November 29, 1947 was a momentous day in the land of Israel. For the first time in more than two thousand years, the country would once again become an independent state. For many, it was seen as the start of the redemption of the Jewish people from the Exile. Spontaneous celebrations erupted throughout the country.
However, for the Jewish community living in the British protectorate of Aden, a port city in Southern Arabia, now part of Yemen, happiness was short-lived and would soon turn to horror. Three days after the UN General Assembly voted for the establishment of the State of Israel, there was an outbreak of violent rioting by the local Arab population. The Jewish community was their main target, and over the course of three days the rioters left a trail of murder and wanton destruction in their wake.
In the preceding days, the tension within the community was high as news spread that the Arabs were planning three days of rallies and demonstrations to protest the UN vote. The youth of the community led by Yitzhak Shor, head of the Hechalutz Hatzair Zionist youth movement, together with Ovadiah Tuvia, an emissary sent from Eretz Israel, organized protection for the Jewish quarter. Their defense basically consisted of stones and homemade Molotov cocktails to throw at any rioters that might try to attack their homes.
On December 2, 1947, the first day of the disturbances, they were mainly successful in defending the Jewish quarter. Then, on the second day of rioting, the British dispatched soldiers to “protect” the Jews. They sent in the APL (Aden Protectorate Levies) a British-trained Bedouin legion.
Instead of protecting them, however, they directed their rifles against the Jewish community and shot them as they ran through the streets and even while they sheltered in their own homes. There are harrowing first-hand accounts, such as that of a thirteen-year-old girl whose father was hit by a sniper in front of her eyes as the family stood on the roof looking for a sanctuary in the quarter below.
One teenage girl who attempted to go up onto the flat roof to dismantle their succah, worried it might catch fire and set the whole house alight, was narrowly saved by her neighbor, a slightly older teenage boy, who told her he would go up in her stead. Unfortunately, as he pushed ahead of her on the stairs and emerged out of the door, he was caught by a bullet and killed outright.
Another father was shot as he looked out of the window of his home. A soldier positioned on the street outside turned and spotted him, aimed his rifle directly at him – and fired.
The mobs were emboldened by the actions of the APL and the terror intensified, a bloodlust kindled by hate and opportunity. They went on the rampage with knives and set fire to homes and schools. Synagogues were burned, Jewish owned shops were looted and wrecked. Everyone and everything belonging to the community was a target.
The riots also spread to Sheikh Othman, a region in the nearby countryside where the community had a little retreat with several holiday homes. Some had fled to the area, hoping they might find refuge.
Numerous Yemenite Jewish refugees who were trapped in Aden while they waited for permission to emigrate to Israel were caught up in the violence too. Several lost their lives.
On the third day, the killing, injuries and burning of homes continued unabated. Only sometime after midday did the commanders of the British Army intervene and send in Marines, who were moored at the port, to quell the riots.
The results of the three days of terror were dreadful. Eighty-seven Jews, members of the local Adeni community and Jewish refugees from Yemen, had been slaughtered or burned to death. The count included children, women, and the elderly. Nobody was given quarter. Over 70 more were seriously injured. The two Jewish schools, several synagogues and many homes had been destroyed; almost every single Jewish-owned shop had been looted and some burned down.
After more than a thousand years of living in Aden, the Jewish community understood their time there was coming to an end. Following the pogrom there was a mass emigration and at least 3,000 members moved to Israel. Approximately 1,000 Jewish people remained but knew they were on borrowed time. In 1967 – exactly fifty years ago – the British Protectorate ended and, sadly, so did the Jewish presence in Aden. The last remaining members moved either to Israel or joined the fledgling Adeni Jewish community in London. And although not a single Jew remains in Aden today, the community, both in Israel and the UK, continues to thrive and retain its unique traditions.
On Sunday, December 10, 2017 there will be a special memorial evening to mark 70 years since the pogrom in Aden, and to honor and remember the 87 victims who perished during those dark days. Members of the public are welcome to join us. The event will take place at the Aden Jewish Heritage Museum at Kol Yehudah Synagogue 5 Rechov Lilienblum, Tel Aviv. It will begin at 3:30 pm with a tour of the museum where you can learn more about the vibrant history of the Adeni community. This will be followed by a memorial service with lectures and first-hand testimonies from survivors (in Hebrew).
More information is available on the Aden Jewish Heritage Museum Facebook page.