The ancient Jewish communities of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, which the Italian fascist regime almost completely uprooted during four years of war and ruthless persecution, are slowly being re-established under British military administration of these former Italian provinces, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent here learned today from reliable sources.
Under the British military administration of the provinces, which is to continue until the peace conference decides their future status, many Jews have found employment in reconstruction and administration work, thus somewhat ameliorating the economic situation, especially in Tripoli. But according to Halfalla Nahum, president of the Tripolitania Jewish Community, there are about 850 aged and invalid people entirely dependent on the community and other indigents bring the relief roll up to about 1,000.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, operating from Algiers, has been sending in some assistance to the two communities. Recently, in conjunction with the Cairo Jewish community, it sent to Tripoli a shipment of clothing valued at about $6,000. The relief organization is also negotiating with the British authorities for the repatriation to their former homes of those Jews whom the Italians had expelled to Tunis and Algeria. The JDC has undertaken to pay the transportation costs, if necessary, and to provide for the immediate requirements of the refugees on their return to their former homes so that they will not be a burden on the public administration.
At present, the chief concern of the Tripoli Jews, according to reports received here, is the rearing of their children who have been deprived of educational facilities for almost four years. There are 3,000 Jewish children in Tripoli aged from 6-13 without educational facilities and another 1,000, aged from 13-16 who require vocational education. At present it is a virtual impossibility for the community to do anything about this situation since it has no buildings available for schools and, in any case, cannot carry the financial burden of this educational work in addition to the relief load it has to carry. The leaders of the community hope that the British administration, in granting subsidies for the reopening of the Italian and native schools in these cities, will not overlook the requirements of the Jewish population. They also hope it will be possible for other Jewish communities to help them get started in this task.
JEWS IN TRIPOLI AND BENGHAZI SUFFERED GREATLY UNDER FASCISM
It is difficult to realize the complexity of the task of re-organizing Jewish life in such communities as Tripoli and Benghazi without some knowledge of what the fascist regime did to the Jews there.
In Tripolitania, for example, with a Jewish population of around 28,000, of whom 20,000 lived in Tripoli, Jews were excluded from government posts, many trades and professions and were under so many restrictions in those in which they were permitted to engage as to make it almost impossible for them to earn a livelihood. Despite their religious scruples, Jewish merchants were forbidden to observe the Jewish Sabbath by closing their shops and Jewish children were compelled to attend the secondary schools on the Sabbath under pain of expulsion.
Similar restrictions were enforced in Benghazi with its Jewish community of almost 6,000 souls. Then, when Mussolini declared war, he ordered the British Jews of Benghazi deported to Italy for internment. French nationals and Tunisians and others under French protection were deported to French North Africa. The Libyan Jews were confined in a ghetto. When the British armies reached Benghazi in their first sweep across the continent, they smashed the ghetto gates. But the tide of battle turned, the British had to withdraw and with them went many Benghazi Jews to take refuge in Egypt.
On their reoccupation of the city, the Italians immediately deported the 3,000 remaining Jews to a concentration camp at Giado, Tripolitania, where they were virtually left to die without sufficient food and water. In fact, despite the aid provided with the greatest difficulty by the Jews of Tripoli, they would all probably have perished. As it was, 500 of the 3,000 internees died during the ten months they were held in captivity.
LOCAL ARABS AIDED JEWS; BRITISH TAKE CARE OF EMERGENCY REQUIREMENTS
The Jews of Tripoli were somewhat more fortunate. Those able to work were conscripted into forced labor battalions and sent into military areas. They received the equivalent of about ten cents a day in pay, with no provision for their families for whom the Jewish community had to care. Throughout the nightmare of this persecution, one factor that aided the Jews was the long-standing friendship between them and the local Arab population.
With final liberation of Italian North Africa last fall by the British forces, a new era began for these victims of fascism. The survivors of the Giado and other concentration camps were released immediately and enabled to return to their former homes. Immediate relief was given the Jews along with the rest of the population.
In Tripoli, the Jewish quarter was one of the hardest hit because of its location. Most of the houses were destroyed or so badly damaged as to be uninhabitable. Four synagogues were completely destroyed and most of the others damaged. School buildings and other communal institutions were either left unusable or had to be used for housing. Even the Jewish cemetery was destroyed. The Italians had mounted anti-aircraft batteries there. The situation in Benghazi was similar.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.