? European Jews finding refuge in Afghanistan during WWII

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Home page History European Jews finding refuge in Afghanistan during WWII

European Jews finding refuge in Afghanistan during WWII

Afghanistan was under the influence of Germany from 1920 until 1941 when Britain and Russia took control of Iran and removed the Shah from power.

Early in 1933, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee sent 4,000 refugees from various rabbinical groups and who lived in Germany, Austria and Lithuania to Kobe, Japan, and Shanghai, China.

In 1943 efforts were made to send Jewish experts and doctors from Bulgaria, Romania, Germany and Turkey to Afghanistan en route to Israel. However, the British were not allowing Jewish immigrants to Israel.

About 150 Jews from Afghanistan, Iran and Bukhara were staying in France during WW II. With the help of the Afghan and Iranian embassies in France new I.D’s were issued which were called “Djougoutes/not Jewish”. Fortunately these Jews were saved from being sent to concentration camps.

During WWII a group of young Jews, Bunim Ben Shalom, Yitzhak Shapira, and four others from Wilna, Lithuania decided to travel to Israel.  Their first stop was Tashkent then to Samarkand and their final destination Afghanistan. They were arrested in Herat and were jailed in Kabul. Two Afghan Jews were also arrested: Samuel Shabtai and Samuel Yekutiel. The Jewish community led by Jacob Chalu eventually helped free them. The Jewish community led by Zvi Zinovich helped the four to travel to Israel and the two to the United States.

As told by Aba Naamat who also added that in his opinion about 150 European Jews lived in Afghanistan during WWII whom he met at the synagogue.

After WWII no Zionist activities were allowed in Afghanistan and the Jews were not allowed to immigrate. The government closed its borders and did not allow imports or exports. As the main source of income of the Afghani Jews was the imports and exports of dry food, carpets, and fur the Jewish population was stranded with no income. Many were liiving in Ghettos in Herat and Kabul and a few were homeless.

The Afghan Jews living in Israel formed a committee headed by Meir Chai Agajan, Avraham Yazdi, and Jacob Siman Tov. They sent a letter to the JDC (the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) asking for help and suggested that the JDC open an office in Kabul or in Peshawar where David Gad and Benjamin Khafi could locally administrate.

The local Jewish communities in Herat, Balkh and Kabul formed (Hevrah) committees to assist the needy, burials, representing the community with the authorities and also were responsible for the payment of taxes. At the same peiod 4,000 Jews emigrated from Afghanistan to Bombay and then moved to the newely form State of Israel.

The following are records showing the Afghan Jews aid during those difficult years: 

  • London: 1945, money for Passover to Israel from Shimon Gad, Shalom Yosefove, and Shimon Yakovove,  
  • Milan, Paris, New York: Shlomo Gad the head of the Jewish community around 100 families, gave money to support the Yeshivas in Israel,  
  • Congressman: Emanuel Celler wrote a letter to Nehru, India PM. 
  • Iran: Meshhad and Tehran helped with food and housing 
  • Pakistan: Benjamin Kafi from Peshawar $305 from Israel, 2500 British P from Bombay,
  • Etroges were sold at 4 synagogues during Succot and the money that was raised was sent from Jerusalem to Herat by Paltiel Coen

See: jdc.org

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