Ceremony Serves as History Lesson
focuses on fate of Sephardic Jews during World War II
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
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
from a variety of sources, including the book "Banking
on Baghdad" by the journalist Edmund Black, Alfassa
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.