Remembering a Terrible Pogrom in Yemen, 69 Years Later

December 2, 2016 | Ofer Aderet
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When the UN, on November 29, 1947, voted in favor of the partition of Palestine, the Jews in the British-controlled Yemenite city of Aden cheered. But then, 69 years ago today, the local Muslims viciously set upon their Jewish neighbors, leaving 87 dead and many more wounded. Ofer Aderet describes the events. (Free registration may be required.)

The rioting began on December 2, 1947 and lasted three days. “On the night of December 2, the Arabs started to burn Jews’ cars in the streets,” Shimon Sasson [who was fifteen-years-old at the time], recalled. “The next day they invaded our neighborhood. The streets were totally empty. We threw bottles at them.”

A day later Arabs started to torch Jewish stores, businesses, and homes. “A few families fled their homes and ran to our house, which was in the middle of the neighborhood. I opened the door and took in five families,” whose names he still remembers.

The Jewish leaders asked the British for help. In response, they sent a unit of Bedouin policemen under British command. “That’s when the disaster started,” [the Jewish Agency representative in Aden, Ovadiah] Tuvia wrote [in a report to his superiors]. “The hooligans started to loot Jewish stores. The policemen stood aside and smiled. Another minute and you could see them assisting in the looting and pillaging.”

The British declared a curfew. “I didn’t know what a curfew was, so I went up on the roof to see what was happening in the street. I saw a soldier there with a rifle. I ducked and he shot at me.” The bullet didn’t hit him, but hit a fifteen-year-old girl who had found refuge in his house. “The bullet hit her in the head. She died on the spot,” he said. “There was great turmoil in the house.” They had to wait three days until they could put the body out for burial in a collective grave.

“Any Jew who called out for help or who went up to the roof to put out the fires in his house or to escape it was greeted with a hail of bullets,” wrote Tuvia.

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