Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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18 Elul 5768 - September 18, 2008 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Libyan Jews Demand Berlusconi Compensate Them for WWII Suffering

By R. Hoffner

Following Italy's recent agreement to provide Libya $5 billion to compensate for decades of colonial occupation, Libyan Jews are also demanding that Libya recognize the suffering they underwent during the German-Italian occupation of their country during World War II and grant them reparations for oppression and property loss. Last week the World Organization of Libyan Jews, based in Israel, sent a letter to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi via the Italian ambassador in Israel. A copy of the letter was also sent to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.

In the letter, Meir Cahlon, who chairs the organization and serves a board member of the Center of Holocaust Survivors' Organizations in Israel, wrote: "Jews lived in Libya for over 2,000 years and were an integral part of the social fabric of this land. We have heard, via the media, that the government of Italy is acknowledging, 65 years after the end of the occupation, the damage the colonial rule caused Libya and has generously agreed to pay $5 billion in reparations. We are pleased that under the mantle of your rule Italy was able to overcome internal debates, recognize its historical error and compensate for the damages.

"We believe Italy owes us, Libyan Jewry, compensation for the pain and suffering that remains engraved in us to this day. Libyan Jews are natives of [Libya] just like Libyan Arabs and suffered just as much from the damage done by colonialism; moreover, as a result of the race laws legislated by the Fascist regime, suffered loss of jobs, loss of assets and livelihood, loss of liberty and loss of their humanity with their transfer to work camps and concentration camps during the Second World War, in which over 700 Libyan Jews lost their lives. We are asking the government of Italy to conduct direct negotiations with us in order that Jewish victims and their heirs receive their due."

The copy of the letter sent to Gaddafi reads, "We would like to act toward normalization and peace between us. In Libya we left behind homes, memories, cemeteries where our loved ones lie buried, sifrei Torah and synagogues, and we would like to return to visit the place where many of us were born. Open up your heart and make this the start of a worldwide historical process."

The harm to Libyan Jewry began with the legislation of race laws in Italy in 1938, which applied in Libya as well. During World War II, pogroms against Jews were held. Some claim the attitude toward Jews deteriorated when Mussolini learned that representatives of the Jewish community in Benghazi expressed happiness over the entry of Jewish soldiers into Libya along with the British army. In 1942 the Italians deported the Jews of Cyrenaica to the Jado detention camp in the Jebel Mountains. Men of working age were recruited for forced labor. Yad Hashem estimates that of the 30,000 Jews, 712 perished Hy"d.

Many Libyan Jews fled the country following harsh attacks after the founding of the State of Israel. A large number of them immigrated to Italy, forming a considerable part of the Jewish community there. In Rome a special synagogue was built for Jews from Libya.

Libyan Jewry was among the largest and most ancient Jewish communities in Africa (existing relics demonstrate the presence of the community from the period of Shlomo Hamelech), and lived mostly in the capital city of Tripoli. Another concentration of Jews lived in the interior region, near the Sahara Desert, where they dwelled in separate neighborhoods in caves, where it was possible to keep mitzvas. During the course of history many peoples — the Romans, the Spanish, the Turks, etc. — passed through the lands of North Africa during their journeys of occupation. The Jews living in the coastal cities of Tripoli, Benghazi and Cyrenaica suffered killings and exiles, yet they survived under difficult conditions and preserved their uniqueness. Most of the Jews left the country between 1948 and 1953, and in 1958 a law was enacted decreeing the Jewish community would cease to exist.


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