Pogrom in Libya during WWII, 140 Killed, 1945
On This Day in Jewish History: November 5-7, 1945.
On November 5, 1945, anti-Jewish riots broke out in Tripoli, Libya. Over the course of 3 days, more than 140 Jews were killed. The pogrom, however, did not happen overnight. In 1911, Libya became an Italian colony. Before the introduction of anti-Jewish laws, the Jewish community thrived in Libya. By 1939 there were over 30,000 Jews, most of which lived in Tripoli, constituting nearly one-quarter of the cities population.
Under Italy’s fascist regime, anti-Jewish “Race Protection Laws” began to be introduced in Libya in 1938 and were implemented in 1940. Jews who worked in the civil service lost their jobs, Jewish children were no longer able to attend Italian schools, marriages between Jews (non-Aryans) and non-Jews (Aryans) were outlawed and Jews were made to carry identification papers that indicated their “Jewish race.”
Between 1940-1943, the British fought the Italians and Germans over Libya and the country was tossed between the Axis and Allied parties numerous times. In 1942, German troops took over the Jewish quarter of Benghazi. Depending on their citizenship and where in Libya they lived, Jews were sent to hard labour camps and concentration camps, mainly in the Libyan desert, though some were sent to Bergen-Belsen in Europe.
When Libya returned to British hands on January 23, 1945, Jews and Muslims alike were optimistic. They soon became wary of the countries political future, dividing them. Several reports from the Jewish community report that on November 5, 1945, violence broke out simultaneously throughout the city of Tripoli. There is also evidence to suggest that the British instigated the violence for their own political gain. Just days before the riot broke out, Jewish defense groups in Tripoli had their weapons confiscated. When the riots broke out on November 5, Jewish leaders went to the Brits asking for intervention, but their request was ignored. The only help from the British was their imposing of a curfew.
During the riots, many of the aggressors shouted “jihad fil-kuffar,” or “war against the infidels.” Although there were several cases of Muslims offering shelter and help to Jews, the damage from the pogrom was horrific. Over 140 Jews were murdered, and hundreds more were injured by the end of the riot. In total, 9 synagogues were burned to the ground and 35 Torah scrolls were destroyed. Jews began to be ethnically cleansed from Libya shortly thereafter and faced several other pogroms including in 1948 and 1967. In 2003, the last known Jew in Libya, Rina Debach, left. No Jew has lived in Libya since.