Israel Conference to Discuss North Africa and Middle East Testimonies

Wed, 03/23/2016 - 5:00pm








Jaqueline Gmach interviewing writer Naïm Kattan in Montreal


USC Shoah Foundation’s project to record testimonies of Jews who experienced persecution while living in the Middle East and Africa during the Holocaust will be a topic of discussion at the Jews of the Middle East in the Shadow of the Holocaust conference Jerusalem on April 5, 2016.

The conference, which is free and open to the public, aims to address Nazi influence in the Middle East during the Holocaust – a topic that is often neglected by historians studying World War II. It is hosted by the Documentation Center for North Africa Jewry During World War II at the Ben-Zvi Institute and the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem.

Jacqueline Semha Gmach will give a lecture on “Four Iraqi Jews’ Testimonies – Their Life Stories Prior, During and After World War II.”

Gmach, born in Tunisia during World War II, is a Holocaust educator and is serving as the Project Director of USC Shoah Foundation’s Testimonies from North Africa and the Middle East collection.

The collection documents testimonies from survivors and eye-witnesses who lived through the events of over 70 years ago in North Africa and the Middle East, and the destruction created there by Nazi occupiers or governments that were Nazi sympathizers. These experiences are crucial for understanding the global impact and scale of Nazi ideology and its' policies. After the war, many of these individuals experienced continued anti-Semitic persecution in their home countries and were forced to flee. 

So far, over a dozen testimonies have been recorded in France, Canada and the United States. The interviewees include respected scholars and authors such as Armand Abecassis, Andre Nahum, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and Albert Memmi. The goal is to record 50 testimonies for the project, and index and integrate them into the Visual History Archive.

The interviewees have all expressed thanks for being given the opportunity to record their testimonies and preserve the stories of the Jewish experience in North Africa and the Middle East during the Holocaust.

“It’s important for the testimonies of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East to be preserved because their experiences were not documented adequately,” said Ruth Pearl, mother of the late journalist Daniel Pearl. “It is urgent to do so now while we still have eyewitness testimonials.” Gmach interviewed Pearl about being a youth in Iraq during the Farhud, or pogrom, carried out against that nation’s Jews at the Nazis’ behest.

“I still long and wish for the day that people around the world will accept and cherish each other without any hate or prejudice,” said interviewee Steve Acre of Montreal. “I hope my story will be one in the chain of history of the Jewish people in Babylon to be remembered and not forgotten.”

“[The] interview was a remarkable experience recalling the past, painful past. We should all be aware of what happened in our past to avoid the mistakes of the past and look for a better future,” said interviewee Sami Sourani. “I am sure that this video may serve, one day, a revival of memory for many of us to think about humanity, the evil of living under despotic regime and how valuable and precious is freedom.”

Naïm Kattan, a Canadian novelist, critic and essayist of Iraqi Jewish descent, said he was moved by Gmach’s request that he give his personal testimony to USC Shoah Foundation’s collection. He believes all Jews of any origin should join in the “videotaping of history.”

“The videotaking by the USC Shoah Foundation of a very important number of Jewish testimonies on genocides and human tragedies is essential,” Kattan said. “It fulfills a strong need in education. Archives keep history alive.”