Tales from Sudan: 'I am a Jew and I need to leave this country'

30 Nov 2015 Facebook Created with Sketch. Twitter Created with Sketch. Email Print
Tales from Sudan: 'I am a Jew and I need to leave this country'

In 1967, immediately after the Six Day War, the Arab League Summit convened in Sudan to issue the Khartoum Resolution, declaring that there would be “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 1,000-strong 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 the entire Jewish community had to leave Sudan under false pretense, fabricating holidays or business trips and leaving all of their belongings to sympathetic friends or neighbors.  They settled in Israel, America (where immigration quotas meant they could easily attain 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. 

As Israel marks November 30, the day designated by Knesset to commemorate the lost communities of almost one million Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, here are a few personal stories told by members of the Jewish community in Sudan who left the country more out of necessity than by choice. Special thanks to Daisy Abboudi, author of Tales of Jewish Sudan, for compiling these testimonies.

Click here for more testimonies at Tales from Jewish Sudan

“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 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 lost it all.”

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