Photos: The unknown story of Yemen's Jews
Few are familiar with the immigration story of 4,267 Yemeni Jews to the Land of Israel during World War II. Shlomo Yefet, a teacher at the Adan community, was recruited to help and documented life in the immigration camps; he later immigrated to Israel himself
Those were the days of World War II, when immigration permits (certificates) were not given out to Europe's Jews. Jewish Agency representatives and other Israeli officials urged Yemen's Jews to immigrate to Israel, in an effort to realize the allocation of immigration permits promised in the 1939 White Paper and bring as many Jews as possible to Israel.
Simultaneously, these elements appealed to the Yemeni imam, who accepted the appeal due to the hunger and distress which prevailed in Yemen at the time following drought years, and allowed the Jews to leave. Thousands of Jews began crossing the border towards Adan, a colony under British rule in southern Yemen.
The Jews were assembled and lodged in a desert camp near the village of Fayush, a camp which was built during the war to hold prisoners. Another refugee camp – Mehzabin, was located 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) away.
Fayush and Mehzabin were run by a British crew hired by the Adan government. Later, a doctor and three nurses were sent to the camps from Israel in a bid to ease the harsh conditions.
Shlomo Yefet's story
Shlomo Yefet was born in Adan in 1921. In 1943, while he served as a teacher in Adan's Jewish community, he was asked by the community heads to help care for the refugees who had arrived from Yemen exhausted and poor. Yefet accepted the request immediately and helped manager the camp's storeroom and hand out food to the immigrants.
A laboratory and a clinic were built in the camp to treat immigrants suffering from malnutrition and diseases. The camp was run by Dr. David Ullman, who was assisted by a local crew and delegates from the Land of Israel: Nurses Tzipora Friedman-Makov, Rachel Mashat and Yehudit Capra.
In 1944, Shlomo received the longed for certificate and also arrived in Israel as an immigrant in a long journey which crossed sea and land, through Sudan, Suez, Ein Moussa, Sinai and the final destination – the "Shaar Ha'aliyah" camp near Haifa. In Israel, Shlomo volunteered in the Etzel national military organization and joined the Israel Defense Forces upon the State of Israel's establishment.
In 1950, Shlomo was asked by representatives of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Israel to return to Adan and help bring the thousands of immigrants overfilling the Hashad camp on their way to Israel. The experienced Shlomo arrived at the camp and helped – this time as a delegate of the Joint.
During his stays at the immigration camps, Shlomo held a simple camera and documented the camp life. He photographed the immigrants at the camps – men, women and newborn babies – as well as the local aid force, the delegates, doctors, nurses and laboratory workers. I received his photos from his daughter, Gila Shema.
In honor of Israel's 60th anniversary, we present a small selection from the photo collection. We do not know the names of most of the people seen in the photos, so we would appreciate our readers' help in identifying them.
1. Dr. Ullman, the camp supervisor, at the entrance to an absorption hut, Fayush camp, 1943
2. Three young immigrants from Habban, Fayush
3. Mother and daughter in Fayush camp
4. Group of Jews from Habban move into camp
5. Dr. Lapidot greets group of Jews from Habban, Hashad camp
6. Dr. Lapidot with a group of Jews from Habban, Hashas camp
7. Immigrants in traditional clothing, Hashad camp
8. Dr. Lapidot and his assistant with an immigrant child, Hashad camp
9. Nurse Shula taking care of a baby, Hashad camp
10. Medical caretakers from Israel with children at the clinic, Hashad camp
11. The doctor with nurses Shula and Sarah and babies, Hashad camp
12. Team of medical caretakers, Hashad camp
13. Getting on the plane in Aden, accompanied by a Jewish Agency representative
14. Shlomo Yefet in Israel, delivering sensitive news in his cast as part of the Etzel
- For all trips to the past – click here