Libya The Jews Museum Newsletter Testimonies
  Back to Testimonies

Full Text:


I was one of the participants of the Jewish history of Libya, I was very young, I was president of the community, I was the one who directed the Aliya of the Jews of Barce, Derna. I was nominated by the British Governor, whose name was Decandor, who was truly [H] a hater of Israel. I succeeded Renato Teshuba, that I am sure you heard of him, he was an excellent president because he maintained very cordial rapport even with the Arabs, in fact, with the Arabs, despite the fact that there was animosity against the Jews because of the happening of Israel, etc. we can say that in total we were less harmed in Benghazi, because many families managed to avoid, I can say that there was prohibition for the Jews who did not have a passport, that is the Libyans, to leave for Israel.

Interviewer: Didn't some Jews have passports?

Very few, those privileged ones, who could not ..., but they could go those who had passports, French, English, there was ship that came by every fifteen days, I still remember the name, the Terzicori, it was called, it used to do the coast, and it passed by Benghazi every 15/20 days and it always took a few families that ended up in Israel I do not know through which harbors, and the others could not leave, they did not even have any travel documents. I pressured the British Governor continuously so that the people, the people longed for, wanted to leave all of them, one day this Decandor called me to tell me that they liberated, that they could leave. I said this communication I accept it, if you are giving it to me as President of the Community, with conditions which I must present to you or I cannot accept any responsibility as a community. Because, in the future that we gather a certain number of Jews who come there to [E] Emigration Office [I] for their passports or something, tomorrow one would throw a hand bomb, makes a massacre, and they you will say, pity, we are sorry, we couldn't do anything. So what do you want? I want that everything will be handled by me, that is, I want to release the passports, I want to organize the departures, in a manner that even for you it will not be a responsibility and that it will not give you problems. He understood well. Right away, the same day he called the [E] Emigration Office [I] who was an Englishman whom I already knew, and he told him, you can follow the instructions that come to you from the Jewish community of Benghazi, because we begin the departure of these Jews, so get together with Mr. L. So I thanked him and I agreed with this, who was the same, which was the same in the old schools of Benghazi, they might still be there, all the offices were there, and in this manner that those departures I created a very strict committee. My wife by chance had left for Israel with the children and so I made my house the center, this is in 1948, right after the State of Israel by a few months and, but we had no help outside...Tripoli enjoyed help from the State of Israel and from the Joint, we were cut off because they could not come, [interruption] so I did in a way, then I reunited the entire community at the Big Temple, [A] Slat lKbira [I] you understand, and it was Saturday night, I heard about this Thursday or Friday this news. The synagogue was full, up and down, I told them look, the departures are free, all can leave, but they cannot take one step without the consent of the community. The community has its plans to leave, who will be called to travel we will tell him how to leave, who does not leave will loose his turn. He cannot come after two weeks and say now I am ready, because we cannot upset our plans. Applause, etc., then I went into agreement with, maybe you will remember him, Erzel Arbib, who was a photographer, we agreed that he would take pictures of these people who were leaving, there was the "Circolo Ebraico" (The Jewish Circle) behind the market, it was a club, there were Jewish military who gave "rita" to this, from the brigade, that helped us a lot, but as for the departures, there were no longer any brigades, these brigades returned to Israel with the formation of the State. We did thus, this committee, and I organized departures with trucks from Benghazi till Tripoli, but I always held the English responsible, I was afraid of attacks on the trucks on the road. These trucks went with 100 to 200 people these big tucks, they could have slain them all and nobody would have said anything.

Interviewer: And how were they protected?

They were traveling, because there was the police of the emirate the Senussi, the Emirate of the Cyrenaica, it was still, there was no Libyan State, and I had good rapport with these people, I even gave some a little something, so we made points, for example the truck would go from Benghazi to the Gedabia, then to the Gheina, and from there they would enter in Tripolitania, and they ended up in Tripoli. When the trucks left, I, then there was not even communication, to say to telephone, or anything, G-d helped us completely, after two or three convoys that I sent there, my wife had to be operated on for appendicitis, in Tripoli, there was not in Benghazi who could perform surgery, so I had to go to Tripoli also, during the trip I became ill, it became and adventure for me that trip to Tripoli, as soon as I arrived, and two Jewish Tripolitanians come to meet me who told me, there was then like a representative of the [H] Sohnut (Jewish Agency) [I] a certain Duvdevani, [H] may his memory be of blessing, [I] I think he died, an Israeli naturally, he said he wants to talk with you immediately, why, I thought because, in fact I had a little operation, you understand, I said as soon as I feel better, I will see him. After two three days I went to him, and there was the Tripolitanian committee and I do not know who got up and said you take and hurl hundreds of people here without asking, I said ask whom, whom of you made himself alive and said there are here 6/7000 Jews, let's go ask/see how they are doing, we did, we could not do anything differently, we live in an Arab Emirate, like Saudi Arabia, you, instead are still in an occupied territory by the English, you enjoy certain freedoms, you have an Israeli consulate, ships that come and go, they had ships that went between Tripoli and Israel, you say you have to suspend the departures from Benghazi, I told them, write me a letter, official, signed by the representatives of Israel, because from you I am not taking orders, and if, then I will return to Benghazi, I will think about the situation, but I notify you that as of this moment I am no longer president of the community of Cyrenaica, I resign from this task, because it is a too large responsibility to tell the Jews that the situation is such that you cannot leave. Duvdevani refused to sign the letter, he said Saul is right, I am not suspending the Aliya, we do not know what to do. So they organized themselves, when they saw that there was nothing doing, I returned to Benghazi, I continued the evacuation, many people, not much, someone I actually had to force him to go, there were those who had rapport with Arabs, they used to sell them the [A] Boha (alcohol) [I] and we were worried about the women, the children, and the large families, these are the ones that we had leave first, without ever having to gather them to the police, I sent them, the police the request with pictures, and we had agreed on the travel documents, and instead of saying the destination Israel or Palestine or other, we did [E] abroad [I] and everything worked very well despite the fact that we were amateur. Thank G-d till the last Jews. I remember there remained about, I don't know, about 50, because I returned to Benghazi after 49/50, my brother was still there so I returned 2, 3, 4 times, and ...

Interviewer: From Italy?

Yes, from Milan, and I had started a job in Italy, and I traveled a lot toward Africa, you understand, and before this whole story, some people from the Joint arrived in Benghazi, there was a certain Dr. Jents, and a Mme. Ben Atar from Casa Blanca who was part of the Joint , she was in charge of the Joint. These came to Benghazi and created an enormous problem. Because when the Arabs found out that these two were coming without having been invited or anything, they did not want to let them come in, but really, certain things happened that were [H] from G-d [I] as they say, first of all I had no car, so I did not know how to go get them from the airport, this happened: they came with a bus from the airport to come toward Benghazi, in the meantime I had found a car, I took the car and hurried to the airport. I found this autobus, (sounds like "in pan"), stopped, I took my two birds, put them in the car, and returned to Benghazi. We returned to Benghazi and I took them to my house. I took them to my house, I do not know who came, look they know that they came, etc. I did, now there the police officials were Palestinians, the police of Cyrenaica, very nice people, they were nice people, I have to tell you. They were Arabs, there was one from I do not know which place, an Arab village, I remember it was 12:30, I had prepared a lunch for them and I said wait a minute, I went, his house was perhaps 30/40 on the via Marina, just across the street, I went to knock at his door, I said I am sorry to disturb you, I had good rapport with all, I tried to maintain good rapport because in fact they were very useful, and I said look, it happened so and so, I know that there will soon be a demonstration in the square, I had also someone who informed me, I said if they touch these two from the Joint who are Americans, there will be such repercussions, that it won't help us or the Cyrenaica, what, any foreigner comes here they kill him, I don't think that...he said go back to your house and don't worry, maybe in 20 minutes, half hour the street was all patrolled, really all orderly dressed that they brought fear to people, in fact no one dared the smallest of demonstrations. These visited the Talmud Torah, visited the school, and saw that there was a large number of ill, there was the syphilis, the trachoma, there were the worst illnesses, there were no doctors in Benghazi, and in fact, then after two days they left and I said now what do we do, they said you don't worry you will have all the means that you need, but you have to take care of things yourself, not for any reason, it should not be told that we are sending money or other, and in fact, there was an account of the community at the Barclais Bank. They said how can we do this. I said send me $10,000 at a time.

Interviewer: That's the Joint

Yes, the Joint, and with this every time I needed more money, I telephoned, from Tripoli and from Benghazi we could telephone, and they sent me some money because I incur debts when I hired the trucks. In fact, they sent me enough money, either for the first treatments for whoever was sick, we had a problem that many could not pay tax, and I as president of the community, I was part of the municipal board, as a representative of the Jews of the Chamber of Commerce, in other words in every place I had my foot. There was Legghi who was with me, I don't know if you remember him. He was a mayor of Benghazi, an Arab, who was very, anyway we were friends, the family, my father knew everyone, and in fact, many times we made part of the council of the municipality, they were trifles, in fact there was great poverty there in Benghazi, then they had to pay 4 sterline of tax or could not travel. I intervened, you know better than I, this one lives by sawing your coats, how much could he be making, with a family, he does not succeed in eating, what do we have him pay, let him go. He said now you want us to pay even the cost of travel? [Laughs] I said you would do me a great favor, because we do not have all the money. And that is how it went, thank G-d, we can say really that it was [H] nes (miracle) [I] because everything was [H] a miracle [I] at that time. Many times we were threatened and then the government had to interfere, many times I went with Renato Teshuba to Idris. He had a palace, the palace of the Governor, he was there, he always received us well, and when, I as...

Interviewer: How was he?

Idris was a just man, we can honestly say, we Jews, that he was a man who was not anti-Semitic, because once, every so often the news came that tonight t they are coming to kill you, we did not have the courage not to go to relate to the community, what if something happened, we went to pester. Once, in fact, Renato Teshuba, [H] may his memory be of blessing, [I] said, I was his Vice, before these stories, before I took over...I was Vice President of the community, and we went to him, and he received us well, he talked with a thin voice, etc. he said go to your homes, calm down your families. We returned, there were people who said what happened, don't worry, we talked, we did, I had two three of the police who were my friends, they were police officials, Bedouins, there was one who once in a while needed a loan, he remained grateful to me, I saw him passing by. I asked him where are you going? He said the Emirate summoned us. I said do me a favor when you return come by because I have to tell you something. He said OK. After one hour, an hour and half, my office was in the Municipal square, he came in, [A] Ahlen (hello), [I] I made him comfortable, I asked what is going on. He said you know he summoned all the heads of the barracks of the police of Benghazi, the Emirate himself. I heard that you, that the Jews are upset in their lives, that they have constant threats, etc. Every barrack, every head of the barrack is responsible personally if it happens in his zone something that has to do with Jews.

Interviewer: This is from Idris.

Yes, from Idris. Not a law an order. They, for example, when these trucks departed to these communities, these Arabs came, saw these camera, and I had a good relationship with them, I treated them, really, and there was one, who, he considered himself an important person, we were friends, I asked in Arabic, why are you taking his picture, if you want I can get you [enlargement? Inaudible], [laughs] this will not come out well. These who are going away will never come back here. He said no because these are leaving the country, I told him, this country if you could leave it wouldn't you? There was poverty, black poverty, there was not oil yet. In fact, then after we stayed 120 Jews and I started coming and going, I convened those who remained and said to them, now, you are all adults, whoever wants to stay, I am retiring, they nominated as president [A] may he rest in peace [I] Susu Giuili, and they continued till Gaddafi came, who left, left, and who did not leave, but there were very few Jews left, you were very few who remained.

Interviewer: How many Jews were there before 48?

Before 48, from Benghazi 5, 500 left, I had all the papers, because I left cases of documents there, and then I went to burn them after I left, I thought why keep them? There was no way t take them out, nor to leave them, because they could have construed it as possibly being used, used them as motive to condemn some, emigration, etc. it is not that we lived calmly with the Arabs.

Interviewer: So how many were left?

In Derna there were probably 200 Jews; in Barce, 59/60; in Tobruk none, because it was evacuated, but as for Jews of Cyrenaica less than 6,000, and only 120 were left. I pushed the expedition, and the Joint, the only thing that I was missing is money, because the heart-felt, the desire was there to do this. When the Joint came to say do. After one/two years I found myself in Casa Blanca in Morocco, and I knew that this Mme Ben Atar who was from the Joint she was a lawyer in Casa Blanca, and I had a representative who was a Jew, I asked him do you know Ben Atar? He said who does not know her. I asked him would you call her for me on the phone? He called her, Mr. L., she said, look, how many days are you here, I said two three days, she said tomorrow afternoon please keep yourself free at 4:00 in my office, I would like to speak with you. So the next day I went, there were about 20 people the committee, the Joint, the community, etc. I though it was perhaps illogical, I did not deserve it, and I was very happy of the meeting, then she said I want to ask you something, would you be interested in coming here to take care of the Aliyah? I said no thank you, that which I did, I did only for my people. Here I do not know anyone, then this is not my work, I have another job, she said the only Jew in the world who gave back money to the Joint was you. There were $3,000 left in the account, before I left I gave them back to them [laughs] it looks like it was the exception, it looks like the others (inaudible) [laughs], because I was really, it was G-d who brought that possibility otherwise, I can tell you that really things happened that by luck I don't think they would have happened.

Interviewer: You mentioned Duvdevani, who was he?

Duvdevani was a delegate of the State of Israel in Tripoli, an Israeli, then there was an office the office of... then with Israel I was in contact from 43/44 because I was in Benghazi, I was in the community, I was a delegate for the schools, the assessor of the school, we are talking about the school on the sea, do you remember it? The one with all the Magen David outside, it was a beautiful, big school. We returned in January 43, 40, 41, we were in Egypt and came back, we were in Egypt January 43, this school was already built by the Italians, this school. There was Banni Guetta, you must have heard of him, Giacobbe Guetta, who was the director, there was, may he rest in peace, Raffaello Labi, there were all these who took care, and I on the part of the community for salaries and all that stuff. The [H] Sohnut [I] sent me money for salaries, one of the brigade would come over, and would hand me an envelope they were all bills of 100 sterline Egyptians. Because our community was I think [laughs] a poorer one did not exist in the world. We had the list of poor beyond 50% of the community, those who returned from the camps, in Benghazi, there was a enormous poverty.

Interviewer: 50%?

50% were on the list of poor. In other words, half, I did the meat, it was the cheapest thing in Benghazi, the meat was the cheapest thing in Benghazi, there was a large production of animals, it cost 4 piasters the kilo, I did another tax of 4 piasters a pound for the Kosher meat, so a Jew who could eat one kilo had to pay one kilo for the poor. Everyone paid willingly.

Interviewer: So there were the rich also?

Rich, so to speak, rich, I will tell you, rich, what we call rich, [laughs] to call him rich on the outside it is a shame was Pio Nahum , poor guy, I do not know if you hear about him. He is the one who had the wreckage of metals of the desert and there were hundreds of thousands of tons of wreckage of ... he made a colossal fortune that he then squandered it, poor thing, he died in Milan. This one he helped, when I asked him for help he gave, those that we considered rich, I who lived in Egypt I know what wealth meant, and al l their capital would make laugh a middle landlord in Egypt, in other words, it is a matter of, there was nothing I remember when we returned in Benghazi, we had all the windows broken we did not have money to buy windows, we took, compensated with some old cases to...Then slowly we rebuilt we, when I think about all those Jews who left I always thank G-d because if they remained what would have happened to them.

Interviewer: Did many lose their turn, you said that you told them they would lose their turn.

No, I only told them that to scare them with that. So I told them who passes up their turn, I studied the situation calmly, and then knowing, all but all wanted to leave, the truth. There was one who did not want to leave, and I remember getting him on board by force. I have his picture in front of my eyes till today. G-d be my judge that I did it in good faith not that I did it for... This one had a wife who sold Boha to Arabs, there were rumors, this was an old man, Tripolino, bricklayer, I told him get ready you have children you have to leave, yes, now, etc. I got together with my friends who were directing this...we took him by force and put him, we got them to board [laughs] he, his wife, his children, I remember two were holding him and he was shouting I do not want to go. The truck left, I did it for his children I did not care if they cut him to pieces.

Interviewer: The people who were left behind, why?

They remained because first they started to work again, we were already in 48, I was talking to you about the poverty of 43/44. Then slowly things got built up, we were staring to import good, the city had a more civil aspect, we ourselves were better, everyone who either started a shop, or did some kind of work it was going well for him. Prosperity began. And those who were left behind, everyone had his work, then there was talk of oil.

Interviewer: So that's why they stayed behind. You were born in which year?

16, I was in Egypt from the first British occupation, from 41 the famous April 41 the plunder, you might have heard of this. So the Italians were in Benghazi for the first oc..., the English came from Egypt with Nuevel, General Nuevel, they came to Benghazi beyond 300 kilometers, Benghazi arriving till Gaila, that is in the Sirte Gulf, this harbor there, this line divides from here the Cyrenaica that borders on Egypt and from here the Tripolitania that bordered on Tunisia. And they arrived 2 February in Benghazi of the 41 the English, and we gave them a big celebration, the Jews, we gave them to drink to eat, there was everything in Benghazi.

Interviewer: Why, did they like the British?

No, because the Italians left, there were racial laws, there was everything, you understand. But what happened? That the Italians "se la legarono al dito" (expression meaning they tied themselves in their finger) when the English retired the 2 of April, in other words two months later, from Benghazi, they threatened us with death, etc. and at my door they came to knock the night of 2 April an English official who said we are leaving the city, if you want to cut the cord, I had bought a small car, the Topolino 500, my father, my mother, my wife, me and my daughter left in this Topolino. My brother with another car we left till we arrived in Egypt, after changes along the road, and bombardments, all, and we stayed in Egypt till they liberated again the English came again, and this was in January 43. We stayed there till we left, 6/7 years then life was really...

Interviewer: what happened in Benghazi during that time?

Nothing, those who remained they took to the concentration camps in Jado, I know that some they were called "indiscriminati" (undiscriminated), because they were not sent, I don't know they had some friends, they paid, something, they succeeded very well to save themselves, many died in the camps of Jado, hunger, illness. The Jews of Tripoli they helped them they sent them food, but there were epidemics, there were...

Interviewer: The office of the President of the Jewish Community was it an elected office?

No, the Jews followed the Italian legislature, a colony, so the counsel of the community was elected from the Jews, who had the right to elect, elected, they had regular elections, but in my case, I was nominated by the governor because the English thought it was not appropriate to have this mess of elections, Jews who did... so, Teshuba poor man was sick and they asked Teshuba what do you think? He said we have to nominate a president who about whom you will also agree, this is not a gesture of command but more for convenience also for your peace of mind. He said nominate Saul who has been my right hand for all these years and he is quite aware of all the situation of the community. I still have the original decree of my nomination. If you would like I can send it to you by fax when I return. And there was, I conserved several things, I have some magazines, because there were one or two magazines that were notoriously anti-Israeli, not that it takes much with the Arabs to... Then I left also, there was my brother there, I left the house, then I had to empty the house, I had to throw away a lot of things.

Interviewer: They let you come and go in Benghazi?

We had a French passport.

Interviewer: French or Tunisian?

No, French. Because we were originally Algerians and the Algerians were considered French citizens, in fact when I first came here, till about 3/4 years ago, they wanted to take it away from us. I had a suit, not in Israel in Italy, and the French consulate refused to (inaudible I think renew) our passports but I sued the French Government and I won sensationally because, by coincidence I found out that my cousin, daughter of Saul Naim who lived in Paris, they knew a French senator who was in charge of the French abroad and I had a mountain of documentation, in other words, continuous passports from Benghazi till the last day, which means I always had a French passport I conserved the passports, I would get them back form the consulate. I had other documents, etc., then these they did not want to, but then they realized since they cannot establish reason to take away our citizenship, they would renew the passport from year to year, instead of five to five. Then when I won the suite against the French Government this senator knew the consulate of Milan, so he said I will send with you a copy of document written to the counsel, because given the piteous state in these Italian post, it could be that a precious document could get lost, so I give it to you and ask you Mr. L. to give it to him. Because it was that counsel there who was against...[laughs] I am sorry, etc. it did not depend on us, I said yes I know I did my duty and truthfully I am grateful to him, in the way he did it because in half an hour he gave an order to the office and every [E] file [I] of our family, the copy of this decree. [laughs]

Interviewer: We had Tunisian passport, why?

There were Algerian Jews and Tunisian Jews, the Tunisians were not a colony, Algiers was a colony, compared with the French State, the mother land. The Tunisians were a French protectorate, so when they became independent (inaudible)...

Interviewer: But we were not Tunisians.

No, no, it is just so, what do I know of Algiers, [laughs] it could be that some great grandfather, one moved there from one place to another.

Interviewer: If someone knows nothing of the life in Libya, what would you tell them?

All was organized, when there were the Italians there, we don't talk about Tripoli, it was a very big community, 30,000, the Italians were there since 1911, before I was born. We lived a la Italiana, we spoke Italian, at times it became, while Tripoli remained for a long time the use of the Tripolitanian Arabic, actually it was Arab Jewish, because it is a special language, the way the Jews talked Arabic.

Interviewer: So the Arabic was not pure Arabic.

Absolutely not. It was a dialect. Only the Jews spoke this Arabic, the Arabs spoke a different one, In fact, one could distinguish right away when a Jew spoke Arabic, especially in Tripoli, while we in the Cyrenaica, we were speaking an Arabic that was closer to the Arabic, let's say, instead the Jews maybe, I think now, that perhaps we took some from the Jews of Tunisia the Arabic speech, but with the Italians they always considered us second class citizens despite everything, but there was the fact that there was a small minority, they respected us because we had means, because we were known, because we had real estate, they always needed something from us, like a loan to rent an apartment to buy some goods.

Interviewer: Why, the Jews had apartments?

Of course, they had a lot of real estate, in Tripoli and Benghazi, In Benghazi the majority of people were owners of the house where they lived, modest but ... or who had means would buy an apartment, a house and would rent it. So it was normal, then travel, then people slowly started coming and going to Italy, they changed their dress, before that people dressed a la Arab, then the Jews changed easily from the Arab garb to the Jewish, but not the Arabs, excluding an occasional one who dressed a la European, but there were very few. But the Jews rapidly because in a few years they were dressed a la Italiana they traveled to Italy.

Interviewer: How was life between the Arabs and the Jews.

Tranquil, they hated us.

Interviewer: This is a contradiction, no?

Yes, but we coexisted because there was always, for example, let's say, my grandmother, [H] may her memory be of blessing, [I] I am already old so you can imagine [laughs] what year was my grandmother, we had our house which Thank G-d we were well off, big, nice, etc. you understand well around homes that were Arabs, there were Jewish also but also Arabs, and you know that the Arabs marry two three of four wives, there women were afraid to leave their jewelry in their homes, with another wife who could steal them, they would tie them all up, I remember I was a child, in big kerchiefs where one can wrap up a voluminous amount, kerchiefs where inside there was a piece of paper with their names, these would hide their jewelry with my grandmother [laughs]. They had a lot of faith. Think that faith in the Jews was so much that they called for when one testified, they wanted a Jew to assist as testimony.

Interviewer: So why did they hate us?

Because, it was like that they were stronger than we, and we were more intelligent, this they did not admit. The Jew was quick, like a grain of wheat that you put in water and after two days you see it begin to sprout, they were like a grain of stone you put it in the water even fifty years and nothing came out [laughs] but they knew. Then we gave work to the Arabs. For example, my family had some cattle, and there were Arabs the operators, they were shepherds, they did construction, all hand work was Arab.

Interviewer: did they hurt the Jews?

In Benghazi only one time that there was a Pogrom. In 47 when it happened in Tripoli also. I was in Tripoli when it happened, I saw with my own eyes the killing of Jews. Then they came with the police to take us out of the house where we were because there was a [A] G-d have mercy on him [I] Zakino Habib who was president of the community of Tripoli who had a certain amount of relatives, he knew that his sister-n-law who was also my sister-n-law was in a house in Corso Sicilia who was a terrible place, they came with an English patrol and they took us out of there, but they killed 100 or more that day.

Interviewer: How do you describe the difference between the Jews of Benghazi and the ones of Tripoli? Is there a difference?

No, generally all the Jews of Benghazi almost come from Tripoli. There wasn't a Jewish root in Benghazi. They were people who came from Tripolitania to begin to work, there was more work in Benghazi then once the merchants, the blacksmith, they came from Tripoli and they remained and not only from Tripoli but also from Misurata, Sirte, the localities that were closer to Cyrenaica.

Interviewer: But life was quite different in Tripoli, there was the Hara?

There was the [A] Big Hara and small Hara. [I] Tripoli had 30,000 Jews, they were of the bully types, they did not let the fascist get away with things, once they killed one.

Interviewer: the Jews?

Yes, yes, they wanted to assault the Hara they waited for them they struck them I don't know what happened, one wanted to set fire to something, they took him and they put him in the fire.

Interviewer: Did they suffer repercussions?

No, they saw that, they calmed down [laughs] they understood that they could not do it against the Jews. They were very good, from that perspective, they knew how to defend themselves very well. They waited for them, they let them come into the Hara and then they attacked them. There were on or two episodes that they convinced them that it was better not to touch them. But when the British were there that despite warnings they did not want to intervene until they were killed these people. If the English had sent some patrol in the street that would not have happened. It was something that was predisposed from the English that.

Interviewer: Was life better for the Jews under the Italians or the British?

No, without any doubt under the Italians before the Racial laws, because then they had a very relative effect the laws, there was Balbo, who did not want to respect the laws imposed by Mussolini. He was very friendly with the Jews. He was from Modena, he had, in the Emilia, he had many Jewish friends in Bologna, etc. and this one played in favor of the Jews of Libya, because as long as there was Balbo, there were racial laws and there were other things that, then there was another factor, for example, in Benghazi, the Italians for the most part were originally from Sicily, Naples, in other words of lower Italy that was the worse Italian population, while in Tripoli there were also from the North of Italy tat are more civilized people, then the Jews of Tripoli were very rich these that were, they had in fact good capital and they made deals, they supplied the government, imagine if they were able to supply the German Government [laughs].

Interviewer: How?

In Tripoli, many were there was Africa Corps, German, and when they needed to buy for [inaudible] they turned to Jewish merchants. They did not do anything to the Jews the Germans in Libya, maybe they saw that it was, let's say a heredity of Balbo, they all worked, they found them comfortable because with the Arabs they were not, they needed supplies so they went to these to purchase them.

Interviewer: So why were the Jews happy when the Italians left Libya?

Because the population itself was anti-Semite, then you know, there was talk of the English the English we thought they were brothers, instead they were cousins [laughs] and in fact we later understood that it wasn't all roses with the English because [inaudible] but all in all we managed to disentangle ourselves, [inaudible]

Interviewer: What did you hear about the Pogroms of Tripoli, you said...

I was there, it was terrible for a day and half, total anarchy, assaults in the houses, some families completely taken away and destroyed, they were actually thrown into deep wells, the family Luzon, I will always remember, they said come we will protect you as soon as they came out of Tripoli they were slaughtered and thrown into a pit.

Interviewer: why, where did all this come from?

The matter of Israel influenced a lot the Arabs, even today they cannot digest it, 50 years have passed. Till today, because they have always had the Jew as a subordinate, they needed the Jew for his culture because they did not know how to write their own name, so the Jew was needed for several things and they used him amicably perhaps giving him a little blow on the head to show him some simpatia like a little dog, and nothing else, you understand, and but generally when there was talk of anything Jewish for them till today they cannot swallow that we have rung them. For them it was the biggest delusion of their life, you understand. But now I see that the new ones, I follow the Arabic papers, they are beginning to come to terms with reality.

Interviewer: Originally, where did the Jews of Libya come from, Spain or?

Yes, yes they are all Sephardic, but Spain a matter of speaking, because of Spanish, European does not exist [laughs] not even one gram of Jews of North Africa, they are like the Tunisian Jews, Algerian Jews. IN Libya they came mainly from Tunisia than other places, because there were many things that remained, even like the food, for example, cousous, and all this, its origin is French North Africa.

Interviewer: And this food that we used to eat, couscous, mafrum, [interrupts to say: we still eat it], kukla are they?

They are completely Jewish. The Arabs made cousous but theirs with the lamb with cumin and all that stuff is different.

Interviewer: And how did we invent it.

We copied it from Algiers, Tunisia.

Interviewer: For someone who has never been in Libya, how would you describe the daily life.

The daily life, everyone went to his work, there was a category of independent merchants, like a store of perfumery, or there were entire streets of Jewish shops in Benghazi and Tripoli, with the new construction made by the Italians, you remember Benghazi, right? The street that they first called Via Generale Bricola then became Via Shabbi, it was all shops, right and left with those column there, the Italians built those in two nights, those columns there, the King was coming. It was something, they remained we had three four houses there of property that we rented both from one side and the other. They were shops, there was an Italian population that consumed a lot, the Arabs that bought in the Arab market. Religion, they were Tunisian customs, I still have, for example the prayers, those books, there is the seder of Pesah that was read also in Arabic, certainly, those books still exist, but mostly Tunisia, the Arab of that translation is a Tunisian Arabic. Everyone kept the Shabbat, big trouble, there was, [H] may his memory be of blessing Rabbi Hamos who was the chief Rabbi, he was a prestigious figure, very, to think that when the Germans came we are told, because we were not there because the Germans we did not see them, but they say that at his house at one point entered an official German saw this man there sitting turned around without turning, in other words he just went out. He was so prestigious this person. And the holydays, the Shabbat was respected except when it came to the zone inhabited by Europeans that they Jews had to open their shops on Shabbat. And we made a schedule from 10-6 in the afternoon. Those of Tripoli many refused, they took them, they hit them, in public for having refused the order, so they all understood that they had to do it. First they opened unwillingly, then, G-d forgive me, [laughs] maybe they opened they found out it wasn't too bad that opening there. Benghazi, this street Shabbi, there were 7/8 stores of Jews who had to open, because not all, only those furniture, fashion, etc they had to open. They opened on Shabbat at 10, but they did not like it, but there was no choice, and maybe today I think it was good that we did not react because it was there only act that Balbo did to show that the Jewish religion was not being respected. But the rest he let everything go.

Interviewer: For how long did they have to open, on/two years?

Yes, maybe, then came the war and everything was turned upside down, everything was destroyed, the shops, everything.

Interviewer: You said your family was doing well, what did your father do?

We were, we had wholesale stores of for example, my brother was partner with his two brother, they were the brothers L. and they had much real estate in common because every year they built homes and then they had food shops more than anything else, both for the Italian army and the population.

Interviewer: You went to Italian schools, where they good schools?

Yes, Italian schools, I think they were good, certainly better than now. They were all together the Italians Arabs Jews with annoying consequences everyday [laughs] between, because, in fact there was a time when we the Jewish children had to go from Talmud Torah accompanied till the school because along the road they would throw stones at us and...

Interviewer: The Arabs?

No, the Italians. The Italians, as I told you, the majority of them were Sicilians, ignorant, really ignorant, for them the Jew was...then the church always helped to foment that the Jew was a damned race that had killed Christ, so naturally that caused...

Interviewer: was there a Talmud Torah?

How not? Of Course, there was all, with a population of 5/6000 people, 7,000 people, we had all. Until the end we tried to maintain everything till we left. Talmud Torah worked perfectly.

Biographical Information taken by Interviewer.

Interviewer: Do you think there will ever be a Jewish community in Libya again?

Look, even if we wanted to do it, they would not give us permission. The Arabs would be very happy if the Jews want to come where they were, but why would he do it, he is anti Israel, so his motivation is to diminish the population in Israel to weaken it. Then he can take the Jews under his arm, then as they say in Italian [H] Halomot al Bur (dreams of ignorance). [I] It is finished, Libya is finished, first of all because Ghaddafi destroyed the cemetery, I would not return for all the gold in the world, do you understand, but if the tomb of a dear one were there, I would have organized, take the Tunisian Jews they go around, the Moroccan go around, the Algerians no, because Algeria is also a wretched place, there are ties that cannot be torn from the neck, he made it so as to avoid any rapport with the Jews. He does not want to contaminate his land with them.

Interviewer: Are you glad that you were born and lived in Libya?

I, to tell you the truth, honestly, I am glad only one thing, that G-d allowed the Jews of Benghazi whom I took to heart to leave with minimal damage, because when I think that we had a poor population, that with difficulty it could have improved we would have perhaps ended up all employees of Arabs because we knew how to write better than they, but we had no other future, and you do not remember, in Benghazi the majority of the population was poor, they asked alms, many did, or only because among us we always sustained ourselves, I remember in my house my grandmother [H] may her memory be of blessing [I] that truly she was a saintly woman, she always had, and my father who worked in teas, coffees, flour, sacks full of things, the poor families would come and he gave them, they did not have even anything to eat, and who could give they were all generous, you understand not that they who could give, gave willingly, those who gave had satisfaction but those who received it wasn't a life, tragedy really. G-d helped and now they live in Netanya [laughs] you know the Libyan Jews, they came what 30,000, now there are [H] without the evil eye [I] more than 100,000 the Jews of Libyan origin, they were able to develop, in Israel, but the majority in Netanya, in Libya they would have never been 100,000, it seems that G-d helped us, we would be grateful. I thank G-d I have always had an active life Jewishly, even in Milan I have been an advisor to the community of Milan for 30 years straight, financial assessor, minister of the finance of the community of Milan. 10,000 Jews there are in Milan. For 30 years, thank G-d I have been for many years the assessor for the Institute of the President many times, I always did it willingly, it did not take much out of me to do it, I have known many people, I made others understand the value of Judaism, I knew some people who [H] may their memory be of blessing [I] even for Israel they did a lot, and so, one day when I leave I will be tranquil.

Interviewer: Do you remember any songs, stories?

No, truthfully no, I did not have the time.
[ Libya] [The Jews] [ Museum] [ Newsletter] [ Testimonies]
[Home] [ Information] [Help]
Copyright VR Films LLC. All rights reserved. For additional information, please contact me.
Best viewed with a JavaScript compatible browser (Netscape 3 and over or Internet Explorer 4 and over).