, the future great collector, will be born a few days later “, tells L’Orient-Le Jour the historian specialist in the question of the Jews in Lebanon, Nagi Georges Zeidan, including one work on the history of the Jews in Lebanon will be published soon. Hillel, who had founded the Nahmad and Beyda bank in Aleppo, had lost everything.

 In Beirut, he starts from scratch.

He opened a currency exchange office on Khan Chouni Street, near Allenby. “His job was to buy Sanadat (letters of credit) at three-quarters of their value; he then negotiated them at full price, after their pre-emption dates ”, relates Mr. Zeidan, also stressing that the families who left Aleppo in a hurry only had their identity papers but no passport. Many of them have never been able to obtain a Lebanese residence permit or nationality. “However, thanks to the initiative of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iranian passports will be issued by his embassy in Beirut to allow them to travel.

“This document did not give them the right to go to Iran or to request their inclusion on a consular electoral list,” said the historian. thanks to the initiative of shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iranian passports will be issued by his embassy in Beirut to allow them to travel. “This document did not give them the right to go to Iran or to request their inclusion on a consular electoral list,” said the historian. thanks to the initiative of shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iranian passports will be issued by his embassy in Beirut to allow them to travel.

“This document did not give them the right to go to Iran or to request their inclusion on a consular electoral list,” said the historian.
In the sixties, with their Iranian passports in their pockets, Hilel Nahmad and his family moved to Milan where they obtained Italian nationality. Hilel died in the metropolitan area of​​Lombardy in 1985.

Read article in full (French)

Syrian refugees are not like Jewish refugees

Comparisons between today’s Syrian refugees and yesteryear’s Jewish refugees are commonly being made nowadays: the West should take in refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war, President Obama and liberal politicians are urging.  But New York City Mayor Bill di Blasio’s pleas to a congregation in Brooklyn composed of  Syrian Jews had them shifting uncomfortably in their seats.

Refugees disembarking in Greece after a hazardous escape.

The New York Post reports:

“Some worshippers disputed the mayor’s historical interpretation.

“I don’t think it’s a fair comparison . . . The Jews never had a
history of being destructive,” said Brooklyn resident Judy Zarug.

“I was sitting next to a woman who is a Syrian refugee and she really reacted and it was uncomfortable.”

Another congregant, whose family fled Syria, also disagreed, explaining:

“The difference between me coming here in 1991 with my family is that we were kicked out for being Jewish.”

Rav Zev Shandalov in the Jewish Press: 

“Jews were refugees because they committed the offense of being Jewish.
They fled because they needed to save their lives. Not one of the Jewish
refugees who left Poland, Hungary, Germany or any other country, had
committed any atrocities before fleeing. None of them had sworn to
destroy the United States, Great Britain or Canada. None of them were
KNOWN terrorists. They fled to save their lives and only to save their
lives. There was no hidden agenda; nor were they trying to infiltrate
(what to them was) an enemy country.”

Joseph Puder in Front Page Magazine argues  that Jews escaping the Nazis and Arab lands had no choice: they were targeted for being Jews. More controversially, he argues that Syrian citizens do have a choice. Clearly,  they are leaving a war zone where their lives are at risk. But it is the neighbouring Arab countries, especially the rich Gulf states, who are choosing not to give them refuge, leaving the West to carry the burden.

“President Obama is wrong to compare Syrian refugees who have
choices, and Jewish refugees who had none. Syrian citizens are choosing
to leave their homes. True, Assad’s barrel-bombs have killed
indiscriminately, and Islamic State (IS) brutality has impacted on many.
Yet should the U.S. and its allies impose “no fly zone” safe havens in
civilian areas, Syrians (unless they are Christians, Kurds, or Yazidis)
wouldn’t have to abandon their homes. Yesteryear, Jews from Arab lands
had no choice. They were thrown out of their homes were they lived for
millenniums, with literally the “shirts on their back.” Jewish
properties were confiscated by the Arab authorities or taken by street

Similarly, survivors of the Holocaust could not return to their
homes, and all their properties and belongings were taken by the native
non-Jewish population or the Nazis.

Nazi Germany aimed to
eradicate all Jews from Europe and elsewhere, while no such danger has
faced Syrian refugees. In fact, there are 57 Islamic nations that are
able to receive their fellow co-religionists. The Jews of Palestine
during WWII would have done their utmost to absorb Jewish refugees had
the British Mandatory regime in Palestine not closed the gates to the
Jews of Europe.”

A small proportion of  refugees from Syria include Yazidis and Christians. Yet, for reasons of political correctness,  the US State Department will not recognise Christians as genocide victims, writes Nina Shea  in the National Review.

“Yazidis, according to the story by investigative reporter Michael
Isikoff, are going to be officially recognized as genocide victims, and
rightly so. Yet Christians, who are also among the most vulnerable
religious minority groups that have been deliberately and mercilessly
targeted for eradication by ISIS, are not. This is not an academic
matter. A genocide designation would have significant policy
implications for American efforts to restore property and lands taken
from the minority groups and for offers of aid, asylum, and other
protections to such victims. Worse, it would mean that, under the
Genocide Convention, the United States and other governments would not
be bound to act to suppress or even prevent the genocide of these

Ra’anan Levy: refugee art?

Ra’anan Levy is an Israeli artist born in 1954 into a Syrian-Jewish family which left Damascus in several waves. His grandfather was editor-in-chief of a Syrian newspaper.

Can his family’s exodus explain his art? We get no clues from Levy himself – a taciturn type.

The French journalist Veronique Chemla, however,  sees a clear thread running through his naturalistic paintings. They suggest hurried departures, empty spaces, locked windows, uninhabited and abandoned apartments.

Then there is the bizarre presence of water: puddles and running taps. Does water suggest life? Time’s inexorable passing?

Here is Veronique Chemla’s review of an exhibition of Levy’s work at the Musee Maillol in Paris in 2013. (French)

My heart breaks for Aleppo

 Model of the Aleppo Great Synagogue at the Museum of the Diaspora, Tel Aviv. The synagogue, damaged in the 1947 riots, is thought to have been largely destroyed.

Writing in the Jewish Chronicle, Emma Klein laments the destruction of the Christians in Aleppo. The city’s now extinct Jewish community had included her own family, the Douek Cohens.

Aleppo has always held great resonance for me, since my paternal
ancestors found refuge there in 1492, after the expulsion of the Jews
from Spain. The city was part of the Ottoman Empire, a centre of great
tolerance which became a refuge for many communities. My family remained
there for 300 years before leaving for India, which had just become
part of the British Empire and must have offered great potential for

Jews had been settled in Aleppo since Biblical times and the name
Douek was well known. Our family name was Douek Cohen and there are
still some relatives bearing that name today.

During the visit of one of my cousins to Aleppo in the early 1960s,
she met members of the Jewish community who were living in great fear.
Very recently I met a young man, Rob, whose family had fled Aleppo a few
years later. One of his ancestors was also called Douek.

The family had been well established in Syria, until things changed
with the founding of the state of Israel*. Rob’s grandfather used to go
round Aleppo before Shabbat, giving money to the poor. His mother was
educated by nuns. Their relatively grand house was partly taken over by
the Syrians.

During the Six Day War, Rob’s mother recalled that they were given
refuge in the Italian Mission Hospital, run by nuns who were
subsequently beaten and raped for helping Jews. By then, too, Rob’s
grandfather was frequently tortured on his way home from synagogue and
Syrians would enter Jewish homes in the middle of the night to ensure no
Jew had escaped. The family’s eventual flight from Aleppo in 1971, via
Beirut, where they stayed for several months, was quite dramatic.

The Aleppo Jewish community believed that what had protected Aleppo’s
Jews for centuries was the Aleppo Codex. Written in the 10th century,
this bound manuscript of the Hebrew Bible is considered by many as the
most authoritative version. It was consulted by Maimonides himself, and
it is believed that it was brought to Aleppo in 1375 by one of his
descendants who thought that it would be the safest place for this
religious and scholarly gem. There it remained, until the synagogue
where it was kept was burned down by rioters, following the UN decision
in 1947 to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. Eventually it was
smuggled, in a washing machine, into Israel in 1958 by a Syrian Jew, and
presented to the Israeli president. It was discovered that some pages
had been lost, and more disappeared in Israel.

Christians, too, made up part of the Aleppo mosaic of communities.
One distinguished clergyman, the 17th century scholar, Henry Maundrell,
served in Aleppo for six years until his untimely death in 1701. In 1697
he travelled from Aleppo to Jerusalem and his book, Journey from Aleppo
to Jerusalem at Easter AD 1697, is considered a minor travel classic.

Today, Aleppo’s Christians live in great fear and most who could
afford to, have fled. Antoine Audo, bishop of Aleppo for 25 years, wrote
recently of the “daily dose of death and destruction” and pointing out
while there are 45 churches in Aleppo, the Christian faith was “in
danger of being driven into extinction”.

In 2006, Aleppo won the title of Islamic Capital of Culture. Today,
thousands of years of history are in danger of being reduced to little
more than a huge pile of rubble. Had the Western powers intervened, as
they did in Libya, where, of course, there was oil, they might have
saved this outstanding location of refuge, scholarship and culture from

Read article in full 

*In fact things began to change in  the 1930s


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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