Story of a Jewish refugee from Egypt

by Dr. Elie Toueg


My name is Elie Toueg. Born to a large Jewish family in Cairo, I had a safe, comfortable and happy childhood. After finishing my secondary education, I went on to medical school where I studied with Muslims, Jews and Christians. After completing my degree, I became a respected and well-known ophthalmologist. I held an important, permanent position at a government run hospital, and I got along well with my fellow physicians and colleagues. Although there were isolated incidents of discrimination against Jews, I never felt personally threatened, and I never imagined that escalating tensions between Jews and Arabs could affect my personal and professional life, much less strip me of the freedom I had come to take for granted.

By the summer of 1967, the tumultuous situation in the Middle East had reached new and terrifying heights, and not long afterwards war broke out between the Arab nations and the Israelis. On June 5, 1967, the Egyptian authorities rounded up 400 Jewish males, aged 16- 60, and transported us to concentration camps. Among the arrested were doctors, lawyers, accountants and even Jewish policemen. During that time I endured humiliating and inhumane treatment, conditions I never could have conceived of in my former life. We were cursed and beaten, and made to sleep in a room with 40 other men. Kept in total darkness for the first two weeks, both figuratively and literally, we were each given a single blanket on the floor and told to wait.

Eventually, conditions eased up and we were told by the authorities that the Arab army was at Tel Aviv's doorstep, and that once the Israelis were crushed we would be allowed to return to our families. It was not until I left the camp that I even learned the true outcome of the war.

After six months, I was expelled from Egypt with nothing but the clothes on my back and put on a plane to Athens, Greece. Stepping off the plane, I found myself wandering around the airport, unsure of my next step. All of a sudden, a woman approached me and explained that she was a HIAS representative, who had been sent to help me. As we discussed my future plans, I told her that I had two brothers in Milan and that I wanted to go to them before I considered any further options. She agreed, and arranged for me to fly to Milan the next day. As I was leaving, she told me that HIAS would contact me once I had settled in with my family. To this day, I consider that woman to be an angel.

Sure enough, a couple of days after I arrived in Milan, I got a call at my brother's house from a HIAS representative. She asked me if I needed any assistance, and we discussed the steps we would need to take to get my immigration papers in order. HIAS worked diligently on my case, and after a few months, I was contacted and informed that my papers were being prepared at the American Embassy in Paris. Once I arrived in Paris (through the help of HIAS, of course), I was met by a representative who took me to a hotel where I was to stay until my new visa was ready. During my time in France, HIAS provided me with a weekly stipend for food and living expenses, and contacted me as soon as my visa was ready.

After securing my visa, I was told by HIAS that arrangements had been made for me to fly from Rome to New York City. I was given a train ticket from Paris to Rome, where I was met at the station by a HIAS representative. He handed me my ticket and my documents and told me I would be met once I arrived at Kennedy airport. Sure enough, once the plane landed in America, someone from HIAS was waiting there to help me through customs and immigration. I was then taken to a hotel in Manhattan, with all expenses paid by HIAS. A few days later, a woman from HIAS called to arrange a meeting at Jewish Memorial Hospital, where she had set up an interview with the medical director. I obtained an internship at this hospital, and began a new medical career in America. Over the years, although I did not need financial support from HIAS, the organization continued to check in with me, to make sure I was adjusting to my new life, and to see if they could help me in any way.

I eventually passed my boards, got married to a wonderful woman, and had two children who are the joy of my life. I am now an assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine; I teach medical residents and I run a private practice. But above all, I am enjoying the freedom and liberty of life in this amazing country.

Throughout the years, I have tried to repay HIAS with contributions. Still, even if I could give them all the money in the world, my debt would forever remain unsettled. HIAS came to my aid when I had nothing except my name and my memories, and helped me establish a new life with new, wonderful memories and experiences. My HIAS representatives are the only angels I've ever known, and it is my wish to let them know just how much I appreciate their help, support and compassion. HIAS has the eternal gratitude of my family and me, and we feel truly blessed to be affiliated with this miraculous organization.

Thank you for everything, and God bless you.

Renee and Elie Toueg with their children, Maurice and Gisele Toueg.