Gisèle Littman, aka Bat Ye'or ("Daughter of the Nile"), the nom-de-plume attached to her famous book Eurabia (2005) and other works, has given a fascinating interview on the subject of growing up Jewish in Egypt.
Of the situation of Egyptian Jewry in the immediate wake of the Suez Crisis of 1956, she recalls:
"The anti-Jewish apartheid system deepened. Jews were expelled from clubs, forbidden to go to restaurants, cinemas and public places. Many were immediately expelled from the country or thrown into jail. The secret police would come at night to arrest them. Others, like my mother, were under house arrest and their bank assets frozen. Their telephones were suppressed. Many Jews were isolated and could not communicate. Many left the country immediately, abandoning everything. I remember seeing their flats and beautiful villas ransacked. Each one was leaving in secret, fearing to be prevented from leaving their country which had become a jail.
Just before my mother was put under house arrest, I accompanied her to the bank where she quickly withdrew her jewels. We sold our flat for nothing since the pillage of Jewish homes had lowered prices. I choose twenty books among the hundreds we had and we sold all the rest. This was heart-breaking, as I always wanted to be a writer. I had accumulated many diaries since an early age, and later essays and literary criticisms. I realized that I was witnessing the agony of the Egyptian Jewish community and I made notes for a book. One night I burnt them all in the chimney. It was like dying. I knew we could only leave with two cases each and that the censors would read every piece of paper.
Families were dispersed in all directions. One sister went to London with her husband and child, another planned to go to Belgium, cousins went to Brazil, others went to Switzerland and France. As people were leaving secretly, I never knew whether I would be seeing them for the last time. I was living through the death of a world, not knowing if I would survive the next day. While the mob rejoiced in pillaging, I observed closely the inner destruction of family, friendships, bonds, society and the dignity and resolve of the victims.
By then, I had very few friends remaining. For me they belonged to a beloved and disappearing world that was dying with a part of my life, where everything being so transient also became so precious. In the last months preceding our departure, I walked alone throughout Cairo and Alexandria, their old quarters, their museums and every place that now was deserted of friends and family. For years I was fascinated by Egyptology, art and history. I knew I would never see these treasures again.
We left at night in secret. My father and mother could hardly walk. Thanks to a lawyer my father had at last sold a parcel of land. The proceeds from this sale, together with my mother’s jewels were sent out of the country through a clandestine channel. The Swiss consulate gave us a Nansen passport since Egyptian Jews were allowed to leave Egypt only on condition that they renounce their nationality and all their belongings in Egypt and never come back. We all signed such a declaration.
We had reservations on a KLM flight. We were kept at the airport for hours, our bodies searched, our cases emptied on the floor, insulted, humiliated and threatened by an Egyptian Sudanese officer who was cracking a whip (curbash) around us. My meager twenty Egyptian pounds were confiscated. Finally, they let us depart. We stopped at Amsterdam where my other sister came from Belgium, with her husband and baby to see us and tell us that money and jewels were safely deposited in a bank.
It was strange to see them in an Amsterdam hotel. We were now refugees, homeless, stateless, in a world where we knew no one. We were full of apprehension on the threshold of a new life, where we would destroy our past to build the future. It was my first night in exile."
Read more here.
And on the subject of those forgotten refugees, Jewish fugitives from Arab lands, see Michelle Huberman's new piece here.