Anzarut Genealogy and the "Good Old Days" in Egypt
by Edna Anzarut-Turner

My research of the Anzarut genealogy was simpler than most, as we are British by birth and descent.
My ancestors were in "cotton" and my great great grandfather Jacob Anzarut left Aleppo and the Ottoman Empire with his brother and sisters settling in Manchester (England). The Anzarut family owned and ran an important and very lucrative shipping business relating to the cotton industry.

When Jews became emancipated in Great Britain in c.1858 (slavery had been abolished in the British Empire before Jews were emancipated) my ancestors became naturalized British citizens, and since that time everything was recorded at Somerset House in London...i.e. marriages, births, deaths etc..
The other helpful facet was that the family commuted to and from Manchester and Beirut (the latter was part of the Ottoman Empire and cotton was an important staple), and according to historians, my great grandparents and my grandparents were well known millionaires and extremely philanthropic, so there was great deal written here and there about their great kindness to others and their philanthropy, and historians approached me with some information to which I added some of my own.
The Turks sided with the Germans during WW.1, and the Anzaruts who lived in the Ottoman Empire, fled Beirut as they were British citizens. They left all their possessions there.

The Anzaruts decided to settle in Alexandria which also had very important cotton checker plots and industry. Egyptian cotton fibres are considered the best in the world.
I come from a very large, loving close knit and extended family and when we lived in Alexandria there was constant visiting.
I was also an avid listener to all the stories that my dad, my grandparents and my great uncles and aunts related to me, and kept notes, and several years ago did some more in depth research .i.e. I did not use any information from synagogue records in Egypt, Lebanon or Aleppo, as this proved impossible due to the political situation there.

What one reads about life in Alexandria and Cairo before the officer's revolution that ousted King Farouk, is perfectly true.
There was very high end elegance in boutiques where we shopped, and which carried the most exquisite fashions from Europe.
The jewelry shops abounded with superb jewelry that were even given as gifts to us children.
There were dozens of galas and balls (like the Bal des petits lits blanc) and lavish parties.

There were distinct communities of Europeans living there..Belgian, Italian, British, Austrian, French, Greek..etc...and they vied with one another to bring to Egypt the best their native countries could offer.

We had a yearly venue of the most prestigious operas straight from La Scala, or the Opera de Paris or Covent Garden Opera. Ballet companies like Covent Garden Ballet , and Les Ballets des Champs Elysees..etc....Virtuosi, world renowned pianists, violinists, cellists, organists...and famous Philarmonic Orchestras, as well as the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Comedie Francaise.
My mother recalled that at one time, the Habima Theatre used to come regularly to Alexandria with its plays all acted in Yiddish. The theatre hall was packed and many who could not understand Yiddish would also attend. 

There were famous European writers, artists and lecturers who gave fascinating talks. 

We were members of very exclusive country clubs where we kowtowed with deposed Royalty and played with their children.
 Egypt's main cities were then unpolluted, clean and very beautiful. The country boasted pristine beaches on the Mediterranean and Red Seas (Sokhna) and archaeological remains..Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and superb intricate Islamic architecture.
The non-indigenous inhabitants consisted of a society based on class distinction and not religious affiliation. There were very poor Jews and non Jews, and very wealthy Jews and non Jews, and only the people who had the same financial means, and erudite background would mix, and were great friends, irregardless of their religious beliefs. A most cosmopolitan and enriching society.

There were highly erudite Jewish and non Jewish families and uneducated Jewish and non Jewish families.

Looking back it was an amazing life for us..however..just below the surface there was an undercurrent volcanic rumbling of dissatisfaction and frustration.....Egypt had been under British Rule for very many years after WW1., and was a British Protectorate.
In 1928, Hassan el Banna who was a fierce Sufi Islamist local imam, established the Muslim Brotherhood - Ihwan el Muslemeen. He detested the British. His firebrand rhetoric and writings attracted and inflamed the nationalists and the poor Egyptian Arabs.
The Egyptian Arab peasants the fellaheen, lived in abject misery and poverty, and the British, and other foreigners were blamed.
For years, even before I was born, there were frequent heartwrenching  hunger riots by mobs and frightening nationalistic riots...not a very pleasant sight.. and when these occurred during my lifetime, as a child and young teenager, they became an indellible memory of the sadness and dread I felt at the time. 
As my mum was a well known French journalist and my dad was a British banker, from 1948 onwards, our telephone was bugged, and the Egyptian secret police frequently came into our home in the wee hours of the morning to search for non existant " Zionist and/or British spy" material...My husband's cousin, the historian Martin Gilbert, wrote a very informative book  " In Ishmael's House", in which he included some of my recollections.
Fortunately, as we were British we went to England as returning nationals, but from one day to the next we had all became penniless and homeless refugees..from our aged grandparents, our middle aged shocked parents and us their children, for whom at first and for a very short time, it seemed an exciting adventure into the unknown.

Reality set in soon was actually an adventure in humiliation, and a shocking plight which incurred many tragedies, and destroyed the health of my dearest grandfather who died a few years later, and my beloved dad who passed away soon after at the early age of 52.
The tragedy was that my dad had an amazing future ahead of him in the banking world in London, but the stress experienced during our last years in Egypt and the resulting upheaval were unforgiving, and he died of a stress related illness.
When they were expelled, the majority of Jews who lived in Egypt had no nationality whatsoever or held useless Egyptian passports. They had to beg and/or buy their way into countries that would accept to either give them a passport or landed immigrant status.
Nonetheless, in between these nationalistic periods of hysteria, we could go anywhere unmollested and quite safely, and we continued to live in our rose coloured the lap of luxury, intellect and culture and enjoy the wonderful climate and life that existed in those days, and were unexcelled anywhere else in the world.
However, there were informers everywhere, and we could trust no Egyptian Arab, not even our faithful servants, so we never mentioned the word "Israel" in public and  called it "la-bas" (over there).  I would be asked to stand guard in front of the closed door of the room where the radio was to ensure that none of our servants would go near, while my parents would listen to Kol Israel - The Voice of Israel - with their ears glued to the set.

This said, I have too many terrible souvenirs of what happened to us before, during and immediately after 1956, so have willed myself not to look back and have, with the help of my beloved husband Laurence, happily moved on by dwelling on the positive side of my life in England and in Canada.
Looking back, I am forever grateful that we were able to leave Egypt in 1956.
...and now I am a grandmother of 6.....and hope that my grandchildren and other descendants when they are older, will one day google Anzarut and discover something they will find interesting.

Edna Anzarut Turner
March 2012

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