Saturday, June 25, 2011

The History of Libyan Jewry

The BEN SHAIF SYNAGOGUE in Zliten / Libya. The picture was taken before the Second World War. 


Already in the year 323 before the Common Era, there were Jews living in Libya. In fact, the Roman Emperor Augustus granted the Jews settling in Cyrene / Libya special privileges. And, as you will notice easily, this happened long before Muhammad had his vision and founded Islam. Or in other words: Long before Islam came into existence, Jews were living in Libya !

Once a prosperous community, the 20th century turned out to be a disaster for Libyan Jewry and today, we don’t find any Jews left in Ghadaffi Land. On 5th November 1945, a pogrom took place in Libya’s capital Tripoli where 140 Jews were killed. Background: In 1911, Italy had occupied the North African country. In 1931, Four percent of the total population were Jewish. Then the country had 550,000 citizens from whom 21,000 were Jews.

By the end of the 1930ies, the anti – semitic Benito Mussolini announced new decrees making the lives of the Libyan Jews miserable. In 1942, the German Nazi Wehrmacht Army occupied the country and those who believe that Hitler was only killing Ashkenazi – European Jewry should study the history of the Jews of North Africa. As soon as the Wehrmacht started its war in North Africa, the soldiers immediately arrested many Jews and sent them into labour or concentration camps. A sad part of the history of North African Jewry and, unfortunately, not too many people have been investigating the history.

A photo from a long forgotten past: Jews in Libya

In June 1948, more Arabs started rioting against the Jewish population and killed 12 of them. Furthermore, they destroyed 250 Jewish houses. The Jews started leaving Libya and many moved to Israel after the foundation of the state. In 1969, the Dictator Ghadaffi came to power and confiscated all Jewish property. He also decreed that Arabs don’t need to pay back their debts to the Jews anymore.

The last Jew in Libya died in 2002.


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