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North African Holocaust survivors denied restitution by Israel


On April 18, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israel's Public Committee for the Integration of Eastern Jews called attention to the fact that North African Jews who survived the Holocaust remain unrecognized by the State of Israel and are ineligible for compensation. "On this Remembrance Day, we are calling on the government to address a historical injustice and immediately provide compensation to survivors who immigrated from North Africa after 1953," the committee's Dr. Miriam Gez-Avigal told the Jerusalem Post. She estimates there are 2,000 survivors from Tunisia and a few thousand more from other North African countries now living in Israel—denied restitution, and many living in poverty.

"There is no reason that people who were persecuted by the Nazis and who suffered during the war should live out the last years of their lives destitute and without dignity because of unjust and unreasonable legislation," Gez-Avigal added.

Most of North Africa was under Axis control in World War II, and thousands of Mizrahi Jews were deported from the Maghreb to Nazi concentration camps in Europe. After the war, left stateless and propertyless, they mostly sough to make aliya, as thousands of European Jews did. But the Jewish Agency, favoring  Ashkenazim (European Jews) for immigration, set bureaucratic obstacles to their arrival. Due to this policy, they were not allowed to emigrate until the mid-1950s. But under a 1957, Jews who arrived after 1953 are barred from receiving compensation.

Under later amendments, those who survived the death camps became eligible for compensation no matter when they arrived. But thousands of North African Jews who were deported and had their property confiscated still remain ineligible.

"We have been recognized by the German government and the French government, the money is there but the Treasury has refused to release it because the law does not recognize those that came after 1953," Gez-Avigal said, adding that the living situations faced by these dwindling survivors deteriorate daily.

To put this in perspective, it is instructive to mote that even many survivors who do receive compensation are struggling economically. The Guardian on April 19 features a poignant video interview with Ros Dayan, a survivor from Bulgaria who now lives in Israel. With the cost of living rapidly rising, she says she doesn't have money for clothes or food. "Ros is one of a growing proportion of Holocaust survivors in Israel who cannot make ends meet," The Guardian writes.

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