On the morning of June 5, 1967 two plain clothes officers came to the factory
to collect my father, my seventeen year old brother and me (19 years old),
leaving behind us my grandmother, my sixteen years old sister and my fifteen
year old little brother. They told us not to worry, that it was normal formalities,
and that we would be finished in five minutes. They led us to the KISM police
building in Moharrem Bey. There they put to us into a small cell (three
feet by six feet) where there were already six or seven other people. We
remained there for three days, with virtually no food, in total darkness,
and standing most of the time, because of the cramped conditions.
On June 8, I was transferred to a very large room where there were already 150 to 200 people, all Jewish. That was where I caught sight of my uncle. The officers checked a register for our names, then handcuffed us in pairs and drove us to the central station, where a train awaited us to transport us to Cairo.
At each station, or any time the train stopped, there was invariably a crowd of people jeering slogans, spitting at us and throwing stones at us. Arrived at the station of Cairo, we were herded into police vans and transported to the prison of Abou Zaabal. When we arrived, I was pleased there was a cordon of police officers to hold the crowd back, because otherwise the crowd would have torn us to shreds.
We later found out that a minister had given us the status of Israeli prisoners of war.
It was dark by the time the trucks stopped in front of a large iron door. I could see half a dozen officers and several guards waiting for us with branches of palm trees and sticks. We were literally thrown of these trucks, still handcuffed in pairs. When we hit the ground a barrage of blows from the sticks landed on us. We were then forced to squat down on our heels in the prison courtyard close until the small hours of the morning.
All this time officers were walking up and down whipping us with their branches of palm trees,and some of them ran and jumped on our shoulders. Anyone who lost their balance or who flinched received a rain of blows.
At four o'clock in the morning, the guards set up a table over which they laid a white tablecloth. They brought large knives from the kitchen which they placed on the table. You could hear the sound of the blades being rubbed against each other..and officers shouting at the guards to sharpen the knives so that they could cut our throats. We even overheard one officer ask another if he would like to cut a prisoner's throat. We all started to pray.
As dawn broke they called us, one by one. Half a dozen Moslem brothers
arrived with razors. We were to ordered strip, give our personal effects
to the officer, then present oneself to be shaved, the razor which they
occasionally dipped in an oil bucket. Once shaved we were given a wool blanket,
an aluminum dish and a list of prison rules. One was to put everything on
our head and run, semi-naked in underpants and bare feet to the second floor
where other officers hit us as we passed. They made us make run around the
cell block two to three times, before locking us in a cell. Meanwhile down
below, the show continued:
When the turn of the Rabbi of Alexandria arrived, they crucified him to the bars of the front door of the prison. Then they beat him until he lost consciousness.
Once in the cells they left us without food until the following day. On the second floor there were five cells of Jews, and three cells of those deemed to be "hostile to the regime" . The first floor was occupied by nearly 700 Moslem brothers. Each cell was approximately 18 metres long by 6 metres wide with a floor of white flagstones. There were 70 people per cell. Each person was allowed a space equivalent to two and a half flagstones wide, by seven long, i.e., 50 cm by 140 cm per person.
The evening when we slept we were piled up like sardines. The feet of the opposite person rested on your belly. We had to use the aluminum dish as a pillow. There were raids two to three times per day; the prison guards would return to the cell, order you to have your face touching the wall and keep repeating slogans which the chief guard shouted. “Slaughter to Israeli and American imperialism”, “Long Live Abdel Nasser”, “Palestine is Arab”, “Arab oil is for Arabs” and well of others. Meanwhile the officers made rounds of the cell beating people at random.
For the first two or three months there was no soap to wash, nor clean clothing. In the morning there was always broad beans for breakfast, crushed broad beans or lentils at midday, sometimes rice, and in the evening cheese or fermented molasses. The bread was made of corn, but one often crunched on grains of sand or small stones.
After three months we were allowed our first visit by our parents; they brought small parcels containing soap, toothpaste, underclothing and food preserves. At the beginning there were between 350 to 400 interned Jews of all ages between 17 and 77 years. After 6 months some had been released but between 200 to 250 Jews still remained. Among those released was my brother who made his way to Italy. And this is thanks to a great aunt who lived Brooklyn who organized this. At present my brother lives in Florida.
Some time afterwards, we were transferred to the prison from Torah; there one was less crowded and freer to move around; the doors of the cells were opened and one could walk in the corridors. They also enabled us to exercise in the courtyard for a few hours per day.
After two and a half years it was my uncle's turn to be released along
with some other people. The only people left in prison were ninety to a
hundred Jews, all of Egyptian nationality.
I was released with seven others on June 18, 1970, after 1108 days of internment. They left the shackles on our wrists all the way to the airport, only removing them when it became time to embark on the aircraft bound for Paris. At the airport we could only wave good-byes to our parents at a distance, because we were not allowed to approach them.
My father was released a few days after me, to find my sister and my young brother in Alexandria. Of all the Jews only interned one ten chose to remain in Egypt.
With the airport of Paris, there was to accommodate us, a representative of the HIAS as some internees who had arrived before us.
I make a point of thanking the HIAS and CO JA SOR for all that they did for us. I was housed and nourished during my six months stay in Paris, to prepare my papers of immigration for Canada. They dealt financially with all, even plane ticket to return to me to Montreal.
- Benjamin Melameth
BACK to Diaspora Recollections