By; Jose Salmona (Paris, France)
When speaking of Jews from Egypt, most people relate to the largest communities of Cairo and Alexandria, very little is known about Port-Said’s. Although it numbered about 600 persons, it witnessed some important events which occurred before and after World War II.
Being at the entrance of the Suez canal, thus connecting East and West, Port-Said played a certain role during this period which came to an end for its Jews with the Sinai campaign in 1956.
I will relate to you an event which is very little known nowadays except from historians and few witnesses still alive. This episode is connected with the flight of German Jews from Germany in 1938/39.
As you may be aware, when the Third Reich established its racial laws in 1933 there were about 525,000 Jews in Germany. of these about 300,000 emigrated safely during the years 1933-38.
With time running on and persecutions worsening, possibilities of obtaining entry visas, mainly for North and South America became more and more difficult.
The situation reached its climax with the events of November 9th, 1938 known as "CRYSTAL NIGHT" and the remaining Jews desperately trapped. the only place where they could emigrate was Shanghai, a forlorn town in east Asia, where no visa was required, with no other choice, Jews decided for SHANGHAI. According to some estimates 20,000 to 25,000 Jews from Germany, Austria, Baltic countries succeeded in finding shelter in Shanghai.
Some German and Austrian Jews chose to cross Italy in order to embark on ships sailing to the Far East. At the time, "LLOYD TRIESTINO" which was the largest Italian company had a regular line of steamers sailing to the Far East and its ships were renowned for their luxury and speed. Many may have heard of liners like "Conte Rosso" the "Conte Verde" the "Conte de la Biancamaro" which were the most modern ships.
Quite a number of Jewish refugees were able to obtain passage tickets on these ships, either on their own means or through Jewish American organizations thus buying their salvation.
These liners had to cross the Suez canal and usually stopped for a few hours in Port-Said for stevedoring. All passengers-tourist, businessmen and even the "refugees" were allowed to disembark. All the town shops and many Jewish owned sold clothes cameras jewels, perfumes, etc.. and remained open all night until the departures of ships in the early morning hours.
Once it was known that a flux of immigrants were passing through Port-Said, an organization was set up to welcome them. A local feminine relief group called "Union Feminine Israelite", who used to care for the needy families, in association with other organizations from Cairo and Alexandria organized their reception. An apartment was hired near the harbor and a well stocked wardrobe set up. The refugees were provided with simple medicine, and toys and sweets for the children.
This action lasted for a few months and during this period, a few hundred men, women , and children enjoyed the help and warmth of the Union Ladies. Often these were helped by their husbands until the early hours of the morning. Among this group some were fluent in German, thus facilitating the approach.
Although I would like to pay a tribute to all these women and men who were associated with the operation, I take the liberty of mentioning some of them, Mrs. TAUBE and LISETTE BENDERLY, REBECCA COHEN, SOL GATTEGNO, DEBORAH GOUREVITCH, MOUCHLY, BERTHE ROSENTHAL, JULIA AND BERTHE SALMONA, ELEONORE STEPANSKY, CECIL TURKEL, etc.. the more so that they all have passed away now and their daughters and sons may be scattered away in Israel, U.S.A Europe and Australia.