This post, in conjunction with the World Jewish Congress, is a little bit different. November 30th has been designated by the Knesset as a day to commemorate the lost communities of almost one million Jews that hail from the Middle East and North Africa. This post will bring together some accounts from members of the Jewish Community in Sudan who left Sudan more out of necessity than choice.
In 1967, immediately after the Six Day War, the Arab League Summit convened in Sudan to issue the Khartoum Resolution, stating “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it”. In spite of this, the Sudanese government never formally expelled or evicted its Jews. The community was a financial asset, with many of its members owning large wholesale businesses. This meant that by 1967 it was extremely difficult for Jews to get an exit visa or transfer any assets out of the country.
Nearly all of the Jewish community had to leave Sudan under false pretence, fabricating holidays or business trips and leaving all of their belongings to sympathetic friends or neighbours. They settled in Israel, America (where immigration quotas meant they could easily achieve citizenship), England (via other African colonies) and Switzerland.
In 1977 some remains were moved from the Jewish cemetery in Khartoum to Jerusalem, although many more remain in terrible condition in Sudan. A short video of the site can be found on YouTube here.
"I left Sudan in 1949 when Israel was erected as a new state. My father was an unsuccessful merchant, he had a store in Khartoum but he didn’t do very well. You know I had to quit school when I was 14 years old to go and work. We were just managing. In 1949 my father was almost bankrupt and things weren’t so good. So we had a cousin who was doing well, he helped a lot of Jews. He told us,
‘You have no future here in Sudan. I will buy you the tickets, I will put you in the aeroplane - go to Israel. New state, new everything, see what you can do there’.
So that was it. We left Sudan and we went to Israel. It was a hard time there, much harder than in Sudan. In Sudan we had all sorts of food, in Israel there was no food. For instance, eggs and bananas only for the kids. If you didn’t have a kid with you they won’t sell you an egg. In Sudan the only thing we didn’t have is money.
So, in Israel we went to live in the Ma’abarah. All tents there. There was one time I never forget, I went to shower and I put soap all over, and then the water stopped. So I come out of the shower soap in my eyes, everywhere and I was so mad,
‘Why did we come here? It would have been better to stay in Sudan!’
Two years after that I joined the Army. It was tough, for sure it was tough."
"I had just finished my O-Levels in the summer of 1967, I was 16 and we went for a holiday with my family to England, only my older brother he stayed in Sudan to work in the shop. We went for a holiday but then because of the 1967 war with Israel we couldn't go back. My brother that stayed, he was 21 and he wanted papers to leave the country. But they wouldn’t give him, they put him in prison overnight to interrogate him. And not just him, all the young Jewish men. They took them to interrogate them in the prison. After one night they saw he has nothing, and they let him out. But then he wanted to leave the country! And he couldn’t. No papers he can’t go. So he went from one Embassy to another, to another. No-one will give him, only the Swiss. He finally came to the Swiss Ambassador and he came to him and he said,
‘Can you help? I need to go. I am a Jew and I need to leave this country.’
The Ambassador said,
‘I know the problem, I will do something for you’.
He gave him the papers, and he went out of that country to Geneva as a refugee.
But what about us? We were still in England, we asked them to give us asylum they said no. Canada? ‘No’. South Africa? They said that we are born in Sudan we might be black and so,
‘No’. Nobody. My father even had a small heart attack in England after that. He left everything. The shop as it is, the house as it is. He had told my brother to give the keys of the shop to a man who was working with him there, a Nigerian man. All the stock he lost. And the house - everything in it - we gave to the woman who used to sell the eggs and the pigeons because we were friends with her and we used to eat at her place a lot. So, no asylum, we went to Israel. After a few months my mother decided she has to leave. She cannot stay there. So we went back to England to try again, they said no. So my brother was still in Geneva, he said come and join me here. We had to come on the train, because the train was much easier, they don’t check everything like on the plane. We came with the train and the boat, crossing Calais and all this. We arrived, my brother found us an apartment and they gave us asylum. But we slept on the floor all together for a few months. We didn’t have anything, my father almost lost it all."
"My father was the Rabbi in Sudan after Rabbi Malka died. He was Rabbi Elbaz, but around 1963 things began to change. That was when the instability really started. The Government was more unstable and the Jews started to leave. When they were going they all came to my father to ask for all kinds of certificates; that they are single, that they are Jewish, that they are married, that they are divorced! So that when they leave they will not have any problems. I was his Secretary and I was typing them all, typing away - my typewriter worked very hard! One of them told me that that piece of paper helped her a lot, because she wanted to marry a Cohen in Israel and she had to prove that she was not a divorcee for her wedding. Eventually in 1964 we left - we had to leave. The community told us in 1963 that they cannot pay my father any more. There was not enough of them and they couldn’t afford the salary. We stayed one and half more years without salary, but in the end it became too much and we had to go."