Leon Betensky's Aden memoir and photos, 1947-1948
The long journey to Aden
My clearance came through by the end of March, and Viteles introduced me to most of the rest of my team. One was Dr. Abuyitzhak, a Turkish Jew, who would operate the hospital, the other was the nurse Luna Danon, also from Turkey, and the third was Menachem Berger, who would set up a Hebrew school. Abuyitzhak and Berger left in April, but Danon waited for me. Then I began to wait for a convoy to Jerusalem, and that took about two weeks. One did not go to Jerusalem by buying a ticket. The roads were dangerous and closed on and off, and only people who had permission from the Hagana were able to get on an armored vehicle. I got there without mishap by the middle of March but did not get out until the end of the month. I renewed my passport and had to leave it at the Joint offices in Jerusalem. The reason given was that they needed it to get a permit for me to leave the country. But by the time I was ready to return to Tel Aviv and Ramatayim, the road out of Jerusalem was closed and I could not get out. Viteles was also there, and he promised to arrange something so that both of us could leave.
Viteles asked me to be sure to see Dr. Judah Leon Magnes (1877-1948), who was one of the founders of the Joint Distribution Committee and then president of the Hebrew University. He agreed to see me briefly at the University, and I saw him between classes for only two or three minutes. He had been a handsome man, but now he looked very sick, with deep lines from his nose and around his lips down to his chin. He wished me well.
Jerusalem to Tel Aviv
The Dead Sea minerals were being exploited by an engineer named Novomoysky, who had organized a mixed British-Palestinian company. Due to this, the processing plant (at the north end) was continuing to operate despite the closing of the roads by the Arabs, and an armed convoy would go from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea two or three times a week. Viteles pulled strings and got us into that convoy. He sat in a car in front, and I was with a driver in the last truck, with my little green bag. We pulled out at dawn and went along smoothly. The driver pointed out the vicinity of Jericho to me, and we continued for a few feet. Then his truck died. We were at the bottom of a hill and Jericho not far from us. The rest of the convoy continued on its way, perhaps not even knowing that we had stopped. He looked at me and I looked to see if he had any weapon, but no. We sat a while and I expected a horde of Arabs to descend on us, but no Arabs. When the driver tried the ignition, the car started. Viteles and I stayed at what he described as Novomoysky's villa. It was a stucco bungalow with three bedrooms, a fine kitchen and dining room, a practically empty refrigerator.
Viteles had colitis and must eat white bread and chicken. The caretaker-cook-servant got this food for him at the kibbutz nearby. I have forgotten its name, but remember that when we walked over there we saw them digging trenches around it. They had reclaimed every inch of the soil by washing out the salt, and it was a very fertile place. Later it was overrun and destroyed, after the people had been evacuated.
The phone was operating and Viteles began to call Jerusalem to try to get transportation to Tel Aviv. He knew that planes (Piper Cubs) were flying back and forth from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and this was a junction point. He wanted permission to get on one of those planes, usually occupied by Hagana people or officials. Every time we heard a plane we would jump into the pickup truck and race for the little air strip. On the sixth day Viteles forced himself into a little plane, explaining that he weighed only 97 pounds. On the seventh day Golda Meir came on the convoy from Jerusalem and stopped at the villa to wait for a plane. I don't know whether she already knew about my plight, but I told her my story and asked her to help me get on a plane. She said that she was tired and wanted to rest, and asked me to wake her when a plane arrived. I heard a Piper Cub and got her up, and the servant rushed us to the strip. When we arrived, we found that the back seat was already occupied. Golda asked the man to get out, and I climbed in. We flew over the hills, which looked very gray and cold to me, and I was glad to see that the pilot was carrying a pistol. Golda was dressed warmly, but I had on only a jacket over my shirt. I shivered all the way. Was it cold or fear?
Communications between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem
All this time Mommy did not know whether I was still alive. In fact, some people in this country [US] were thinking that I had been killed. When I was by the Dead Sea, a group had gone out to try to save the Etzion group of kibbutzim, three of them, which were being threatened. Their mission failed and many were killed, among them one Yehuda Betensky. Mrs. Segal (Stanley's mother), reading this in the Jewish Morning Journal, thought that I had been killed and asked Stanley to find out. Stanley wrote to me and asked me to reply with a "sign" that it was I. I answered with some details about his first wedding, and she was satisfied. I don't think that my parents and brothers had such thoughts, because I wrote every week, and there was a time when mail to the US was delivered quicker than mail from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, or at all. When the road to Jerusalem was closed, people would send their letters by air to NY to be re-mailed to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. (I see that I did not tell you what I ate at the Dead Sea. Not chicken and white bread. There was plenty of black bread and British Army canned beer.)
So I returned to Ramatayim [where he, my mother Mala Gitlin Betensky and I were living with my mother's sister Mina and her husband Yosef Persov] and began to wait for my passport. Abuyitzhak and Berger left on April 21. Danon insisted that she had to keep on working until I could go, but my passport was reported lost in the Joint office. Viteles did not show any great concern, so I decided that it would be found. During one of my visits to him he told me that he had known about me ever since I had applied for that job in Cyprus but had asked Passman (head of the Joint in the Middle East) not to send me but to save me for some urgent job.
By this time I was losing interest in Aden and talked about getting out of it, what with a war about to begin, but Viteles would not listen. I simply had to go, there was no one else, it had to be an American. He asked me to meet a man named Joseph Barpal who was some kind of security connection. I must not have appealed to him, because he told me nothing except that if any of the boys in Aden were to go to Italy, they would find a way to Israel. I don't appeal to gumshoe types. On another occasion (when I began to look for a job) I met the top man in the illegal Aliya and had a long talk with him. His decision was that I would not do.
I did not mention the Aden salary. It was to be $2,000 for six months, plus per diem. The payment to be made in dollars and about $100 a month to me, the rest to Mommy.
Haifa to Nicosia, Cyprus
My passport was finally returned to me, and Danon and I were to leave Haifa on May 14, 1948 for Cyprus, and on the 15th for Aden via Alexandria, on BOAC. The British were converging on Haifa on the way to their ships, for they had decided to leave on May 15, and were by then interested only in getting out. Their searches of taxis on the road were perfunctory, I suppose they felt that since they had helped the Jews take over Haifa (or at least had not hindered), they were in no danger of attack from the Hagana. (Before sunset that afternoon Ben Gurion was to declare the founding of Israel in a brief ceremony at the Tel Aviv Museum.) We landed in Nicosia, Cyprus and went to the hotel room reserved for us by Maurice Laub, who was in charge of the JDC operations in the camps. We were scheduled to fly to Aden the following morning. We shared a huge room with beds about fifty feet apart and, in my embarrassment, I forgot to lock the door. About midnight a strange woman rushed into the room, turned on the lights and ran out. About an hour later there was a banging on the door and I was called to the phone and it was Maurice Laub. He told me that Egypt had invaded Israel, and it might not be healthy [i.e., safe] to fly by way of Egypt. I agreed with him only because I had Danon with me, and she had a Palestinian passport. I phoned him in the morning and took his suggestion to move to the island city of Famagusta while looking for transportation. So we moved to the Palace hotel in Famagusta, and our six weeks of waiting began.
One could go by ship through the Suez Canal with stops at Port Said (Egypt) and places south, or by plane. Many ships passed down the canal, but very few of them had room for passengers at this point. I found out from the agents that my best chance would be some Scandinavian freighter which happened to have space. By cable communication with Viteles we concocted a scheme whereby I would hire a local plane which would fly me and Danon to Haifa, pick up some Aden Jews who had fled there after the pogrom and now wanted to return, and then fly to Aden. The only hitch was that the agent could not get permission to overfly any Egyptian territory due to the war, and I refused to fly without such permission. So we waited. After about a week of eating and walking along the quay and hearing Danon tell me her sad life story, both of us decided to ask Laub to let us go to work in one of the camps, while we waited. Laub treated us to a delicious meal at his home and promised to get passes for us into the camps. A few days later he told us that he could not get such passes, the British were unwilling. I have never believed this story. Danon was a good nurse but very outspoken and I think he did not want her in his camps. What he had against me I don't know. (I talked with Laub in 1951 when he was at the JDC office in NY and he assured me that it was the British.) So we waited. It was very hot by now and we did not enjoy our stay at all. I tried taking Danon to the movies in the evening, but those places were very hot and full of crying babies in a row of carriages in front of the screen. Also, full of smoke. One evening we went to what was called a nightclub, and it was terrible. There was some amateurish dancing by a thin man dressed in a sailor suit. He saw me after his performance and asked me whether I thought he could get a job in an American nightclub.
So we walked around like mother and son, Danon being all of 45 and I a mere 38. In fact, Mommy received reports about us, how well we looked and behaved, from shlichim to the camps whom we met in the dining room. One of them was the famous Joseph Baratz of Degania who a few weeks later stopped an Egyptian or Jordanian tank with a molotov cocktail and lived to tell the story.
Of course I was supposed to make reports all this time, and I did. I also was supposed to send back the unused tickets. So I wrote a long report about my inactivity and enclosed the tickets and whatever other bills and receipts I had, and gave the fat envelope to the JDC courier who was going to Tel Aviv. The courier got there, but my packet never did. When I was in Jerusalem in 1949 to settle my accounts with the JDC, they asked me why I had not sent any reports from Cyprus.
The agent who was supposed to be finding transportation for me notified me that he was expecting a Norwegian freighter called Jadarland to pass through and they had wired that they had space for two. After some negotiations, the captain agreed to take us and Laub paid the bill. We embarked on June 10 or 11 and reached Aden on June 21. The ship looked to me more like a Viking ship than a modern freighter, but by then I would have taken anything that promised to float. Each of us had a small room, and there was a shower across the hall. There were eight or ten other passengers, and all of us ate at the captain's table, and the food was both good and plentiful. Danon liked to eat and enjoyed it very much, so much so that she used to visit a refrigerator between meals. The other passengers kept to themselves, and Danon did not like the deck at any time, preferring to sweat in her room. Perhaps she felt badly because she knew no English, while the other passengers did. During the day I tried to keep in the shade, but even there it was very hot and humid. Evenings there would be an occasional breeze, and some of them I spent talking with a tall Englishwoman. She had lived in Cyprus many years and was now going to Australia to settle. She was very angry with the English for the way they treated the immigrants. On the deck there were a couple of tents, and I was told that they had been pitched by some Arabs who were going to Yemen.
Port Said, Egypt
Our first stop was Port Said, in Egypt, and I was quite worried about Danon. I was afraid they might try to take her off the ship, she being a Jewish Palestinian. The radio operator was a young Greek and very sympathetic. He studied our passports before going on deck to show them to the port authorities and told us that as far as he was concerned, Danon was a Syrian woman, and that is what he would say if asked. Everything went off without any trouble, and we felt safe. Our next stop was Massawa. About that place I remember only that it was very clean and very stifling. We were there only an hour or two, and I was glad to leave the place. It was so utterly gray and desolate.
I was so hot and miserable that I cannot remember any of the beauty of the trip, though I am sure there must have been beautiful spots on the Red Sea. I spent some hours on one of the decks where instruments were, and one of the officers permitted me to look at some nautical maps, and I had a good idea where we were going. But I don't remember the famous Straits of Tiran.
Steamer Point, Aden
On June 20 I sent a cable to Abuyitzhak Steamer Point, Aden, telling him when I would arrive, and he replied that he would meet me, not to worry. On June 21 he came up to the ship in a little harbor boat and took us to Steamer Point. The port is so rocky that ships anchor off shore and small boats pick up the passengers and take them to the land, which is called Steamer Point. That is the port with streets of shops, the homes of the English officers, administrators, hospital, schools, etc., with the mines in the distance and the coal barges and oil tanks in the foreground.
I had come to the Jews of Crater, the town of about 40,000 (3-4,000 Jews) which was maybe ten miles from Steamer Point, and looked to me to be in the hollow of the crater of an extinct volcano. It was gray and dusty, stifling hot, and except for a few trees, without vegetation. The water, which came from some subterranean streams or perhaps wells, was plentiful but always warm. There were few flies, and they were small and weak. There were no mosquitoes. To me most of the people always looked dusty, sometimes dirty. The barefoot Arabs and the barefoot Yemenites and Adenites always seemed parched to me. Steamer Point smelled fairly good, having a sewage system. The streets were wide and paved, and the houses were either of brick or wood.
My first stop was at the Banin store in Steamer Point, Abuyitzhak taking Danon to the hospital where she was to live. This general store was now operated by Shimon Banin, his older brother and the leader of the community Selim Banin having gone after the pogrom to England, from which sanctuary he wrote that he was working hard to get compensation for the victims. Later he moved to Tel Aviv and finally returned home in 1949 to resume his duties. I was very thirsty and hot, and Shimon kept bringing me soda pop, which I gulped, probably on the spot becoming host to local amoebas. We were driven to the Banin house in Crater, which was to be both dwelling and office. I was to sleep in the bedroom of the leader, and my office would be in the big living room facing the street. The office had a big desk and table, a solid leather sofa and big leather chairs, also a ceiling fan and a telephone. Shimon told me that his big Vauxhall was one of the very few cars left to Jews, the others having been burned during the December pogrom. They saved this one by giving their other car to the commissioner of police.
Crater, Aden: the Banin house
The outhouse odor of Crater met us as we neared the city, for the air did not circulate during the day in this city of 50,000 surrounded by volcanic rocks and hills. Everything looked gray, the hills, the paved streets, the stone buildings, even many of the people. The ghetto was four blocks square and consisted of four streets and about 12 dirt alleys. The houses rose two or three stories, with a sunken first floor which was either a store or storage place, both called godowns, and with living quarters on the second and third floors. On the flat roof there was usually a penthouse where laundry was washed. Every roof had laundry lines and beds or mattresses, and in the evening people went up there to get the air.
The Banin kitchen was on the second floor, a long room with a fine white tile stove for cooking by coal, the top like a range. The stall shower and toilet were in another large room. The water was always warm (naturally) and pleasant, but the toilet was a crude seat without cover or flushing device. The excrement fell down a conduit or chimney-like shaft and into a can placed in a niche in the outer wall facing an alley or the next house. The cans were emptied at midnight with much clatter and odor and the solids hauled away in steel carts. Liquid wastes ran down a separate line and into concrete channels between houses which emptied into pits. The channels were open. There was a little water faucet next to the toilet, but no toilet paper. Actually kinder to the skin. For me there was a roll of paper.
Typically, the house had windows only on the street side, none on the first floor. Windows were long and wide with glass casements opening to about tow feet from the sill, inward, and the sill wide enough for someone to sit on. There were two wooden shutters where the glass stopped also opening inward and grates the height of the shutters outside. The beams were thick oak, and the floors of good wood. The walls were painted yellow and hung with family photographs. One was of the patriarch Moses Banin, who had been a pillar of the community. He was shot and killed during the pogrom while trying to cross over a board from his building to the next. He had a white beard, as did not his sons.
My bed was of some hard wood and had "Good Luck" engraved on the headboard. Gossips told me that the absent Banin was childless, and that his wife had run off to Tel Aviv to the Aden community there. Shimon was single and enjoyed eating. For example, he ate his soup by sopping it up with white bread. There were five servants who lived in the house and one who came in. Two men guarded the entrance at the street level and one of them, a stocky Yemenite, assigned himself to me and announced my visitors. He wore an Arab cap, sleeveless shirt over a cloth wrapped around his waist and going down to just below his knees, and a string above the calf of each leg--that was to prevent sickness in the legs. There was a skinny boy of about 15 who was cook and a chubby little boy of 12 who spent his time cleaning and dusting with a feather duster and chasing big bugs with a flit gun. When we went to bed on the roof, he sat on the concrete and either tickled or rubbed Shimon's soles until I fell asleep. A young woman came three or four days a week to wash. Adenites wear white and use a lot of linens. Another servant ironed and ran errands.
The Jewish community
Viteles had arranged with one of the Adenite exiles in Tel Aviv for me to have his house and servants, but as Abuyitzhak came first, he had gotten it for himself, wife and little son (with approval, I am sure). I knew that I had to have my office in Crater, but I would have been happy to live in Steamer Point; however, they would not let me move into the unfurnished hotel, and I did not move to the Crescent in Steamer Point until late in September, maybe early October. After the pogrom, two of the exits from the ghetto had been sealed, and the two open ones were half-sealed, leaving passage for a car. The openings were blocked by movable barricades (which you can see on one of the pictures of the burned school). The barricades were guarded in the daytime by a constable with a baton and at night by a constable with a gun. Jews could move in and out freely at all times, but non-Jews were not admitted at night unless they lived there. In some of the ghetto streets Jews and others still lived in the same buildings and Indians had stores in the godowns.
Of the 4,000-5,000 Jews in Crater, about half were Yemenite refugees, and many of the established Adenites had originally come from Yemen, most of the others from other Arab countries many years ago. There was no local Jewish doctor, but I heard often that a wonderful refugee doctor from Germany had lived there a number of years. About 70% of the population were Arabs, with many Indians and Somalis and quite a few Europeans, in addition to the governing English, who lived in the best part of Steamer Point, which had a modern sewage system. The Somalis and Arabs were the laborers (coolies) at the port and elsewhere. Somalis were black, tall and handsome. Laborers were usually dressed like my Yemenite guard. The Jews and Indians owned the small general stores, the Europeans the bigger firms, export places, drug store, department store. Some of the Arabs were already getting into clerking, and the younger Indians held most of the bank clerk and teller jobs. A few of the young Jews were government clerks, real prestige jobs. The fat man on the right in picture no. 2 below is one of them. The telegrapher was an Arab, and the first person I saw using a ball point pen. There was no Jewish doctor, lawyer, barber, electrician, carpenter, tailor, plumber. There were three Jewish prostitutes who came to our hospital for treatment. Crater was rainless, with summer temperatures ranging from 95 to 105 F and relative humidity of 80% due to the hot winds from the sea. From May through August monsoons bring sandstorms from the desert. I was always hot and worked under a fan. There was no fan in my room, so I slept on the roof with the others until about five AM, when the sand would drive me into the house to sweat in my bed for an hour or so, and then my first of two or three showers of the day. By seven I was at my desk. Breakfast was white bread, egg in some form and milk. I cannot recall the contents of my other meals, except that I had meat for dinner. A few minutes after stepping outside during the day and most evenings I would be covered with perspiration.
I made courtesy and business calls. The Colony's Chief Secretary asked me how much money I had to spend and I told him 18,000 English pounds ($90,000) but in many small installments. He announced that at the end of June his government would stop its fifty per cent contribution of relief money. IT protested that this would divert my money to relief to the detriment of other programs. The government certainly owed this much to the victims. He bridled and answered that a Royal Commission was investigating the riots. After that my request to see him would be diverted to the assistant secretary, who was a more sympathetic person but did nothing. He told Viteles that he liked me. The American Consul lived in a big airy house on Steamer Point, was a prissy old bachelor and wore knickers. The Aden Jewish Emergency Council asked me what I would do for them and I told them that I had some money for relief, some money to enlarge and maintain the hospital, some money to support the schools, some money to lend to those who wanted to rebuild their businesses or burned houses or to open new business. The Rabbi was an old man who spoke very little Hebrew. He told me that the whole community had suffered greatly and gave me some heavily spiced coffee. I had a terrible time drinking it as I sat and sweated in my pith helmet, escaping after a decent interval. About a week after my arrival, I met with the local Yemenite organization, which was led by the Mori (teacher) whom you see on the left below, in the picture where the children are being fitted with clothing. They trained a fan on me and gave me ice cream. Then they complained about the way the Adenites were treating them. I assured them that they would get their share of help.
Abuyitzhak invited me to dinner the first night and told me how glad he was to see me. He gave me good "advices," as he called it, such as never to walk outside with my shirt over my trousers, never to go to a barber but to have him come to me, never to drive a car but to have a driver. He had bought a second-hand Standard when he arrived and had listed it in his name instead of the Joint. Between him and his wife, I saw very little of the car, and neither did Danon when she needed it.
Money and banks
He handed me his books and the balance of Joint money remaining. Back home, I looked at his books and decided not to balance them but to open my own accounts, which did not balance, either. The money I put into the little wall safe in my room. I was doing exactly what the Adenites did. Many of them had not trusted banks and had put their money and jewels into such safes, and the looters had emptied them during the pogrom. I did open a JDC account at Barclays, and every time my money came I went to the bank to convert it and to take out enough for a week, which I would keep in the safe. I had a small payroll: lump sum for the schools, money to run the hospital, my per diem, my clerk's salary, and money for my share of the cook and guard. I did not have to pay rent. Abuyitzhak, Danon, the teachers had made their own monetary arrangements with the Joint, and all I had to pay Abuyitzhak was his per diem. Oh, I forgot the relief money, a big sum. The bank was a Dickensian place, with Indians on high stools and stooped over thick ledgers posting beautiful figures by pen. Upon finishing and checking a column of entries, each Indian would take it over to the manager for checking. He ran his eyes and an index finger down the columns at great speed. As the manager insisted that I must go to him with every transaction (even to cash a check), I enjoyed watching him check the ledgers. I admired his virtuosity.
I hired a clerk who knew Arabic, typed English fairly well, and knew Hebrew. He was Yitzhak Shor, a spindly-thin boy of about 18 who had a fine sense of humor, knew everybody, and was the leader of the local Hechalutz. I found out later that he never took a siesta but spent the time running from house to house over the rooftops, on Hechalutz business. He had frequent colds but never missed a day at work and never gave me any of his colds. Maybe it was hay fever. But how could one have hay fever in a place where almost nothing grew? Even the few trees planted in a little spot along the highway were half dead. (He is all white in one of the pictures.) I also found out later that he spent half of his salary on Hechalutz, so I raised his pay accordingly. I suspect that he also paid for the pistol that the group bought from a sailor. I asked him why they needed a pistol, and he assured me that they had no bullets for it. I saw Yitzhak in Israel in 1949, and he was running around trying to round up his Hechalutz gang, who had wandered off to the cities, in order to get them to go to his kibbutz.
I could not go to the 4th of July celebration at the consulate because I was all aches and pains. There was no cold, no sneezing, so I blamed it on the fan. In a week or so the aches and pains left, and I congratulated myself. But a little later I began to have diarrhea and went to Abuyitzhak. He gave me a medicine and told me to be careful about food and drink. I decided that it was probably due to the change of climate and water, etc. There was some improvement, and then the condition worsened. By August I was sending stool samples to the government hospital, but the report was always negative. The diagnosis of amoebic dysentery was made only in September (I think), and the given explanation is that in very hot weather it is very hard to detect the amoebas. Also, they have to be very fresh. There were times when I was in pain and uncomfortable, but on the whole it was a reasonable dysentery. After every meal, maybe fifteen minutes later, there was a diarrhea. That meant three times a day, very predictable. Of course, I lost weight, and I am sure I was irritable at times. As a rule I managed to be near enough to a bathroom after meals not to have any problems. Once I was having dinner at Steamer Point in the home of an Adenite who had a flourishing general store. We had a good meal, and a little later I had to go to the bathroom. It was a huge room with an ornate stool like a throne in the center and a faucet within easy reach, but no toilet paper. As I sat there wondering what to do, there was a knock on the door and my host told me that he had sent one of his boys to get paper. In a few minutes someone opened the door a little and rolled a roll in my direction.
One of my first visitors was a tall old man dressed in what looked like a shroud and who looked very dry and dusty. He was the head of the Burial Society, and he came to me for help to keep up the society and the cemetery. I had seen the cemetery along the road from Steamer Point to Crater. It was on a hilly spot, and the tombs were in concrete or stone and above ground, as is customary in that area, especially since the volcanic ground is hard. I never did go up to the cemetery, perhaps because I was not invited, but I recall that the first time I thought of death and of dying was in Aden. This man would come to me every two weeks or so, and every time it was to tell me how desperate the society's finances were, and I always gave something. To me this old man symbolized Aden, with its dusty dryness, its dependence. And yet, there was something grand about the old man, his walking in and his sitting down without any begging or pleading or handing of notes and telling me what he wanted. There was no diplomacy or smooth talk about him at all.
Another early visitor, sometimes as early as seven o'clock, was Solomon Aharoni, the new leader of the Jewish Community. He was always freshly pressed and shaven and polished. His eyes were usually hidden behind pink sunglasses, and I never really saw them. His voice was brisk and somewhat on the harsh side, and I never saw him smile or heard him laugh. He never answered questions about himself and, although he included himself among the sufferers (from the pogrom), I never did find out what he had lost. At Viteles' request, I paid him a small salary, for his leadership. One of his sons was a clerk with the government, and he appears as the fat boy in white in the second Slonim farewell picture. I was at his house (Solomon Aharoni's) for a kiddush, but I did not meet either his wife or any of his children. The walls of his living room were covered with school certificates and calendars.
The nurse Slonim and the other shlichim
One of my first problems was the nurse Slonim. She had come from Palestine about six weeks after the pogrom, sent by the Joint, to organize a hospital. She was given a building left by an Adenite and did a wonderful job. She took beds from the British government hospital, refrigerators from the local Jews, food and medicines wherever she could lay her hands. She even collected all kinds of clothing, and you see her in one of the pictures watching the children being fitted with her collected items. When Danon came she was ready to leave and really had nothing to do. Actually she no longer wanted to work, having had enough of Aden. Her arms were covered with sores, diagnosed as something connected with the climate, and she said that she could not bear the heat. So who prevented her from going home? Her explanation was that she had no money. I never did find out why she had no money, but I decided that I had to get her back to Israel. So I cabled Viteles in Tel Aviv that Slonim was desperate to go home and I would advance the money. He did not like it, but I got her tickets (I did not trust her with money, having heard that she was a spender) and she left towards the end of July, via Italy. The pictures below are of the party given for her before her departure. She turned up in Haifa and went to work in a hospital. (I was very good about repatriating Jews, later sending Abuyitzhak back, he going to work in Cyprus to clean up the camps.)
This is a good place to tell you a little about the rest of my group. I have written about Luna Danon, who was a nurse many years at Bikur Cholim Hospital in Jerusalem. I may not have mentioned that she had misgivings about being able to work with Abuyitzhak. Her simple explanation was that since both of them were Turks, they would not get along. Abuyitzhak was tall and handsome with black hair, brilliant brown eyes, a little mustache, and a lot of charm. There were some complaints that he should have spent more time in the hospital, but I realized that he had his wife and child with him and could not possibly live in the hospital, as Danon did. I thought that he should have consulted me more about administrative matters, such as adding beds and costs, but it was all for the good of the community, and there was no shortage of local and refugee TB cases who filled the beds. Most of the patients had TB. We also had a daily clinic and distributed sweet milk to those who needed it and free medicines. He wanted to make a study of the Adenite girls to find out how many of the virgins were not really virgins (naturally) but I dissuaded him, for fear that this would arouse the orthodox community. The other shlichim did not like him because he kept away from them. That is why he is not in the Slonim party picture.
On picture no. 1 (above left) the man on my right is Berger, who was a shaliach and principal of the Aden schools. Next to him is Shimon Shier (later changed to Avizemer). He became a politician. Here he was a teacher. The girl on his right is an Adenite teacher. The handsome man next to her is Ovadya Tuvia, an Israeli who spent two or three years teaching in Aden. He was a good pianist and later wrote the music for Inbal [the Israeli dance company]. The girl on his right must be Margalit Oved (who became a famous dancer and founded Inbal). The fat man next to her is the Italian ice cream maker who was Slonim's boyfriend. On my left and hidden is Luna Danon, and next to her is Slonim. On Slonim's left is Joseph Simon, administrator of the Yemenite Camp Hashed, who was later to line his pockets with Yemenite gold given to him for safekeeping by the Jews from Yemen on their way to Israel. When I last heard of him he was heading a school for hotel workers sponsored by Hadassah. Next to him is an Adenite girl who was a nurse's assistant in the hospital. Next to her is Benjamin, a teacher sent by the Jewish Agency. I don't remember the next girl. I think that the man on her left is Aharoni's son, who had a government job. The teachers were a good group and very devoted. They taught under very difficult conditions in a broken-down building that some Adenite had abandoned. I visited the schools frequently but left their management to Berger. Once Berger came to me with the idea of conducting a joint workshop for his teachers and those at Hashed, at the camp. We discussed it at length and decided to do it. All it meant was taking perhaps six or seven Adenite girls to the camp for a day, in broad daylight. When Aharoni heard about it he stormed. It was absolutely dangerous and wrong, the community was set against it. God forbid what might happen on the road. I consulted the teachers and found that they saw no harm in it, so we went ahead and nothing happened.
When I had business in Steamer point I went by car and even used Arab taxis when necessary, but I walked freely in Crater, to the bank, to the market, and never gave it a thought. Of course I did not wander out of the ghetto in the evening and did not go to the movies. Simon was even braver and visited the various brothels, without any harm. Ovadya used to tell me details of the telephone conversations he had with Arabs. During the fighting in Israel he would get frequent phone calls from Arabs who would taunt him about what the Arabs would do when they took Tel Aviv. He would continue the conversation patiently, then, when the Arab would tell him how the victorious Arabs would take over the stores and the houses and the women, he would ask: And what good will that do you? The other end then banged the receiver. I had some talks with Aharoni about what we could do to repair or rebuild the gutted schools, and he told me that he wrote to some rich Adenites in New York for help, but nothing came of it. Then I had a number of conversations with the English Commissioner of Education, a very kindly young man who always had a bottle of whiskey on his desk. He was just as effective as Aharoni. In the meantime I discovered that there was a very small private school run by a young Indian girl, Rivka bat Yehuda, and its quarters were in even worse condition than our schools. I urged her to join our system so as not to run the risk of accidents to her students, but she refused. Berger told me that she was very poor and needed help (since she collected very little in tuition), so I included her school in my budget.
Relief and welfare
One of my biggest problems was relief, and I was never able to solve it. The relief we offered did not amount to much, consisting of flour, oil, sugar, milk, and sometimes butter, soap. The Aden Emergency Council administered it, and even a little checking convinced me that the list was bloated. So I asked them for a list and Aharoni and I went over it and he cut out a few names. Afterwards Yitzhak went over the list and found some more who did not belong. Then I discovered that the person on the rolls was not always getting the relief for himself, it was quite often for the Yemenite family that worked for him. If I cut him off, he would eject the family, and they could go to live in the street on one of those beds leaning against the wall in the picture (below), and they would have to be put back on relief.
Also, the appearance of the house was not an indication of how poor people were. In that climate one had to have a refrigerator, for example. The Adenite women were not used to doing housework, and every household kept a family of Yemenites of which the women cooked and washed, the men ran errands or worked in the store and made themselves otherwise useful, and the children played with their children. Most of those who had lost a business or had been otherwise impoverished still kept their Yemenite families, and the Joint helped support them. Some of the Adenite poor were the genteel poor variety and simply would not go to the relief warehouse to pick up their food, sending their Yemenite help. Yitzhak assured me that there were some old men and women who would rather starve than go to pick up relief. Of course there were also poor Yemenites who lived in the streets and alleys and lined up every Friday afternoon to receive alms from the affluent. Shimon used to stand outside his house on such afternoons and give small coins to dozens of people. I think that each rich man had his own clients. One of the men we cut off was a butcher. He came to me complaining about the injustice of it and told me that he was old and sick and could no longer work. Yitzhak told me later that he was old and sick all right, but also quite rich.
Unusual requests for relief
Every so often I would have an unusual request. The Banin washwoman was estranged from her husband, but they wanted to get together, I heard. One morning a very shy young man came in with a note in his hand which he thrust at me. I read in English written by one of the professional letter writers that he and his wife had agreed to live together again, but they needed about 200 rupees to set up housekeeping. Even though the price was cheap, a mere $60 or so, I refused. I could imagine what would happen if I set this precedent. One afternoon I was at lunch and I heard a commotion outside. The guard came up and motioned me to the stairs. At the bottom and spreading into the street was a fairly large crowd of Yemenite refugees and at their head was a wild-looking young man. Someone finally told me that the young man had just come in from Lahej, a sultanate about 25 miles away, and was starving. Then there was much shouting of nasi, nasi. I was called the nasi by the Yemenites. [My father spoke with the Yemenites in Hebrew and with the Adenites in English.] So I did a little shouting myself: Are you Jews? Yes, Yes. Why do you behave like wild Arabs? They stopped their yelling and I went up the stairs and came down with my glass of milk. He gulped it down and I told them to find him a place to live and he could get relief like everyone else. Then they dispersed. One day the telegrapher from the Jadarland showed up. He was very upset and begged me to help him. He had just come down the Red Sea and on board the ship was a very nice Greek dancer on the way to Yemen with whom he had spent his nights. Now he thought he had signs of a venereal disease. I gave him a note to Dr. Abuyitzhak and asked him to examine him free, for his past services to Danon and me. He did not return, but Abuyitzhak told me later that he could not see any signs of venereal disease on him but he could not say that something might not develop later. Once a little girl came with a note from her father. He was sick in bed, having had malaria and typhus, and still receiving injections and needing special foods and fruits. Would I help by providing the fruits? I asked through Yitzhak whether her father had ever been a patient at our hospital and who gives him the injections. She answered that her father had never been at our hospital because that is for the poor, and that he has a doctor of his own, an Indian. I asked her to tell her father that he should go to our hospital to our doctor and for his injections, then he would be able to use the money he now spends on the doctor and injections to buy fruit.
Report to the Joint, September/October 1948
The Road to Redemption: The Jews of the Yemen, 1900-1950 by Tudor Parfitt relates the following:
"Leon Betensky34, the Joint administrator in Aden, noted in his report for September/October 1948 that he tried 'to get the Rations Subcommittee of the Jewish Emergency Committee and the Aguda of the Yemenites to assist me in paring down the relief lists but I was unsuccessful. The Yemenites are always ready to help, this assistance consisting of a new list of Yemenites [who live in Crater]. This list always comes up to about 1,300 souls and they swear that at least 1,000 of the total are entitled to rations by the test of need. Their thesis is that everyone should be given, even if a half or quarter pound of flour a week. The present ration lists contain over 2,200 souls of whom about 1,000 are Yemenites.'
34Betensky had previously worked in Kibbutz Huldah, had U.S. Treasury experience and had made a special investigation of the Histadrut office administration."
Friction at the hospital
Actually, though the hospital was full of TB patients, many fairly well-off people came to the clinic. Some of them even made small contributions and Danon accumulated quite a lot of money that way, which she told me she was saving for something special. The day came when she had enough money to buy curtains for all the windows in the hospital and for various small comforts like little tables by the beds and such. She invited me and Abuyitzhak to the hospital one evening to tell us about this and to get our approval. To my surprise, Mrs. Abuyitzhak also showed up and made a scandal. No, she insisted, that money should go into the general fund for operating the hospital, not for frills. It seemed such a sensible and reasonable thing to me to make the place look better that I could not understand her opposition. We argued back and forth, and Abuyitzhak did not open his mouth. Finally, Danon asked me to yield, because she did not want this to become such a big thing. But that was not the end of Mrs. A. Without consulting me, Dr. A. let her into the hospital, where she proceeded to make herself the director of training, collecting a group of young girls and training them to be student nurses. Danon objected to me. In the first place, that was a job for Danon as a professional, and in the second place the point had been reached where the girls would no longer listen to Danon. I discussed this with Dr. A. and tried to make him understand that his wife was usurping Danon's functions. If she wanted to do something useful, she could teach the girls Hebrew or English, but she had no nursing qualifications, as far as I knew. He listened but did nothing about getting his wife away from this type of teaching. So now I had what amounted to a split between Danon and Abuyitzhak. Danon got her curtains, etc., from the hospital budget, but relations were straining. I was not invited to dinner to Abuyitzhak, and saw very little of the car.
I was told that there had been some Jewish taxi drivers before the pogrom, but that their cars had been burned. Now I let it be known that I would make loans for cars, but there were no takers. There were some Jewish fishermen who went fishing at night, stealthily, without a boat. They were afraid to buy a boat for fear the Arabs would either steal it or smash it, so they did not come for help, either. I knew that the Ort, organization for rehabilitating Jews by teaching them trades, was operating in Europe and some Asiatic countries and that Ort was coming closer to cooperating with the Joint, so I began to talk with the Assistant secretary of Aden Colony about organizing a small trade school (with Jewish money) where the Jewish youth might be taught the various trades from which they were absent, such as tailoring, carpentry, etc. I knew as well as Newland that the Jews were being deliberately excluded by the Arab guilds, and that without being a member of one of those guilds a Jew could not learn such a trade, unless some other way of training them could be developed. Newland had once asked me why the Jews did not get into areas other than business and clerking, and I was challenging him to help provide alternatives. He promised to study my suggestion but never did finish his study and never gave me an answer. It is quite possible that at this time Newland knew of negotiations between the Jewish Agency, the Joint and the Colony of Aden and Yemen to permit first the exodus of the Jews from Hashed and later the transit of Yemenite Jews via Aden to Israel. At this point I knew nothing about this. Even if I had known, I could not have talked otherwise.
The Benin house was across the street from a vacant lot where a house had burned completely and the stones taken away. This was the Jewish market for fish and meat. Every morning at 5 the butchers began to chop meat, and by 5:30 people would begin to come with their little baskets. If I observed closely I could detect in the crowd some of the people who had come to me to complain that they were starving. (By the way, some of the butchers had been on my relief roll.) Once I asked the Aden emergency relief committee how it happened that in this impoverished community so much meat was being sold daily, they answered that people are used to eating meat. When I persisted and asked where people get the money, the answer was that they buy the cheapest of meats. The grandest occasion was Thursday nights. At about 9 in the evening the butchers brought their meat, and some food sellers established themselves nearby. They lit fires in their portable stoves, and all night long there was chopping and eating and some quarreling. At dawn began the procession of buyers, timid Yemenite maids in their bare feet and wearing long trousers, young servant boys half asleep and half dressed, dignified old Adenites in their white trousers and jackets, but not the Adenite woman, who never goes shopping. I never heard any singing at night and asked Yitzhak why not. He told me that the police had warned the Jews not to sing for fear of making the Arabs angry. But I did hear some singing. During slichot it came in the middle of the night from the synagog. Sometimes I would hear a Zionist song coming from a Hechalutz meeting on Saturday. Yitzhak complained that as soon as the older people heard such songs, they would ask them to stop. The Arabs chanted beautifully if monotonously as they worked in gangs pulling a dhow or loading coal on a barge, but that was at Steamer Point, and I had not moved yet.
It must have been early or middle August when the commissioner of police of Aden invited me and my teachers and the Hashed administration to a meeting. My group included the teachers but excluded Abuyitzhak and Danon. The Hashed group included Dr. Olga Feinberg, a tough woman doctor from Russia and Chicago, and Simon. Feinberg had spent at least two years in Hashed before my arrival and was still strong and healthy. I was her guest a number of times and liked her table. She served good meat and hot pita, good compotes and beer. But this was spoiled by her habit of snapping her fingers at the servants and yelling fissa, fissa, which means quickly, quickly. All of them were afraid of her, but she seemed to be fearless. Yet she once managed to get into a terrible squabble with the Yemenite shochtim in her camp, and they went on strike. I was called in to mediate the dispute and managed to settle it, but have no memory now what it was all about. Included in the invited group was Solomon Aharoni. The commissioner said that it had come to his attention that we were teaching Zionism in our schools, and that was strictly against the law and the desires of the Aden government. (The government was the British Crown Colony governor, an appointed executive council of five, and the officials.) What did we have to say about this? Aharoni got up and said angrily (those who sat near him said that he read his brief statement from a typewritten paper, which I saw him holding) that Zionist teaching was going on and that the Jewish community was against it. The commissioner turned to me and asked for a comment. I attacked. I said that I was insulted. I added that in the United States known gangsters were pulled into the police and interrogated. The commissioner turned red and glared at me. But he treated me gently, saying that I was new in Aden and did not know their policies and their laws. Then he stood up and said very solemnly, repeating it at least once: That if he heard again that we were teaching Zionism, he would consider withdrawing police protection from the Jews of Aden. Feinberg said nothing and was not asked to say anything. Berger made some remarks to the effect that his schools were teaching only Hebrew and Judaism. Dismissed. Feinberg and Simon returned to Hashed, and my group met in my office to take action, without Aharoni. We decided to send cables to the Joint, the Jewish Agency, to the Governor, protesting the commissioner's allegations and threats, and we did. I have no recollection as to whether we ever received any replies. Perhaps the recipients cabled the Governor. Then I went to my [American] consulate and told the consul what had happened. He listened to what I said and replied, but you know, Mr. Betensky, that there was a pogrom last year. That was all. One result of this meeting was that I refused to see Aharoni the next morning and until late in October. Another was that Abuyitzhak slipped into my blacklist. A third was that Berger left Aden about a month later.
The shlichim and I decided that Aharoni was an informer and should be ostracized. We blamed him for carrying information to the commissioner that we taught Zionism to the young innocents. Perhaps my teachers did, I never asked them. We thought that Aharoni should have known better than to make the statement that he did. But if he felt constrained to do it, he should have told me first what he would do. Abuyitzhak fell into disgrace with me because he continued to be friendly with Aharoni and continued to push his wife into the hospital and make Danon very unhappy. I really did not miss Aharoni's seven o'clock visits, and the break with Abuyitzhak widened because I made no effort to heal it, until it was complete. A week or so after this, a young man came to my office and introduced himself as being of the local counter-intelligence, and said that he wanted to talk with me. He had heard, he said, that I was really an agent for a Jewish terrorist group and was buying up weapons to ship to Israel. This time I did not get angry but told him that his informant was talking nonsense. I was so sure that the government valued the money I was bringing into Aden that they would not take any action to kick me out, so I forgot about the visit. But Berger began to complain that he was being followed by some strange man. No one else had such a complaint, but with him it became an obsession. He said that he was afraid to go out of the house. It happened that he had a brother in New York, so he got him to send him an airplane ticket, and he flew off to visit his brother. A year or so later I saw Berger in Israel, and he was head of the school system in Ramle.
Before very long, Abuyitzhak and I no longer met or spoke when we met, though I continued to visit the hospital at least once or twice a day. (In retrospect I can see that I was at fault for permitting this to happen.) Abuyitzhak sent a European Jew (Greek) who was agent of some big firm to talk to me about a reconciliation. After a number of meetings I gave him my terms. (I had talked it over with Danon and told her that as much as she disliked Abuyitzhak, I wanted to make peace if I could.) My terms were that if he took his wife out of the hospital, entirely, peace would return. He countered by suggesting that we hold a public debate, with the loser giving $25.00 to the JNF, and then there would be peace. I turned down the proposal. Now Danon began to tell me that life was impossible for her at the hospital, so I decided to send Abuyitzhak home. I went to see Dr. Cochrane, the medical commissioner of the colony, and asked him whether he could recommend a local doctor in case Abuyitzhak went home. He said that he could and would, a very good man, who would be only a part-time doctor, since he had a private practice. Danon said that she would be happy with a part-time doctor. I had already cabled Viteles about our difficulties and he had answered that he would accept my decision to return Abuyitzhak. However, I must give him a little time to try to find a doctor in Israel. A few days later he cabled that he had found a woman doctor. Then the woman doctor changed her mind, and Abuyitzhak was by now impatient to leave Aden, evidently having communicated with Viteles. So I sent him back, probably early in September, by way of Cyprus. Cochrane sent me an Indian doctor named Metha, who was a very fine and gentle person who came to the hospital twice a day at set hours, and the storm subsided. Danon was happy, and I soon had a diagnosis of amoebic dysentery. The Indian cost me a little less than the per diem that I paid to Abuyitzhak, and there were no scandals. The community was a little disappointed that we had not gotten a new doctor from Israel, but they were used to Indian doctors. My dysentery established, Danon gave me 16 shots of emetine chloride, and I began to improve. She decided that I needed to gain some weight, and insisted that I must eat lunch (dinner) with her at least as long as I took shots, and I did. It was quite an ordeal, because her meals were tremendous: hot soup, big chunk of meat, a lot of bread, big compotes. I ate as much as I could and quit when the shots were finished. Very little medication was given to the TB patients. They were told to lie in bed. Danon stuffed them with huge breakfasts of eggs, milk, bread, rolls, and equally huge other meals. In fact, she gave them five meals a day and boasted that some of them would eat six eggs a day. Most of the patients survived her meals and recovered.
Danon was now really boss of the hospital and trained a group of nurses' aids whom she controlled. But many things she "had" to do herself. She had to dole out the sweetened milk in the morning to all those who came with their cans and bottles, and one day she slipped and broke her right wrist. Not daunted, she hopped into our car, now at her command, and had the wrist set in the government hospital. But it was set crooked, and she said that she would have it broken and reset in Israel. She also had to get up early in the morning to see that the Arab milkman, who brought the cows to the hospital and milked them on the spot did not cheat her. She had discovered that his cans always had some white liquid on the bottom before he began to milk his cows, and the liquid was rice water. So she made him turn his cans over in front of her before he milked, and then watched the milking. She was able to speak his Arabic and had no trouble with him. Then she had to do all the shopping for the hospital. In the past, Abuyitzhak had done the buying involving the drugstore, the department store, the linen store, leaving the vegetables and such to her. In the beginning she asked me to go with her, since she knew very little English. And we discovered an interesting thing. When we were given a bill, we would be told that of course, we would pay 20% less than the amount of the bill, as was the custom. So Abuyitzhak had enjoyed a nice kickback. We rejected this system and insisted that the hospital get the benefit of the discount, and the merchants thought that we were crazy.
Before Abuyitzhak left, I had the car transferred to the Joint and acquired a new chauffeur. The doctor's driver had been a Somali who had irked Danon because he always hung around the hospital, and she had been told to feed him. She complained mostly about the meals, but I told her that I could not change the agreement unless I wanted to pay him much more salary. I hired a Jewish driver, a man who had once owned a taxi. I asked him whether he was afraid of the Arabs, and he assured me that his wife was pregnant and that he could not afford to be afraid. He did a good job and took good care of the car. Every so often he would come in and tell me that some one had put some sand into the radiator or had siphoned off the gas, but we had no major troubles, and our biggest problem was that the car itself began to break down.
A little while after completion of my shots, Metha told me to go to the government hospital for about a week for some tests to make sure that I as over the dysentery. By this time the stool was beginning to form again, as the doctors say, and I was feeling much better. At the hospital they gave me a few penicillin shots and took a lot of stool samples. The day after the first shot (probably some other shot, because it was in the arm), a big lump developed on my upper arm. Danon visited me, looked at the lump, and said that the nurse did not know how to give shots. After a week I was pronounced free of dysentery and released.
The Crescent Hotel, Steamer Point
It was now September, and about that time I moved to the Crescent Hotel in Steamer Point. I had a huge room with a veranda facing the water, and there were cool breezes in the evening, and life was more pleasant. At first I did not like the knock on the door at six AM in order that I might receive the morning tea, abut I got used to it and finally liked it. Now I ate all my meals at the hotel, and found them tastier than at the Banin house. The waiters were all Arabs dressed in white robes with wide green sashes around the waist and barefoot. If I went out on the veranda early enough, I could see how some of the dock workers washed before they prayed. Dressed in their wraparound cloth, a man would use a bottle of water to wash his face and his arms and hands, legs and feet. No soap was used. Some of them slept right there on the dock or near it, wrapped in a rug which they would use as a prayer rug. Others lived in rows of shacks along the shore, and sometimes I would see them wading out into the water and squatting. Still others lived in caves or holes in the hills which could also be seen. The surrounding hills were studded with fortifications.
Aden was a great naval base and guarded the route to India. It would not have been difficult for a few ships to prevent passage between Steamer Point and Djibouti in Africa. Aden Colony manufactured salt evaporated from the sea, laundry soap, tobacco and cigarettes, and sesame oil. Aden was primarily a distribution and trans-shipment point, importing fuel oil, cotton goods, grain, coffee, tobacco and skins; exporting cotton goods, skins, coffee, grain, tobacco and salt. There were no customs duties, but there was a tax on liquors and tobacco. British naval ships were always passing through, taking on water and oil, and passenger ships to and from India and Australia stopped there to let the passengers shop and rest a little after the long trip down the Red Sea.
In anticipation of drawing up a loan contract for use when people finally came to me for loans to rebuild their homes or go into a business or trade, I had gone to an Indian lawyer and asked him to prepare such a document. Either he was very busy or very lazy or very indifferent for he dawdled and delayed for weeks, and it was not until October that he presented me with a draft. I made some changes and had it retyped and then, knowing that Viteles was due to visit Aden sometime in October, I held it for him. When he read it, he did not like it and took it back with him, and that was the last that I saw of it.
Before Viteles' scheduled arrival I had cabled him that my six months would be up on Oct. 20 and I wanted to go home about that time. He answered that he would first have to find a replacement and that I might have to stay longer; however, we would discuss it on his visit.
Fire in the Ghetto
I think that it must have been early in September that we had the big fire in the Ghetto. I saw an unusual number of police and constabulary moving around at the barricade and was beginning to wonder what it was all about, when I received a very frightened phone call from Aharoni. He said that there was a big fire in one of the godowns on the next street and he was afraid of a riot, and please call the governor. I called the police commissioner and told him that the leader of the Jewish community was very concerned about possible rioting. He assured me that the fire department was controlling the fire and the police were maintaining order, and there was nothing to worry about. A little later I went out and saw that the fire was consuming a whole building, but that the buildings on either side were not burning and that the mobs had been kept out of the ghetto. The next day, crowds of boys and men were searching in the ashes. It came out that the place was a paint store operated by an Indian who was also smuggling gold to India. That seemed to be a very lucrative business. He would very skillfully open a can of paint, put in some gold, and then reseal the can and ship the paint. He had an accident, and such a can of paint caught on fire. I also found out that it paid very well to smuggle gold to India, and some people hid it in their heels, in dolls, in cakes. One Jewish woman had been caught smuggling it in a typewriter.
In 1946 Dr. Cochrane had prevailed up the Aden governor to gather the Yemenite refugees from the streets of Crater, the tents of a small village called Sheikh Othman, and from Lahej into a camp about 13 miles from Crater, Camp Hashed. The Joint paid for the upkeep of the camp, which was run by Dr. Olga Feinberg. She had come from Chicago in 1926 and had opened a sanatorium for Arabs in Jericho. Arabs burned it down in 1938, and she moved to India, where she served in a British military hospital. While on the way back to Palestine in December 1946, she stopped in Hashed and saw the Yemenites living in the mat huts, and became their doctor. It was not until April 1948 that Simon came to be the camp administrator. I used to see Simon often in the bank, and we sometimes helped each other when short of official money, so he told me about his simple bookkeeping system. He kept his money in his left trouser pocket and joint money in his right trouser pocket, where he also kept bills and receipts. Thus, he never had any trouble. Feinberg finally settled in Israel after the Yemenite aliyah and went to work in an immigrant camp of Yemenites.
When I saw Hashed it was well organized, with tents as well as mat huts, underground water pipes, electricity, a big kitchen, a hospital, a telephone, etc. Feinberg had student nurses and at least one nurse from Israel, a truck and a big black car. The camp was surrounded by barbed wire and was guarded inside by tough Yemenites with big clubs. No one entered without their permission or left. Outside at the main gate were Aden police who let no one in without permission from the camp and no one out without a pass to leave. A group of us came there late on Saturday afternoon, and we had to leave the car just inside the wire, but Yemenite guards immediately surrounded it to protect it. It was late in July, at the annual Herzl-Bialik celebration, and we had come to hear and see the camp children dance, sing and declaim. I wrote about this, having green greatly moved, "I sat at this celebration and mused. Herzl of Vienna and Bialik of Odessa and little Yemenites of Tsana. In dress, in appearance, in habits, they are Arabs. But Herzl and Bialik are now part of them. No, Herzl and Bialik were always part of them, or Judaism, that is why they can become a part of any Jew, no matter what his language or origin. The longing of the Yemenite for his own home found its echo in the longing of Herzl and Bialik."
Preparations for going home and the start of Operation Magic Carpet
Viteles came about the middle of October and was full of plans to fly the Hashed people to Israel. Except for a few details, such as a final agreement with the Alaska Airlines and permission from the Aden government to use the British airfield, it would be only a matter of a month or two and we could begin. Then he might want me to go to the camp to take charge. I declined and told him that I still wanted to go home as soon as possible. So he finally gave in, and I hurried to the government hospital to get my shots. They really overdid it, injecting me with so many different types of germs, cholera and typhoid and who knows what else, that for the next three or four days I had such a terrible headache and diarrhea that I could not do anything. Viteles had to call in Simon to work out the dozens of cables which were flying from Aden to Paris and to Tel Aviv, round and round. Viteles did not stay long and was soon gone, and I recovered and began to wait for my release. I forgot to mention that I made peace with Aharoni, for Viteles.
I have not mentioned that during my stay in Aden I had not lost touch with Mommy. We were able to get letters through every so often, and she knew rather well what was going on. If she did not hear from me for a while, she called Viteles or went to see him in Tel Aviv. He would always add a line about her in his cable.
Knowing that I would soon leave, I began to think of things to buy. First I looked for a small refrigerator and found out that one needed an export license, and that the refrigerator had to be ordered from England. I would not have had any trouble getting permission to export it, but the refrigerator never arrived. Then I went to look for presents and found a beautiful kimono for Mina. For Mommy I went to Shimon's store and picked out a very good leather purse. I asked Shimon how much he wanted, and he said 200 rupees. That was about $66. I told him that it was too much. He went down to 100 rupees, and again I said too much. He laughed and said, take it as a present for your wife. And I did. For Aya I went to the British department store and found the doll Aya would later call Orit. I bought some Yemenite wicker baskets (round ones) and filled them with all kinds of canned foods, some cloth, and whatever else I could think of in things that would keep. Shortly before leaving I bought perishable foods.
On December 14 the first plane came and I met it. Off came two nurses and a representative of the Jewish Agency, a very pretty girl who immediately attracted Simon and whom he married later. One of the nurses was to stay in the hospital and the other would fly back with the first plane. I had nothing to do with preparing the passengers and was to be a passenger myself. The plane was filled with orphans and some blind women, and we left on the afternoon of December 16. All the seats had been taken out and had been replaced with two long benches. The nurse sat with one group on one side and I on the other. The children were well behaved, but the toilets fascinated them so that they kept using them all the time, even pouring water into them. As a result they were stopped and overflowing towards evening. We flew north and east over the Red Sea and eventually probably over Arab territory or at least over areas where there was still fighting and arrived in Lod eight hours later. Our arrival had been unexpected, and we were greeted enthusiastically by the customs people. I think that I could have brought in an elephant without any trouble. They asked me what else was coming for me, maybe a refrigerator, a car, they would mark it in my passport. The only official greeter was a man named Jacob Vainstein from the Jewish Agency. He took me aside and asked me whether there was any movement by the Jews of Yemen into Aden. I had no information and he was disappointed. Later he was to help organize the real exodus. The Yemenites and I were put in buses, and we went towards the immigrant camp at Beit Lid, somewhere between Herzelia and Hedera. On the way they let me off in Ramatayim. The following morning Aya woke up and saw me in bed. She said: Imma, who is that man in your bed?
Hashed was cleared by March of 1949, and about 3,000 Adenites were also taken out. The camp was dismantled. By May 1949 Aden was filling up again and quite rapidly with Jews from Yemen, and negotiations began with the Aden government to reopen the camp and were finally successful. Britain no longer opposed immigration, and the various sultans of the protectorate were now free to permit Jews to pass through from Yemen. The new ruler of Yemen also permitted his Jews to leave, and the immigration began to flow. There were many dangers along the roads and some people were robbed or even killed, and many died of sickness along the way, but about 48,000 Jews from Yemen, Asmara, Djibouti, Aden were brought over. I had called this operation the air shuttle, but a more imaginative person dubbed it Operation Magic Carpet, and that stuck. Tchiyah [Mina's daughter and my cousin] spent about six months in Hashed working in the hospital. Selim Banin, the leader, returned to Aden and was very active in organizing the aliyah.
As I have thought about this experience and as I think about it now, I realize that I could have been much more useful to the program and to my future had I been more diplomatic and wiser. Just the same, I look back on my Aden period as a great and rich episode in my life.
P.S. Abuyitzhak was an Israeli agent on the side, but no one told me until after my return to Israel.