Ceremony Serves as History Lesson
focuses on fate of Sephardic Jews during World War
April 30, 2007
LESLIE PALMA-SIMONCEK / ADVANCE STAFF WRITER
ISLAND, N.Y. -- A Holocaust memorial service
last night at the Joan and Alan Jewish Community
Center in Sea View served as a history lesson for
some of the more than 100 people in the audience.
annual commemoration -- postponed from April 15
by the nor'easter that roared through -- this year
focused on Sephardic Jews and their experiences
during the Nazi bloodletting. Sephardic Jews are
those who were expelled from Spain and Portugal
in 1492 and dispersed to North Africa and throughout
the Middle East.
the entire Jewish world has heard of 'Kristallnacht,'"
said keynote speaker Shelomo Alfassa of a night
of anti-Jewish violence in Germany in November 1938
that presaged the Holocaust, "few have heard
of the 'Farhud,' where Arabs who were Nazi sympathizers
in Baghdad killed, maimed and committed numerous
atrocities against the Jewish community," in
June 1941, during the holiday of Shavuot.
180 Jews were killed in two days, and 240 wounded.
Ninety-nine Jewish homes and 586 Jewish-owned businesses
were destroyed, said Alfassa, founder of the International
Sephardic Leadership Council.
said the fixation on the idea that the Holocaust
was a catastrophe for European Jewry was so entrenched,
that it wasn't until last year, through lobbying
efforts by himself and others, that the U.S. Holocaust
Museum in Washington, D.C., included the program
in its exhibits.
Farhud was just one example of the suffering of
the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa during
the Holocaust, Alfassa said.
said the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini,
an influential leader throughout the Arab world
who was unhappy about the increasing Jewish settlement
in Palestine, allied himself with Hitler and used
Arabic-language radio broadcasts relayed from Berlin
to incite Arabs to kill Jews.
"final solution" for the Jews also targeted
the Jews of North Africa, Alfassa said. Jews in
Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya were denied
rights granted to them during colonial rule, were
place under economic restrictions and many were
sent to forced labor camps. The 1,000-year-old Great
Synagogue in Tunis was taken over by the Nazis and
used as a horse stable. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust
memorial in Israel, has documented 17 slave labor
camps in North Africa.
Hitler's Third Reich was defeated, Alfassa said,
"we burned the Nazis books but we didn't stop
the paradigm that was created during the Nazi time:
Virulent hatred of the Jews, handed from the Nazis
to the Arabs." Seventeen-year-old Esther Ribori,
a Port Richmond High School senior who chosen to
read the pledge for her generation to never forget
the Holocaust, said Alfassa's message made it "more
important than ever" to remember.
Sephardic Jew with roots in India, Emmy Smith of
Port Richmond said her mother always told her how
safe Jews were there.
were always proud of that," Ms. Smith said.
"We really did think it didn't touch us. But
it did. It touched all Jews."
Palma-Simoncek is the religion editor for the Advance.