I recently attended a lecture on the fate of the Sephardic Jews during WWII. Most people are familiar with what happened with the Ashkenazi Jews, as it was mainly the European Jews caught up in the brunt of hitler’s maniacal extermination plan. But the Sephardic Jews certainly shared their fate, but their stories are less well known.
Much of this came to light when US military forces invaded Iraq. On 6th May 2003 when US forces entered the military intelligence HQ of Saddam Hussein (as opposed to barak hussein). They found papers, prayer books, documents, office correspondence, and Hebrew calendars in about 4 feet of water. Astonishing! For more than one reason. It survived and is being preserved and restored and two, it shows the presence of a thriving Jewish community that existed in Iraq. Apparently the late Hussein, well, and the still living barak hussein wished to destroy any evidence of Jewish existence. I know, big yawn, what’s new. But some of the info the lecturer covered was very interesting. So, I’ll just give you a short report.
I suppose you could call the holocaust hitler’s muslim outreach pogrom, er, program. The Mufti of Jerusalem and hitler were buddies and allies in their desire to exterminate all Jewish life from planet earth. In 1941 Iraq had their pogrom. And while Achmadinajakerchooo denies the holocaust, he apparently doesn’t know his countries history. No, I mean he doesn’t know Iranian history. During the holocaust he denies, Iran was a safe way station for Jews going to the future Israel. He doesn’t know of the decency of “The Children of Tehran”. Apparently while Achmadinajakerchoo is brainless enough denying the holocaust, he is equally adept at exposing his ignorance of his own country. He thinks it has 57 stat…oops sorry, wrong dude.
The Island of Corfu. There Jews were craftsman and there was a small Jewish community. The mayor was a vicious anti-Semite and all but about 200 of the Jews were rounded up and shipped to Auschwitz. To get there, they had to go through 9 different countries, with 9 different currencies, and yet they were shipped. The 200 that did escape were sheltered by the local population of Corfu. The Greek Jews did not fare well at all in the concentration camps. They didn’t speak Yiddish, or German, Polish or any other language except Ladino. Therefore, where the other Jews in the camp could pass on life saving tips and tricks the Greek Jews were unable to understand the others, or to communicate with them.
In Salonika (Thessaloniki) the Jews were rounded up to be sent to Auschwitz. The community paid 2 billion drachmas for their freedom. And yet 50,000 were sent to Auschwitz, their Synagogues destroyed and cemeteries desecrated. Only 1,950 of them survived. Many of the Jews from Salonika were forced into being Sonderkommandos. I didn’t learn this in the lecture, but found it interesting. On 7 October 1944, the Sonderkommandos from Salonika joined with other Greek Jews in an uprising. They stormed the crematoria, killed 20 guards, fire-bombed the building and destroyed it before they were massacred by the Germans. Before they met their end they sang a song of the Greek Partisans and the Greek National anthem.
The Greek Jews that could escape being rounded up often joined up with the Greek Resistance and fought back.
I didn’t learn this in the lecture either, but I like it. When Mayor Carrer of Zakynthos was told by the Germans to give over the names of the 275 Jewish inhabitants of Zakynthos, the Metropolitan Bishop of Zakynthos turned over to the Germans a list of names. Two names. His and the Mayors. The island of Zakynthos then hid every single member of the Island’s Jewish population.
It was in Yugoslavia that the Germans developed their mobile execution chambers. They used moving trucks into which special flooring was put in. They then had the exhaust hoses fed to the inside of the truck. The special flooring was to deal with the body’s actions at time of death. It made it easier for the nazis to hose the trucks out.
Bulgaria. Bulgaria is interesting. Now while old Abe Foxman of the ADL is happy to laud Bulgaria for their courageous saving of the Bulgarian Jews, this article goes into even more detail than our lecture did about what a truly mixed bag the “saving” was. No, Bulgaria didn’t want to deport their Jews. Yes, there was a massive eruption from the writers, lawyers and other professionals when the nazis wanted to begin deportation of Bulgaria’s Jews. But this was after they had plenty of blood on their hands. They were fine with containing them in ghettos and seizing their property, making them wear a star and mark their homes with a star making them easy targets for thugs. In addition to which 20,000 were deported. Not to a concentration camp of course, you understand and all. They were transported to about 3 different cities, for 3 weeks. THEN they were deported to Treblinka. In the end, Archbishop Roncalli wrote to King Boris and told him if he did this his place in heaven would be denied. He wasn’t going, no way, no how. That apparently did it. Afterwards Archbishop Roncalli wrote King Boris III and told him his place in heaven was assured.
North Africa, the King of Monaco flat refused to deport the Jews of Monaco. In fact the Jews were better off living in Monaco than they were Vichy France. In case you don’t know how “helpful” Vichy France was to the Jews.
Tunisia had local concentration camps, but they were not death camps.
In Algeria the Jews led a unsuccessful resistance to the Germans, but luckily, the Americans were in the neighborhood for Operation Torch.
The Italians were fine with persecuting the Jews, but in GENERAL, it didn’t want to kill them.
In certain countries, the price paid was the entire country, the impact of WWII on Sephardic culture was severe.
These were people that were just going along, having a nice life. Living with their families, loving, raising children, going to Synagogues, doing their jobs, practicing their professions. Their communities had been there often for hundreds of years living with their neighbors. And everything was fine.
Everything was fine, until one day. And then it wasn’t.