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Benghazi-Bergen-Belsen Paperback – July 8, 2016
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The novel'sgreatness is in the autonomous position it grants not only to the Holocaust ofthe Mizrahi Jews, but also to the past life in the country of origin.
- Dr.Hanna Hertzig, "Haaretz Books"
A work that isboth a linguistic and social event... The return to the stark naked reality ofBergen-Belsen, to the precise and poisoned moment in which the stripping of theidentity occurs, the testimony's attempt to deliver the identity, is at theheart of the book's brilliance.
- ProfessorHaviva Pedaya, "HaOkets"
The best andmost important book written in the past year.
- NissimKatz, "Yekum Tarbut"
Sucary's poetictalent and psychological profundity create a stirring and persuasivenovel.
- TsurErlich, "Maariv"
- RinoTzror, Galei Tzahal
From the Author
THEJEWISH CHRONICLE ONLINE | Interview: Yossi Sucary
OnYom Hashoah, Yossi Sucary watched with pride as two Libyan Holocaust survivorsjoined the ceremony at the Israeli presidential complex. It was a marked changefrom his childhood, when teachers would tell him he'd "made up" hisBenghazi-born mother's experiences at the hands of the Nazis.
"Itold my teacher that my mother and grandmother had told me their horriblestories about the Nazis in Libya," recalls Sucary, an Israeli author,academic and board member of the social justice organisation, the New IsraelFund. "She said "you're mistaken. Only the European Jews were in theHolocaust.' "
InIsrael, the Holocaust is almost always front of mind. Yet for decades, explainsSucary, whose novel Benghazi - Bergen-Belsen has just been published on Amazon,almost nothing was said publicly about the experiences of the Jews of Benghazi,Tripoli and beyond after the Nazis occupied Libya in 1942.
"Theysuffered from the Holocaust in the most brutal way, like their brothers inEurope, but people didn't know about it in Israel," says Sucary, shakinghis head. "We call it the unspoken Holocaust."
Evennow, the story of the Libyan Jews during the Holocaust remains in the shadows.What's known is that after seizing the country, the Nazis created at least threeconcentration camps: Jado, Gharyan and Said al Aziz, where many died fromdisease or starvation alongside Nazi brutality. Jews were also transferredthrough Italy to Belsen and Birenbach Reiss. Many of the latter group, Sucary'sgrandparents included, were upper class Libyans who, by virtue of having workedin Egypt, held British passports. "The Nazis planned to make prisonersubstitutions," he explains.
Unlikein Europe, the Nazis did not keep meticulous records and the number of victimsis the subject of ongoing debate. Sucary puts it in the thousands, but is clearthat "every one of the 50,000 Libyan Jews suffered one way or another fromthe Nazi occupation... every family suffered from someone who was killed, woundedor collapsed."
Afterliberation, survivors were sent back to Libya. Vast numbers of Libyan Jewsjoined other Mizrachi communities and emigrated to Israel, where Sucary wasborn in 1959. Growing up hearing his mother wake from nightmares in which shewould cry "the Nazis are coming", in Arabic and Italian, Sucaryalways knew this story needed to be told.
Whenhis novel was published in Israel in 2014, it won critical praise - Sucaryreceived the prestigious Brenner Prize for Hebrew Literature -- and sentshockwaves around the intelligentsia, most of whom knew nothing about what hadhappened. A few historians had written about it, he says, but people didn't payattention. "Literature can encourage history to speak and that's whathappened. Now everybody knows about this story."
Thenovel tells of Silvana, a young woman who watches her community crumble anddisplays leadership in the face of this crisis. It is not his mother's story -she was just 10 when the Nazis arrived - but is inspired by it. Sucary's familywere wealthy - his grandfather a successful merchant importing buildingmaterial from Italy to North Africa - and had flourished in then-cosmopolitanBenghazi. "They lived a very good life and had relatively goodrelationships with the Arabs."
Whilethey survived, his mother's eight-year-old cousin was shot at close range, andother relatives perished. Beyond the atrocities, Sucary is struck by how thosetaken to German concentration camps survived against the odds; speaking Arabicnot Yiddish, used to warmer climates.
"Thinkabout the difference in the weather," he says. "They came from theSahara - they didn't even know what snow was."
Sucary'sbook is now on the Israeli education curriculum; he is hopeful futuregenerations will know what happened to Libya's Jews. But why did it take 70years?
"Ignorancecombined, I'm sorry to say, with a bit of racism,' he says. "AshkenaziIsraelis related to people from north Africa as people from an inferior culture."
Thediscrimination experienced by Mizrachi communities after independence, in areassuch as housing or education, is no secret in Israel. Even now, says Sucary,the contrasts with the Ashkenazim are stark and origins still define people'spaths; he points to poor representation of Mizrachim in politics, on theSupreme Court, in academia and in the media. "There is progress, mainly inthe arts, but not in the places that control the country,' he says. "Notin the places that establish the future of Israel."
Butthe father of four Ashkenazi children has little time for those who wish tocomplain about the past. His focus is on the future, and working with NIF andother organisations to invest in education and opportunities for Israel'smarginalised groups. NIF projects include working to challenge discriminationagainst Mizrachim in the Charedi education system, and ensuring Mizrachim get abetter deal in terms of municipal housing.
"Educationis the key word," says Sucary. "We have to support communities thathave been left behind. There are people who are so talented but they don't havethe opportunities that people in the centre of Israel have."
Now,he says, Israeli society is "ill". "We have to create a societythat is based on social justice for all segments, Jewish, Mizrachi Jews,Israeli Arabs, Ethiopians. It's in all of our interests. You cannot fight forone repressed segment and neglect the other. If you want to fix the Mizrachisituation you must support the situation of women, the gay community, and ofcourse the Arabs."
Thealienation felt by the Mizrachi Israelis, he contends, is one reason they backright-wing parties even when it's against their economic interests. "Forthem the establishment is the left", as it was in the early years ofIsrael. He suggests the right also better understands the religioustraditionalism of the community. "It's not just about financial interests,it's about identity. The left only bring universal values."
Hedraws a similarity between Israeli voting patterns and the EU referendum,saying he was not surprised by the result. "It was like revenge from thepoor people. They didn't feel the benefits of economic prosperity. It didn'ttrickle down," he posits. "It's like with the Palestinians, if theydon't enjoy from the fruits of peace they will not support the peace process.If people feel the country is taking care of them and they are given the sameopportunities, I believe peace will be established."
Heis hopeful about the chances of peace - "only 70 years ago the British andGerman were in an awful war, now there is peace, there can be in the MiddleEast as well" - and would like to see Mizrachim in the negotiations."I am absolutely sure that if Israel's leadership consisted of moreMizrachim we would have more chance of peace, because we are the same,Mizrachim and Arabs."
Despitethis optimism, he holds no hope of going to Libya and seeing the family home."I would love to," he says simply. "It's one of my dreams. But Icannot go."
Instead,his mission is to right an historic injustice and share the story of the LibyanJews. "The Mizrachi community sees this book as fixing the telling of thehistory, he says. "I want everybody in the world to know that Jews fromNorth Africa suffered from the Nazis as well."
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The holocaust has always been told in Israel as an Ashkenazi story - the story of destruction of Jewish communities across Europe. The destruction of jewish communities in Arab counties was never a part of the common Israel holocaust narrative. At best, it was mentioned as a footnote in the formal educational material.
When "Benghazi - Bergen-Belsen" was published in Hebrew in 2013, it marked an important development in the evolution of the Israeli holocaust narrative.
Based on meticulous research of lost documents and interviews with survivors - the book tells the story of the prosperous and cosmopolitan Jewish community of Libya pre-WW2, and its complete destruction during the war.
The story is told through the personal journey of Silvana, an intelligent, ambitious and attractive young woman Silvana has been brought up in an affluent Jewish family of prominence in the cosmopolitan city of Benghazi.
As Nazi forces march into Benghazi, Silvana's house is destroyed, members of her family are murdered, and she begins a horrific journey across Europe, finally arriving at the notorious Bergen-Belzen concentration camp - to face imminent death.
The story of Silvana and her struggle and resilience in the face of unspeakable atrocities, and the formation of her identity as a young adult, and her eventual rescue, are based on a true story of the author's grandmother, who immigrated to Israel after the war and started a new chapter in her life.
Her personal story, along with the story her community, were never given a voice in the holocaust narrative of the young country of Israel.
Benghazi - Bergen-Belsen provides a belated recognition of the glorious history of the Jewish community of Benghazi, and its suffering and sacrifice during the holocaust.
Rightfully, Benghazi-Bergen-Belzen has been critically acclaimed and became part of the formal holocaust literature taught in Israel high schools.
In September 1943, Italy fell to German control, and in October Jewish men were sent from Arzo camp, east of Siena, to forced labor. Between February and May 1944, the expellees from Tripoli and some from Benghazi were sent to Bergen-Belsen camp, while most of the Benghazi expellees were sent to Innsbruck-Reichenau camp. The food supply in Bergen Belsen was terrible, working conditions were very hard and prisoners were abused and harassed by SS soldiers.
A good read for those who are looking for the unique angles of this story.