Although my grandfather assured me that the roots of the Anzarut family resided in Aleppo and the Levant dating back to 1700s, some Anzarut descendants believed that previous to that date, our family sources allegedly resided in Gibraltar. The dominant old merchant families of Gibraltar were divided between those of Spanish, Genoese, Maltese and Moroccan Jewish descent.
There was also a rumour of a possible connection prior to our alleged Gibraltar roots which would source the family name to the Island of Lanzarote which is part of the Canary Island Archipelago...whence the derivation to Anzarut. This allegation was also confirmed by another cousin, Ezra Charles Anzarut of Melbourne who was decorated several times, and became the recipient of the “Officier de la Légion d'Honneur” accolade several years ago.
According to yet another cousin of mine, Prof. Doctor Marcel Erdal of the Goethe University in Frankfurt (Germany) who is a specialist in Turkic, Syriac and etc..he states that it seems unlikely (as it was previously believed) that my Anzarut ancestors would just have appended that name to the name "Cohen", to differentiate the family from all the other Cohens who lived in Aleppo at that time. According to Marcel, the name Anzarut is neither Arabic nor Hebrew. It is of Syriac origin, and loosely translated is a plural form of "the Pure Ones".
Since writing the above, and through painstaking research, I have discovered that Anzarut is actually the medicinal secretion or sap of a tree growing in Iran (Persia); the very ancient medicinal properties of which were considered a panacea....which seems to agree with the answers that my grandfather Leon Anzarut gave me.
He had been told by his father Ezra, that the name Anzarut derived from some sort of plant or spice that our merchant ancestors carried on their ships importing and exporting these.
Sam Benady a contact of mine who lives in Gibraltar informed me that Sarcocolla or Anzarut is called Anzarote in Spanish.
I also found out that Jacob was born in Aleppo, and so had his ancestors.
I should add that there is no mention of an Anzarut family in the archives of the Jewish community in Gibraltar. We do know that previous to the name change to Anzarut, our ancestors’ family name was Cohen. It is therefore possible that it was our ancestors Cohen who lived in Gibraltar.
The origin of our Anzarut name
Dr. Ahmad Parsa Ph.D. who is President of the Museum of Natural History and Professor of the University of Teheran made a thorough compilation of Iranian medicinal plants and drugs of plant origin, and the name Anzarut figures in this compilation. Anzarut (Arabic).
It is also called Sarcocolla flesh glue and is a sweet sap that is secreted by the plant and is found in Arabia and in Persia. The dried sap is pale yellow, like pale yellow amber, but is soluble in water and alcohol and has no smell.. Anzarut is applied when softened and then it dries to the consistency of plaster and has been used from early times to this day by Parsi bone setters. It can also be applied warm as a compress to alleviate toothache, earache etc....
I have since discovered that Kew Gardens in England have some "Anzarut" in their inventory.
I received a most interesting letter dated March 30th 2014, from Juris Zarin an archaeologist working in the Persian Gulf which reads as follows :
“ Dear Mrs Edna Anzarut-Turner,
I am a Near East archaeologist working in the Persian Gulf. I spent 10 years working on an Indian Ocean medieval period site called Zafar (el Baleed0) in southern Oman, and am currently writing a book on the results.
The Indian Ocean trade in spices and goods incorporated goods coming from Cairo and the Levant and sent down the Red Sea to Zafar.
It included in historic lists (1200-1400 AD) all sorts of spices which were taxed.
It included Anzarut (in Arabic).
As you know, this is Astragalus sp or the sarcocolla plant which only grows in North Iran/Iraq and Syria and E. Mediterranean. This plant product came from Cairo to Aden and then Zafar by the Karimi Merchants who were Jewish (see S.D. Goitein volumes)
Your remote ancestors were most likely merchants in Aleppo or Cairo and eventually became named after the product they sold to Aden and Zafar (probably the anzarut went all the way to India, Indonesia (Sri Vijaya) and Canton, China (see Wheatley, 1959).
Quite a story I read when I looked up Anzarut.
Emigration of Sephardi Jewish merchants from the Levant, and the Ottoman Empire to Manchester
Manchester 1843 : The first two permanent Sephardi merchants who settled there were Samuel Hadida of Gibraltar, and Abraham Nissim Levy of Constantinople. They became part of a group of eight merchants who settled in Manchester during the 1840s. These included apart from the above-named : Isaac Pariente of the Barbary Coast, Joshua Padr of Constantinople, Moses Ben Messulam of Constantinople, Myer Hadida, Samuel Ventura, Joseph Azula, Samuel Kutura of Corfu, Moses Bensieri of Gibraltar, Nathan B. Lyons of Turkey. (See one of the Books, "The Making of Manchester Jewry, 1740-1875 by Bill Williams.)
There is no mention of any Anzaruts from Gibraltar.
Between 1850 and 1862 Aleppo was agitated by serious rioting by Arabs against the Ottoman rule. The principal industry at that time was silk-weaving and cotton printing.
Because of the disastrous economic situation that ensued due to the political upheavals, my ancestor Jacob Anzarut ( 1830-1891) and his brothers decided to leave Aleppo, which was then their place of residence and sail for Manchester which was the hub of the cotton industry.
Life in Manchester
The Anzaruts left Aleppo for Manchester in 1861. Britain had emancipated its Jews in 1856. Jacob, who was now 31 years' of age, and his siblings applied for British citizenship in 1862, and he received his British naturalization papers Certificate No. 5016 was issued on 16 April 1866.
Like the rest of the Anzarut family, I am British by birth and by descent, and according to official British Government requirement, whenever we must renew our British Passport, we must produce an affidavit which was signed by the British vice consul in Alexandria which has the stamp of the British Foreign Office.
We do know that Jacob had four brothers and two sisters:
Joseph :(b. c 1837 died in Manchester 24th August 1890.) He married Sarah Picciotto, and left no descendants.
Solomon : ( born 1847/48 died 20th August 1906)
Abraham : ( born 1838/9 and died c 21st Feb.1902)
Moses (?) Unnamed brother.
Bennot Sitt : (b - . Died November 11th 1915).
Mazal Dwek (born 1846 died September 26th 1920) were the two sisters.
We know of these siblings because they were named in Joseph Anzarut's will.
The Anzarut brothers were very prominent members of the Sephardi community in Manchester in 1874, (according to an excerpt from the books on Manchester Jewry by Bill Williams.)
My ancestors are cited as having been among the founding members of the Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue in that city.
Jacob, his wife, and his only son Ezra happily settled in Manchester. The family was very prosperous as they owned ships. They were well-known for their great philanthropy. Ezra was two years' old. When it was time for him to go to school, he attended Manchester Grammar School.
The firm of Jacob Anzarut & Son came into being.
My great great grandfather Jacob owned a very profitable shipping business, that dealt with the cotton industry. The mills in Manchester produced a very fine and beautiful cotton cloth called “madapolan” in French which was woven from Egyptian cotton fibre and was considered the best cotton in the world. The quality of the fibres were constantly being improved through the use of checker plots in Egypt run by the French government monopoly at the time.
Full economic recovery came to Aleppo after 1880 when a railroad was built. The Turks had successfully quelled the Arab uprising against them, and the economy boomed. This attracted the interest of several merchant families that had left the area to settle in Manchester, and some of them returned to the Ottoman Empire.
Jacob passed away in Manchester and was buried there.
Life in Beirut and Ezra’s story
The Anzaruts did a great deal of travelling from Manchester to the Middle East for cotton business purposes. My great grandfather Ezra, Jacob’s only son and heir would frequently travel to Syria on business, and was introduced to a suitable young lady called Rachel, who was one of the daughters of a prominent and very wealthy Damascene banking family called Farhi.
They were married, and settled in Beirut where their fourteen children were born. One of them, a baby girl called Marie, died in infancy when my great grandparents were in Alexandria, and was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Beirut.
The third eldest son was my grandfather Leon David.
The Anzaruts were Cohannim and were an Orthodox practising Jewish family. They were so pious that my Gt. grandfather Ezra would build a synagogue as close to where he was living as possible, so that he would not have far to walk during the Sabbath or the High Holy Days.
He built one adjacent to his lavish country house in Aley (in the Shouf Mountains of Lebanon). This synagogue had electricity, which the one in Beirut lacked. He also built one in Camp de Cesar in Alexandria (Egypt), within a few minutes’ walking distance from the family villa.
These synagogues were always built "In honour of his father Jacob".
I was informed that the Anzarut synagogue in Alexandria has now been turned into a mosque. The one in Aley was badly damaged by rockets during a Lebanese Civil War. One of my relatives who was in the IDF and was stationed there for a while, took photographs of it.
The exterior walls are still standing. In the middle of the floor in what was the Great Hall, he found the Anzarut alms box, which he took back to Israel. I was shown it when I visited the family in Jerusalem.
According to tradition, Gt. Grandfather Ezra and Gt. Grandmother Rachel were not only extremely philanthropic but they were also very hospitable, and the Sabbath and High Holy Days were a time for wonderful family gathering and togetherness.
One of my father's cousins Ezra Charles of Melbourne (Australia) recalls that the dining room table was so big that it could easily accommodate three families.
My Grandfather Leon told me that Gt. Grandfather Ezra was a very loving and proud father, but was rather formal and aloof with his children, but he always had an amused twinkle in his eyes when he spoke with his young children and his eventual grandchildren He was very kind, and they loved him dearly.
My Gt. Grandfather was given the title of " Ezra El Kebir,' (Ezra the Great) a tribute to his great philanthropy.
According to an Israeli historian who contacted me, Ezra el Kebir was the founder and first president of the Jewish community in Beirut.
He mentioned that he was writing a book on the Jewish community in Beirut at the time my ancestor resided there. He discovered that the name of Ezra el Kebir kept cropping up, and that he seems to have been a very important and highly respected figure at the time, not only by his co-religionists but also by the rest of the non-Jewish population.
I was later sent a photograph of the prominent and wealthy Jewish businessmen of Beirut. My great grandfather is sitting in the middle, and my Farhi great Uncles are standing behind him.
Ezra demanded absolute respect. It was customary for his children and grandchildren to kiss his hand when they saw him. My Gt. Grandmother Rachel on the other hand, was a relaxed, nurturing and loving human being, according to her grandchildren. They all adored her, and whenever they visited the villa, they never left empty-handed, as she showered them with gifts.
In the very large three storey stone country house in Aley, it was the tradition to keep the entrance doors open during the Sabbath, and the High Holy Days, when all the poor of the area, including the Druze inhabitants could come and eat to their heart's content.
Nothing was ever stolen, in spite of the fact that all the silver and valuables were left on display. Not one of the Druze, or any poverty stricken guest would have ever considered pilfering anything.
When we were in Israel many years ago, visiting very old tombs in a cavern near the border, I met an ancient looking Lebanese Druze who came from Aley. He was selling entrance tickets from a small tin can kiosk.
When I informed him that I was an Anzarut, he became very excited, and stopped yelling at our three sons who were boisterously hopping over the rope barrier and hopping back. He threw his arms around me, and said in Arabic that Ezra el Kebir and his son Leon (my grandfather) had been so incredibly kind and generous, that when they died, they must surely have gone straight to Paradise.
Leon David went to live in Beirut where he assisted his father Ezra in the running of the family firm Jacob Anzarut and Son. They were very close.
I remember my grandfather to be an erudite, multi-lingual warm and very kind man with a keen sense of humour. He was known to be an extremely honourable man, and was highly regarded by everyone. Leon, was considered a "young prince" in his youth.
My grandfather prospered greatly, and life was good. He had initially trained as a physician. That truly was his first love. He was, however, obliged to give it up in order to assist his father Ezra with the important family business in the Middle East. He always deeply regretted not having been allowed to practice medicine.
I was sent a photo of my nonno on a visit to Edie Sellinger, a nephew (on my grandmother's side) who had settled in "Palestine".
My grandfather had travelled there with his valet, who made sure he was dressed to the nines, with a boutonnière in his lapel.
The bottom of his trouser cuffs were elegantly turned up so he would not get them soiled. He is holding a silver handled walking cane in his hand, and of course an elegant hat on his head. Edie (the nephew) is holding a rope tethered to a cow that my grandfather had bought him.
Rokhama (Edie's wife) told me that when Edie decided to go to Palestine, he went to my grandparents, and asked them whether they would pay for his fare. They did, and gave him enough for a "First class" boat fare, as they did not know that there were other classes. Thanks to that, Edie and eight of his friends were all able to go by travelling "steerage".
Edie, who was an agronomist, ordered strawberry seeds from the U.S., and he and his friends started a moshav in Kfar Azar. He tested the soil in that area, and found that it was perfect for growing strawberries. Kfar Azar is famous in Israel for its delectable strawberries.
Leon and Caroline’s story
My grandmother Caroline was a Viennese lady whose family had emigrated to Turkey for business reasons. Leon was in Constantinople on a business trip for the family firm of Jacob Anzarut and Son. He was invited to dinner by a family called Mizrahi. They had two daughters who were friends of my grandmother.
According to my grandmother’s niece Lydia Erdal (whose 102nd birthday was celebrated on 30th November 2016) my grandmother’s siblings strongly urged my grandmother to drop by and visit at the Mizrahi house.
My grandmother was very lively, had a tremendous sense of humour, and was very attractive. My grandfather was very handsome extremely well-travelled and refined. According to Lydia, my grandparents fell in love at first sight. This was not at all what the Mizrahi family had in mind .
They were married in Constantinople.
A second cousin of mine found a photograph depicting my grandparents as bride and groom in Constantinople. They were sitting in an open car. At the wheel was one of my grandmother's cousins Sigmund Weinberg (who owned the first two cinemas in Istanbul, and the first photography shop (this was something quite revolutionary in those days.) Next to him was another of my grandmother's cousins, Carl Carlman (who owned one of the first department stores in Constantinople on the Grande Rue de Pera).
The photograph was taken during the time of Sultan Abdel Hamid who refused to allow cars to be on the streets in Turkey unless they had a horse harnessed to it. It is therefore a very special photograph as it shows the first car in Turkey. My grandparents, Sigmund and Carl are surrounded by Turks wearing a fez and gawking at the satanic metal monster that moved without a horse.
My grandparents went to live in Beirut, where Caroline adapted to the Anzarut Sephardi ways to which she added her own very elegant Viennese touch. They built a beautifully decorated large villa and were extremely happy there.
My nonno used to tell me about his travels all over the word. How he contracted yellow fever in Tahiti and the natives looked after him and cured him. He would show me a yellow spot on his cheek which was the only sign left of this deadly disease. He spoke at length of the Boer War and his trip to South Africa, and the wonderful time he and my nonna and their children spent in Aley in Lebanon.
My nonna’s family came from Vienna, and left Austria to reside in Constantinople. She too had fascinating stories to tell me about her childhood. During the holiday period the whole family would cross the Bosphorus by boatand go to an island called the Tchiflik Polonais. The Ottoman government allowed Polish expats to settle on this island as they had pig farms, and enjoyed eating pork which was a forbidden food in Muslim Turkey.
There were horses and donkeys waiting on the island for my nonna and her older brothers and sisters. They rode into the forest, stopped by a waterfall and crystal clear brook, and alit in order to enjoy their picnic meal.
My nonna remembered the musical sound of the waterfall and the chirping of the birds in the trees. One of her brothers or a friend would play the harmonica, and everyone would sing along with it.
They would then hike in the forest, and then climb astride their horse or donkey, and journey on till they reached the village and the inn where they would be staying. They would then call the innkeeper “Gertrude…Gertrude” and Gertrude would pop her head out of the upstairs window and excitedly call in German “How wonderful..they have arrived, they have arrived”. She would gallop down the stairs and welcome them in.
After a delicious and lively supper everyone went to bed. The mattresses were filled with straw and leaves, and my nonna. told me that whenever she moved there was a sound of “shhhhhhhh shhhhhhh” made by the straw filling.
Everyone was so tired after the bracing fresh air, and the wonderful supper that they would all sleep very soundly.
At home in Constantinople, there was a grand piano. The family loved music and my nonna played beautifully. The house was always filled with extended family and friends. They played parlour games like musical chairs, or charades, and then would burst into song when someone played the pieces in vogue on the piano.
World War I and departure from Beirut
Just before World War One was declared, Caroline & Leon held a lavish ball in their villa in Beirut. All the British diplomatic corps and Ambassador were invited. Leon asked the British Ambassador whether it would be wise for the Anzaruts (being British) to stay on in Beirut as this was part of the Ottoman Empire, and the Turks would be siding with Germany. They were assured that they would be perfectly safe.
In the wee hours of the morning, there was savage banging on the door of the villa. Armed Turkish guards stood outside. They arrested my grandfather Leon who was taken away and interned by the Turks. War had just been declared.
My grandmother Caroline dressed hurriedly, calmed my dad and my uncle who were little boys, and rushed to the British Embassy. There were Turkish guards everywhere.
The Embassy was completely deserted. The Ambassador and every single member of the British diplomatic corps had fled the country directly after attending the Anzarut ball.
Caroline, who spoke fluent Turkish bribed some officials who then released Leon but warned that my grandparents had to leave Beirut forthwith else they would all be imprisoned.
My grandparents returned to their villa, packed some belongings and left. They said goodbye to their staff, who were all weeping and asked the wealthy Lebanese owners of a neighbouring villa to please keep an eye on their property while they were away. No sooner had my grandparents left, than those same neighbours went in and plundered the place.
After the war ended my grandparents returned to Beirut for a visit, and to check on their property. The villa had been looted. Their neighbours informed them that the Turks had taken everything. Upon visiting these neighbours who refused at first to let them in, they discovered that was not the case. The neighbours had helped themselves to everything.
Alexandria - The pearl of the Mediterranean.
My grandparents and their two little boys, Edgar and Raymond settled in Alexandria. It was a beautiful, modern, very clean and elegant multi-lingual cultured European type of City. The street names were not in Arabic, but in English and French. Arab fellaheen came from their villages to find work there.
My Auntie Eileen was born in Alexandria. She was a very pretty little girl and my second cousin Lydia Erdal who lives in Jerusalem, reminisced over the phone. “Your auntie Eileen always won first prize at all the children’s parties as being the most beautiful child there. I have photos that show what a very lovely and regal looking child she was."
The Anzarut cotton shipping business boomed. My grandparents built a sumptuous villa in Mustapha Pacha on Khallil Pasha Khayat Street. My grandmother told me that they had ordered special marble from Cararra (Italy), and that it was customary for good luck to put a great deal of money where the excavations were, before laying the foundations of a house. She used to laugh and say that if anyone ever dug under the villa they would find a treasure trove that would make them rich.
I was told by another one of my Anzarut second cousins, that it was the only other house after Gt. Grandfather Ezra's house in Camp de Cesar to have a master- bathroom, or “ensuite”. My grandparents had also ordered all their furniture from Maples of London.
My grandmother was an avid gardener, and in spite of the fact that they had gardeners in their employ, she would often bend down to weed, and prune the roses. Something that was unheard of then. She was also a gourmet cook, and insisted on going to the kitchens and putting her two bits worth, much to the annoyance of the capable cook and other kitchen help.
They employed a whole family to work in the villa. The husband would be the chauffeur; brothers would be gardeners, etc.
The milkman would come to the back door with his cow and milked the cow, while the scullery-maid gave him the milk jugs to fill. If my grandparents needed more milk, the milkman had to fetch another cow.
The milk was boiled in large pots over a Primus stove. It was left to cool, and produced a very thick one and a half inch layer of cream. This cream was carefully removed, cooled, rolled into a thick cigar shape, and sprinkled with sugar. It was a most unhealthy but absolutely amazing delicacy.
They had ice-boxes then not refrigerators. Huge blocks of ice would be delivered on a donkey cart by another hawker. Fruit and vegetables were also delivered to the house. The vendor would stick a very sharp knife in a watermelon and remove a small piece to taste. If the scullery maid did not find it ripe, he would do the same thing to another one until she was satisfied.
The three children, Edgar, Raymond and Eileen had the dubious pleasure of being brought up by very strict governesses, and spoke fluent German, French and English. My Auntie Eileen who was very fond of chocolate refused to say “Shublade” (drawer as in chest of drawers) in German, and would say “Shubcolade”, much to the chagrin of the Schwester (the Austrian nanny).
My dad and my Uncle Raymond were mischievous impish pranksters. Their specialty was to pretend to be very friendly with a boy they disliked at the Alexandria Sporting Club.
While my dad joked with the boy, my uncle would slip an unshelled raw egg in the boy’s pocket. As a friendly gesture, my dad would give him a very vigorous pat on the back followed by an even more vigorous one on the pocket. The egg would smash, and my uncle would then ask the boy for a handkerchief as he had something in his eye.
The boy, very flattered to be asked, would immediately put his hand in his pocket and precipitously pull it out, his fingers dripping with stomach-churning rancid smelling yolky eggy slime.
I would listen to these stories with absolute rapture. My dad then assured me that he and my uncle Raymond were very fast runners, and no enraged boy who chased them ever caught them. So that was all right.
On another occasion, my grandparents were entertaining the Japanese Ambassador and various Japanese aides and trade commissioners in the rose garden of their villa. They had warned their two boys long before, and had told them they must behave.
The french doors of the living room were wide open. My Uncle Raymond sat down and started playing on my nonna's impressive grand piano, and my dad accompanied him on his violin.
Much to my grandparent’s bewilderment, the Japanese dignitaries stood up. The music stopped, and they all sat down. The music started again, and they all stood up. The music stopped, and they all sat down. This went on for quite a while.
After the Japanese guests had left, my grandparents went indoors, and looked at the music score from which my uncle and dad had been playing. They discovered it was the Japanese National Anthem. As a form of mea culpa, my dad bought a Japanese bike with his pocket money. The first time he rode it, the back and front wheels decided to each go their separate ways..the bike had split in the middle. He went back to riding his Raleigh pdq.
When I was a little girl I took over from my Uncle Ray who had left for England, and I became my dad’s “partner in crime”. It was great fun.
We used to de-tick my dog Blackie once a week using tweezers. We would drop the ticks in a cigarette tin filled with petrol. This killed them instantly. We would then casually walk in the street in front of our home, and my dad would gently put the closed cigarette tin on the pavement, and we would go and hide. After patiently waiting, an Arab would come along.
Hoping to find a few cigarette stubs that he could smoke, he would invariably pick up the can, open it….and as we expected, would let out a behemoth sounding yelp peppered with swear words, and throw it as far as he could. That was so much fun.
My dad also taught me how to make a very loud and ominous“Phtssssssssss” type of hissing noise with my lips and teeth any time a cyclist rode by. The cyclist would unfailingly hop off his bike and worriedly check his tires. It was great fun.
My grandparents lived quite close by in Alexandria, and my dad would take my hand and run very fast from our home to theirs, and I would wail and say he was going too fast. “Well you must learn how to run faster” “ DADDY I can’t! my legs are not long enough” “Well they have to grow” he responded. “Daddy they CAN’T GROW TODAY” “too bad” He grinned at me. “Daddy can we stop and have an ice cream..a dandurma” “hahahaha”, he laughed. ‘DAAAAAADDDDY” “hahahahahaha” he laughed even louder. My dad was hilarious…he was my best friend.
We frequently went for long walks on the Mediterranean corniche. I would get tired, and start complaining, and then I would hear a tinkle, and excitedly find a piaster on the sidewalk. My dad always suggested I give it to him so he could put it in his pocket for safe-keeping. Hoping to find more piasters, my fatigue disappeared.. unfortunately I found none. I then started complaining again..and to my great joy heard another tinkle..and there was another piaster on the ground. My dad looked after that one too. All in all I always found a dozen piasters every time we went for a walk by the corniche.
When we returned home one day, my mum asked my dad ”Edgar..why do you always wear the trousers that have a hole in the pocket when you go for a walk with Edna”? My dad stifled a giggle, put the forefinger of his right hand to his lips and answered “SHHHH!”
After supper, we would all go to the study, sit down in comfortable armchairs, and listen to my dad read from the French classics. Corneille, Racine, Pascal, Victor Hugo, etc.. He would explain to me the difference between each author’s life, concept and thinking. It was fascinating.
My dad enjoyed making radio sets as a hobby. He would buy the components and different types of complicated metering apparatus made in Germany from a friend of his, and he would then draw and design the wireless sets.
Although they were called wireless, there were a great many wires that had to be soldered, and I used to have to hold these without moving or breathing so he could solder them neatly together.
One day as we were wire soldering we heard an unexpected sound coming from the unfinished wireless set. It was magical….Beethoven’s violin concerto with Yehudi Menuhin playing. The wires had not yet been soldered, and I had to hold them together so we could hear the sound. It was very difficult to stay perfectly still, but somehow I managed to do so.
My dad and I stood absolutely transfixed as we listened to this beautiful concerto; it felt as if a miracle had occurred.
We were great lovers of classical music, and my mum started taking me to philharmonic concerts from the time I was three. We always had front row seats, and the other concert goers would call me “la petite mélomane”. They were very amused to see such a young child sitting there, listening with rapt attention to the music.
My dad had a magnificent rich tenor voice, and would sing beautiful opera arias , especially when he was in the shower. His knowledge of Italian was excellent, and he changed the dramatic poetic lyrics as he went along. His translations were very naughty saucy ones, to the great amusement of my grandparents and his friends. I still remember his beautiful voice singing his personal unexpurgated and quite salacious version of several famous Italian arias..
My nonna would sing Austrian lullabies and folk songs to me when I was little. She would also sing popular operetta songs that were in vogue when she was young, like “Du bist verrückt mein kind du musst nach Berlin. Wo die Verrückten sind. Da gehörst du hin.” And my dad would join in. I recently discovered that one of the folk songs, “Ach du lieber Augustin…alles ist hin.” which was a very lively joyful sounding one had to do with a drunken Augustin falling in one of the deep black holed pits where the corpses of bubonic plague victims were flung during the Great Plague of 1679 that had devastated Britain and Europe.
My grandparents’ home was a most welcoming one, and friends would frequently drop by. My grandmother called them “bilbillèmes”. Am0ng the German speaking ones was Mrs. Sperer, who did not seem to have ever had a Mr. Sperer She used to teach German to the Royal family children at the Palace. Mrs Sperer decided to give me proper German lesson, and was very impressed that I understood the Der Die Das and grammar so quickly.
There were two very charming Hungarian sisters Beuji and Ilonka. They would say “Voy voy” instead of “oui oui” so my nonna called them the two Voyvoys. They were very jolly, had beautiful manners and were very fond of all of us, and we of them.
It was Rosh Hashana, and we were all sitting down at the dinner table when one of the Voyvoys told us that they had a brother who was very adventuresome. He sadly died in the”choongle”. “The choongle?” What on earth was the choongle? Ilonka explained that it was a place like a forest but with many more trees, and with big snakes and wild animals. Needless to say, it was impossible to keep a straight face; however as their brother had died in a jungle, it was a tragedy, and we all had to bottle and tightly cork our mirth.
There were other interesting German speaking frequent visitors including a rather beautiful and very elegant lady called Mrs. Pearson. My grandmother was extremely shocked when she discovered at a much later date that Mrs. Pearson was living “IN SIN” as she was not married to the very charming and handsome tall gentleman who was Mr.Pearson.
Mrs. Pearson gave me a book that her two daughters had liked when they were little. “Where the rainbow ends” I read the book over and over again. It became one of my favourites. I was delighted to find a very old copy at an antique bookshop in Sevenoaks (Kent), and immediately bought it.
There was Victor Ninio whose only knowledge of German was the word “schwindler”. He had no idea what it meant, and called my nonna “Schwindler”. He was finally told its meaning, and apologized profusely.
There was another German Jewish couple the Popovs (??)who returned to their native Berlin several years after the war, because they needed their German pension to survive, and were only allowed to receive it if they resided in Germany. We were very shocked. How could they return to Berlin, especially as all their family had been murdered by the Nazis. They looked very forlorn when they came to say goodbye.
None of these people ever forgot us. These friends would come from every corner of Europe to visit my grandparents in London, and then my grandmother in Orpington.
There was “Inchallah Inshallah” and “Rabenou Halikki” two very gentle and devout Sephardi poverty stricken individuals who would come every Saturday to pray and eat at the table. There was Mr. Travis who would drop by with Blackie.
There was also a toffee-nosed very tall and skinny American white-haired spinster Miss St.Clair, who for years visited nearly every day, until she arrived during Yom Kippur and had to be told there was no food that day, as we were Jewish. “JEWISH??? YOU ARE JEWS??” She yelped in horror.
She lost her composure and hopped up and down in a hysterical fit; her thoughts in complete turmoil. She rushed to the door..then rushed back. She was beside herself. She had never met Jews before. We did not fit the image. It was absolutely IMPOSSIBLE. She repeated again and again that we did not look like Jews. I wonder what she thought Jews looked like?
My mother tried to calm her down and mentioned the famous concert pianist Gina Bachauer. Miss St.Clair had often told us that Gina and she were great friends. My mum told her the awful news: Gina Bachauer was Jewish. This was too much for Miss St.Clair and she put both her hands on her face in absolute horror. She ran out of the house as if the devil was after her, and we never saw her again.
World War II
The Second World War broke out. During the North African campaign, and the second battle of El Alamein between the Allied forces of the Eighth Army and the enemy Axis power, Hitler decided to send to North Africa one of his top Generals, Field-Marshal Erwin Rommel (the Desert Fox) to command the Panzer division of the Afrika Korps.
The enemy Axis powers of Italy and German seemed unstoppable and were about an hour or so away from Alexandria.
My dad told me that my mum had packed two suitcases in case we had to flee. He asked her “Flee where? We are Jews!! how far do you think we will be able to go lugging two heavy suitcases?”
My second cousin Dolly Heffez (née Anzarut) told me that her dad, my Gt.uncle Ben wishing to protect his family at all cost, packed some belongings and they all caught a train that went from Egypt directly to Palestine. The trains were packed with terrified fleeing Jewish families.
Gt.Uncle Ben and his family arrived in Palestine and stayed with one of his and my grandfather's brothers Gt.Uncle Charles. They eventually left for Beirut and stayed with his sister my Gt. Aunt Victoria Farhi (née Anzarut), her husband my Gt. Uncle Elie and their delightful children. Tante Victoria and Uncle Elie lived in a very large house, and all the cousins had great fun playing together.
Had it not been for Montgomery and the incredibly brave Allied soldiers under his command, who, with their Sherman tank, and their heavy land and airborne artillery, finally pushed back and destroyed the German and Italian onslaught, we Jews, would have ended in Auschwitz like all the Jews in the North African countries who had been rounded up by the Gestapo, once these countries had been over-run by the Germans.
The desert battles were horrific. Bitter nights in the Sahara when the young soldiers were shivering with cold and fear, followed by the intense burning blinding heat of the sun during the day; the constant deafening bombings, the gagging dust and smoke, the swarms of flies buzzing around the corpses..…a terrifying chaotic inferno; seriously wounded bleeding youngsters, some with missing limbs lying on the ground calling for their mothers… and the incongruous supposedly spirit-buoying sound of distant bagpipes. which could be heard above the sound of mortar and gunfire.
For two weeks, the 200,000 young soldiers from the combined Allied forces fought against over 100,000 Germans and Italians, without the help of the Americans. Allied casualty figures amounted to more than 13,500, with over 4,500 dead. Losses of 500 Sherman tanks and 100 aircraft bombers were also sorely felt.
The Allied barracks at Sidi Gaber were a 15 minute walk from my grandparents’ home. Army lorries would careen down the street at racing-car speeds. The little daughter of the Coptic grocers across the street from where my grandparents lived was crossing the road. I was on my grandparents’ balcony, and her parents were siting outside their shop watching her. An ANZAC lorry mowed her down. It did not even stop. I remember screaming screaming screaming.
On another occasion whilst relaxing on my grandparents’ balcony, I looked upwards towards the window of a very nice family’s apartment. Their adult daughter often stopped by to give me sweets. I waved to her as she seemed to climb out of the window; and I watched at what looked like a big doll wearing a dress landing in the street right next to my grandparents’ balcony. My grandfather had been sitting with me. He hurriedly picked me up and rushed me indoors. I asked him what that was and why had the doll been thrown from the window. He said I should not worry and everything was all right.
Several years later I discovered that the young lady had committed suicide. She had become pregnant, and the young soldier who had been her lover had been killed.
Edgar and Sophie’s WWII story
During the Axis bombing of Alexandria Harbour, the British government ordered protective walls of sand bags to be erected in front of apartment buildings, and homes. Everyone had to cover the shutters of their windows with “blackout” paper.
There was busy traffic in the night skies over Egypt. Barrage balloons called blimps floated in the sky. These were tethered to very thick metal cables. The metal cables would damage enemy aircraft that collided with them, or make the attacker’s approach very difficult.
Very bright search-lights criss crossed the heavens. These aided the Allied anti-aircraft crew to spot enemy planes during night-time raids. The search-lights were built by General Electric Co. in the US.
The air-raid sirens would sound as soon as the enemy Luftwaffe planes were spotted; a very long eerie plaintive deafeningly loud urgent ear-splitting noise, warning us of the arrival of enemy planes, and subsequent bombing. The bombs made an extremely loud screaming screeching sound, and then there was absolute silence followed by a terrifying earth shattering booming explosion. All the homes and buildings shook.
The whole city was affected, as the harbour was quite close, and the prestigious British Mediterranean fleet with its state of the art aircraft carriers had been moved from Malta to Alexandria Harbour. Every light had to be switched off. Egypt was in total darkness. This was called the “blackout”.
Air-raid wardens, wearing helmets, would police the streets yelling “Turn off your lights” (Taffee el Noor). Everyone scurried into air raid shelters. British citizens, including small children and babies were equipped with gas masks. The only person who refused to obey the blackout was King Farouk, who insisted that all his palaces remain lit during the air-raids.
When the sirens wailed the “all clear” everyone would return to their home from the shelters - usually the concrete basement of their home or someone else's home.
Children would run upstairs to the flat roof of their homes after a bombing raid. They would excitedly scrounge around for gnarled and twisted shrapnel pieces that they would proudly show off at school. All the buildings, and homes in Egypt had flat roofs.
I have no idea why my Auntie Eileen was in London during the time of the blitz. She and my cousin Vivienne must have been terrified. Vivienne was born in Durban in South Africa where my pregnant auntie had previously been evacuated. She told me that she and Vivienne would take refuge in the tube stations during the fierce enemy bombing raids.
In Alexandria my dad joined St. John’s Ambulance, and was eventually decorated for his courage. He was then called up, and although he told my mum and grandparents that he had a desk job, he was in fact sent to the front in the Western Desert, and fought in El Alamein under Montgomery.
During his leave, he would return home to Alexandria, with his face, arms and legs burnt black by the desert sun. When the second battle of El Alamein was won by the allies, and the Germans were finally repelled, my dad returned home suffering from severe shell-shock. He was nursed back to good health thanks to the tender loving care and the nurturing of my mum and my grandparents.
It was the norm that anyone who had a university degree, automatically became an officer in the British Army. The British Army “powers that be” refused to acknowledge my father’s French degree, and refused to make him an officer. He was forced to be a private…the lowest army rank possible.
One of the “character building” exercises the officers and sergeants some times insisted upon, when the privates were not at the front, was to make them clean the disgusting floors of the latrines, as well as the filthy smelly latrines with a toothbrush. For someone like my dad who was a banker and had achieved a “First” at the University of Nancy at the École des Hautes Finances, and who grew up in a lavish villa, had been chauffeur-driven everywhere, and was surrounded by servants and maids this was deeply humiliating.
Towards the end of the war, when my dad would come home on leave, he would teach me how to use a bayonet. We used a broom and a large soft pillow. The pillow was the enemy and I had to run as fast as my legs could carry me, towards the “enemy”, yelling ferociously at the top of my voice, and stick the broom in the pillow with as much force as I could muster, twist it round, put my foot on the pillow, and pull the broomstick out. It was great fun.
He also used me as a guinea pig to refine his first aid skills, and I ended up looking like a bandaged Egyptian mummy, thanks to which I learnt how to become very proficient at bandaging wounded heads, hands, elbows, knees, fingers, feet and toes.
During wartime, the British Military Police arrested the adult males of Alexandria’s large Italian community and held them in camps in the Western Desert. This was a world war, and the Italians were correctly considered possible spies and a dangerous fifth column.
My mum told me that as the Italian Axis enemy were approaching Alexandria, all the Italian mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and aunts frenziedly threw themselves into sewing fascist flags, and baking cakes and lasagna. As their home ovens did not have sufficient space, they took over all the public city bakery ovens which were filled to capacity. These Italian women wanted to welcome our fascist Italian enemy in style when they conquered Egypt.
The Italian prisoners were very well looked after. Their families were allowed to visit them at least once a week, and bring with them all sorts of toiletries, food and goodies, as well as new clothes, clean mended laundry, books, magazines, newspapers, musical instruments and anything else the prisoners safely wished for in order to make their life comfortable. They had professional medical help when this was needed, and checked into Alexandria hospitals if this was required.
Their ungrateful elderly children still feel rancorous and bitter by what they perceived to be the unjust confinement of their dads, uncles and older brothers.
During that time, my paternal Gt. Uncle Isidore Melkenstein, his wife and two sons who were Italian citizens crossed the Italian Alps on foot, in the freezing cold and snow, in the dead of winter in order to escape to “neutral” Switzerland.
When they finally arrived at the top of one of the mountains where the Swiss flag was waving, they dragged themselves behind it to ensure that they were indeed safely inside Switzerland, and kissed the frozen snowy ground with absolute gratitude and relief. Swiss volunteers were waiting with warm clothes and took them to shelters.
My Gt. Aunt Anna Melkenstein who lived in Zhilina (Czechoslovakia) with her children and their husbands, and had been hidden by partisans, was discovered and murdered in Auschwitz. Her daughters Liesl and Herta, their husbands and their children hid in the forest and were eventually separated after the war. Liesl stayed in Soviet-controlled Zhilina, and Herta arrived in Palestine with her husband Geza Pick and their only child Albert (Israel).
My Gt.Uncle Yosef Melkenstein who lived in Athens (6 Mnicicleus Street) was hidden in the basement by a Greek family whose husband had been one of his most loyal employees. He spent the whole war in their basement.
The Great Depression, and Edgar’s story at the Ionian Bank
Just before the war, the world economy started suffering. The stock market crashed, and in the United States this wiped out millions of investors in what was called the Great Depression.
The Anzarut family business had started to feel the consequences of the stock
market crash. My dad was asked by my grandfather to return to Alexandria from France. This meant giving up half-way through his studies.
My father met with the Dean of the university and said he had to finish his degree the next year as he could not stay for the two remaining years. The Dean told him to give up, and that it would be an impossible task. My father did not give up.
He graduated the next year, and came first of the whole university with an average of 99.99%. His name is inscribed as a "lauréat" on a large panel on a wall at the École des Hautes Finances of Nancy University, and he was awarded a large silver medal with his name inscribed on it. I still have that medal.
He was offered a choice position at the Ionian Bank in Alexandria, and made a name for himself in banking circles, and the very wealthy business community.
Several years later, the London Head Office of the Ionian Bank asked him to leave for Cairo, and sell the Cairo branch as it had been disappointingly unprofitable. My dad examined the books in great detail and discovered alarming discrepancies. The Chief Accountant had been stealing serious amounts of money for years, and this had gone completely undetected by London Head Office.
My dad told London Head Office that he had the means and know-how to force the accountant to repay an important amount of the funds, and that he was confident that he would be able to save the bank.
He worked 24/7 and in the space of 6 months had re-organized the Cairo Branch of the Ionian Bank, and recovered a substantially large amount of money pilfered by the Chief Accountant.
Due to his family and childhood friends as well as connections who were extremely wealthy and prominent business people, my dad was able to talk them into becoming very useful clients.
The Bank returned to profitability in less than a year, and he was given the mandate to buy the Cairo edifice of the spacious and beautiful Bank of Greece
with its imposing ornate doors, its patterned marble entrance, its granite counters surrounded by frames of gilded metal, its marble and granite pillars and vaulted ceilings from which hung luxurious chandeliers. It became my dad’s new place of work. We were all very proud of his achievements.
MI.6 in Egypt
For some time now my mother had suspected that Bickham Sweet-Escott and his associates sent to the Middle East were Agents for MI.6. They came from Ionian Bank H.Q. in London on an" inspection" tour of the Bank in Egypt whenever there seemed to be a political upheaval in the Mediterranean area. They also seemed to know absolutely nothing about banking (much to my father's exasperation).
One day in 1955 when we were living in Cairo on Sharia Adly, and Bickham and his “friends” were really enjoying their whisky at a cocktail party my parents were giving in their honour in our very large penthouse roofgarden, my mother looked at them with a smile and innocently asked them "You are British Intelligence, aren't you?"
There was a sudden dead silence, their faces turned red, and there was a great deal of blustering "Don't be ridiculous Sophie! hahahaha". They left for the UK p.d.q. and never returned to Egypt.
I have always wondered, as my mother was successful in blowing their cover, how close were the Egyptian Authorities? My parents left just in time. They would have been arrested for being British spies.
It was only in England that we found out for certain. In their obituaries, in The London Times, it was stated that Sir Bickham Sweet-Escott and Robin Brooke (director of the Ionian Bank in London) belonged to MI.6.
Regime Change in Egypt, and the Suez Canal Fiasco
King Farouk had ruled Egypt for 16 years and was the tenth ruler of that country from the time of Muhammed Ali. On the 25th July 1952, at the age of thirty-two he was forced to abdicate by revolutionary airforce officers who hated him and the British dominance in Egypt. Their leaders were Mohamed Naguib, and Gamal Abdel Nasser.
We were woken with a start by the shrill insistent ringing of our phone. It was still dark outside, just before daybreak. My mother was being summoned by the Editor of Agence France Press for the Middle East, Gabriel Dardaud, and told to rush to Ras-el-Tine Palace to cover the story of the King’s departure from Egypt. The date was the 26th July 1952
We were all half asleep, but we realized that this was a fateful day so we showered and dressed hastily. My dad and I piled into my mum’s car with the green metal “sahaffa” (press) flag on its bonnet.
Nasser demanded that the king be tried and hanged, but Naguib absolutely refused to allow this, and the king was courteously and respectfully escorted in the car of the US Ambassador to Egypt from his stunningly beautiful seaside Palace of Ras-el-Tine in Alexandria, to the pier. This was done to the strains of the Egyptian National anthem and a 21 gun salute. The dawn departure was planned to avoid confrontation with rioting mobs.
Security police waved us through into the large palace compound which had been encircled by the police and the army.
We watched King Farouk as he was driven away, and we saw him being taken by motor launch to his yacht. We saw him board as we looked through our binoculars. Egyptian police crane-lifted dozens and dozens of huge crates onto the yacht from another launch. These crates were apparently filled to capacity with gold bullion, jewelry and other immensely valuable objects.
We were taken by surprise when we saw armed naval officers in another motor boat speeding towards the yacht. My mother was later informed that the army officers arrived at their destination, and tried to board the yacht, demanding that the king return all the crates. The King pulled his revolver out of its holster, aimed it at the officers and threatened to shoot anyone who tried to get on board.
The Egyptians were still in awe of their king, and they decided to let him leave with the crates.
We watched as the Mahroussa set sail and we drove very fast towards Stanley Bay, stopping and looking out to sea until we saw it disappear over the horizon.
The original Mahroussa was commissioned by the ruler at the time who was the Khedive Ismail. It was launched in 1865, and was the first vessel to sail through the Suez Canal in 1869. The Mahroussa was built in England. Over the years, it was renovated and lengthened. King Farouk sent the Mahroussa back to Egypt with all its crew once he arrived in Europe.
The Mahroussa is still being used once a year by the present President of Egypt, Al Sissi. Anwar Sadat sailed from Alexandria to Jaffa on the yacht, on his way to meet Menahem Begin and sign the Israel-Egypt Peace accord.
After his departure, whatever belongings the royal family left behind were put on stalls in the gardens of his palaces and sold to the public. My mum went to the Palace of Montazzah to cover this event for Agence France Presse.
She observed that they were selling a great deal of unwashed underwear, and unmentionables belonging to Narriman Sadek, the King’s wife. My mum found a clean and ironed handkerchief with King Farouk’s initials embroidered on it, and bought it. I have it with me now.
She was horrified to see the state of the once stunning, manicured gardens of the palace. These had been turned into huge rubbish dumps by the enraged Arab population
King Farouk sailed for Capri and never returned to his native country.. He dilapidated all his wealth gambling in casinos. He eventually died when he and his mistress were dining in an Italian restaurant. Rumour has it that he ate a lobster that his mistress (paid by the Egyptian government) allegedly laced with lethal poison.
From 1948 onwards, the Chief of the secret police used to visit my mum daily at her Agence France Presse Office in order to give her permission of what news could be sent to Paris. Her major-domo would serve him Turkish coffee and biscuits, and my mum and he became good friends.
On one of his visits he told my mum that the Egyptian Intelligence Service were aware that my dad enjoyed making radio sets. This could be viewed as his being a spy and sending messages to Israel. He strongly advised her to tell my dad to go to the local police station, take all the radio-making paraphernalia and have the police check them into their files and give him a receipt of knowledge.
A week later we had the usual early morning hour banging on the door by the secret police. They rushed in, and searched the house, and of course found the radio equipment. They were on the verge of arresting and taking my dad into custody, but were very disappointed when he showed them the official receipts from the police, proving that everything he had was legally held.
Mohamed Naguib became President of Egypt, but Nasser felt he was too much of a gentleman, too pleasant and diplomatic, and got rid of him by putting him and his family under house arrest and wrenching the Presidency from him.
Sir Anthony Eden’s failed Egyptian diplomatic endeavours.
Britain realized their power in Egypt had all but disappeared. Sir Anthony Eden who was Winston Churchill’s Foreign Secretary, and then became Prime Minister in 1955, was dispatched to Cairo in order to mend fences with Nasser.
Sir Anthony had studied Oriental languages (Arabic and Parsi) at Christ Church – Oxford, and was absolutely fluent in Arabic.
He spoke impeccable Arabic to Nasser and his cabal of revolutionaries, but they took affront to his diplomatic smiling overtures and courtesy, and felt he had insulted them. They mistakenly believed that he was trying to humiliate them by speaking perfect Arabic, with an Arabic accent, whereas they could barely speak English.
Unbeknownst to the general public at the time, Eden was suffering from extremely painful cancer, and was forced to frequently inject himself with very strong doses of pain killers.
Eden’s diplomacy, and fluent Arabic were no match for Nasser’s intransigence. Eden returned to Britain empty-handed.
We saw Sir Anthony Eden several times at our Cairo country club, the Guezireh Sporting Club. He seemed to be a very polite and affable man.
On 26 July 1956 Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. This British-French enterprise was jointly operated by the two countries. The US under Eisenhower tried to broker a diplomatic settlement. It was rejected by Nasser.
Britain and France decided to resort to military force in dealing with Nasser. The Suez Canal was of vital importance for the free short-cut navigable passage from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea and Nasser could not be trusted to keep it open to International shipping.
They made plans to invade Egypt, and overthrow him. Israel came to their assistance, attacked the Sinai on 29th October 1956 and came within 10 miles of the Suez Canal. The Soviet Union warned that they would intervene on behalf of Nasser.
This would have turned into World War III. Britain and France were eventually forced to back down. An absolute fiasco.
The British Embassy in Cairo started issuing warnings on the radio every 5 or so minutes. All British nationals had to leave Egypt immediately.
Edna’s personal story of her very close knit family ties, childhood and early teenage school years in Alexandria and Cairo.
My best friend after my parents and my grandparents was my big black dog Blackie. He was my pal. We would go for hopping, running, chatty walks everywhere, until one of our elderly and rather tall neighbours Mr. Travis, who was very lonely indeed, asked my mum whether Blackie would be allowed to visit him.
My mum suggested I give Blackie to Mr. Travis as a gift. I was heartbroken, but after seeing the way Mr. Travis looked adoringly at Blackie, I finally decided to give him my dog.
I met him walking on rue Tigrane in Cleopatra. Mr. Travis stared at my dog, bent down, patted him, tickled his ears, chatted doggie chatter and as usual gave him a treat.
I went up to the elderly gentleman, removed the leash from my wrist, and wiping the tears from my eyes gave him the leash. “Blackie is now yours Mr. Travis” I sobbed. Mr Travis looked shocked. I walked away and then looked back. Blackie was sitting on the pavement staring at me with a look of utter despair ..he could not understand why I was leaving him behind.
Mr. Travis and Blackie became inseparable. They even ate together at the dining room table. Blackie had his bowl of food on the table and sat on a chair next to tall Mr. Travis.
Mr. Travis had a daughter called Iris who never visited him, yet he adored her, and proudly had a large photograph of her on his bedside table. She was very beautiful, but had a well-known uncontrollable temper, and I overheard my parents and grandparents chatting; they mentioned that Iris had been very rude to another Alexandria Sporting Club member, and was expelled from the country club.
Blackie became the centre and companion of Mr. Travis’ life, and I was glad I had given him the dog.
Mr. Travis eventually passed away, and the landlord’s brother who also lived in the same apartment building, did not call to ask whether we wanted Blackie back. Instead, he callously ordered the Sudanese janitor to throw the dog a piece of poisoned meat. The janitor obeyed. I still remember him, he was as black as night, wore a huge white turban, had frightening bloodshot eyes of a hasheesh smoker and had apparently murdered one of his wives.
I am a grandmother now and still remember the heartbreak and terrible anguish I felt when I found out that Blackie had been killed. The landlord’s brother, his wife and two children eventually moved to Australia after the Suez crisis. I doubt very much that they ever owned a dog in the Country Down Under.
A while later, when I was still grieving for Blackie, a schoolfriend told me that her neighbour’s dog had just had puppies. She invited me to her home, and I still remember how gracious and hospitable her mother was. We went to the neighbours’ house and I chose the only black puppy they had. He still had his eyes closed, and was snuffling around. He looked like a miniature bear.
I went home, and rang the bell. My dad opened the door, and I put the small blind snuffling ball of fur on the tiled floor. My dad excitedly called my mum “Sophie come and see what Edna brought”. My mum rushed over, looked at me, and I pointed to the floor. She looked down and disbelievingly cried out “un chiot! Il est adorable!” She ecstatically picked up the pup. We first fed him milk with an eye dropper, and kept him very warm as he was so tiny and young. We called him Teddy.
My mum became very attached to Teddy and would take the dog to her Agence France Presse office every day. She would take him for walks in the street below during her tea breaks.
One day, a lady stopped her, and smiling graciously asked who the Italian dog breeders were. My mum looked puzzled. Teddy was a beautiful dog but he was a mutt. No! no! no! the lady insisted. He comes from Capri, they breed these dogs there. I have one just like him, they are very rare.
My mum looked at the lady, recognized her and asked “Are you Yolanda, the Countess Calvi di Bergolo?” The lady nodded and laughed. She was the daughter of ex king Vittorio Emanuele III of Italy. King Emanuele decided to abdicate in 1946 in favour of his son Umberto and went into exile in Alexandria.
He died in December 1947, and is buried in St. Catherine’s Cathedral in Alexandria.
It was quite common to meet top diplomats and ex-royals in Alexandria, or meet and mix with them at the Sporting Club in Alexandria or at the Guezireh Sporting Club in Cairo.
I was sent to the Memphis School during my nursery school years. I was younger than the other children and extremely shy. Although I found it excruciatingly painful to sit still, and fidgeted quite a lot, the teachers were very understanding, and had been asked to give me interesting things to do. The strict English Headmistress Miss Dixon was always very patient and kind. She allowed me to go outside in the enclosed schoolyard and run around for short intervals. I loved that school, as well as the teachers and the other children, most of whom came from well-known Jewish Alexandria families, and their parents had been childhood play friends of my dad’s at the Alexandria Sporting Club.
For some reason that I cannot recall, my parents moved to Cairo for a while. We lived in Heliopolis, and I attended St. Clare’s College, which was run by nuns and had very high standards. I was bored stiff, and got into a great deal of mischief. I decided to learn how to do the sign of the cross because they told me I must not do so as I was Jewish.
After practising every day I managed a very fluid sign of the cross and was quite pleased with myself. I also filled my school hat with mud as I did not like it. The nuns adored me, and tried to coax me into behaving like a good little girl by giving me postcard type pictures with female saints on them whenever I did not misbehave. After a year I managed to collect two. All the other girls had dozens of them.
Edna’s interesting maternal relatives
We used to visit my mum’s aunt Becky and her husband Uncle Moshé Hornstein who lived in Heliopolis. They were a childless couple and always seemed very amused at my comments. They would pick me up, whirl me around, hug and kiss me and spoil me with gifts of money which I aways politely refused, as I had no idea what to do with it. They would have made wonderful parents.
The Hornsteins often went to Abukir, an enormous beautiful unspoilt beach area not far from Alexandria, and stayed in one of my grandfather Marco Bendetovitch’ country cottages.
My maternal grandfather Marco Bendetovitch was born in Tbilisi (Georgia). His parents were very well todo people who owned several expensive oriental carpet shops during the time of the Tzar. They bribed various dignitaries, and thus avoided my grandfather being kidnapped by the Russians when he was a small boy and forced into the army.
My gt.grandmother then decided to move to Kars in Russian Armenia, and opened other Oriental carpet shops there. My grandfather Marco who already spoke several languages added fluent Armenian to his linguistic skills.
Due to the numerus clausus, a law which effectively limited Jews from attending university, and affected his entrance to College, he was finally forced into the White Russian army. One of the officers called him a dirty Jew, and my grandfather punched his nose. He had to flee “Mother” Russia. My widowed great grandmother bribed all sorts of officials, and he was able to safely arrive in the port of Odessa. He boarded a ship for New York where he had family. The ship first docked in Alexandria.
It was usual for Jewish families to greet ships in the harbour, in case there were Jews who needed assistance. The descendants of my Babbé Esther’s brother, Joseph Rosenthal were there. The Rosenthal brothers invited my grandfather to their home while the ship was in the harbour.
They took him for a tour of Alexandria, and showed him their imposing jewellers’ shop on Rue Chérif. He was a very handsome and distinguished looking multi-lingual young man, and they offered him a job. Alexandria was a most beautiful city..and he decided to settle there.
My grandfather decided he needed new shoes. He was told to go to Sharia Saad Zaghloul as there were many shoe-shops there. For some strange reason the majority belonged to Armenians. My grandfather entered one of the shops and was greeted in French by the owners.
My Grandfather tried on several pairs of shoes and was not satisfied. The brothers started to complain to each other in Armenian about their dreadful customer. My grandfather decided to have fun, and chose shoes that were on the top shelves near the ceiling. The shopkeepers had to use a very long ladder to get to them.
He chose shoes from one end of the shop, and then pointed at shoes that were right across at the other end. He amusedly watched as the brothers scampered up the ladder from one end to the other, dragging the ladder hither and thither. This went on for a while, and when there were no more shoes to show him, he politely thanked the brothers in Armenian, and apologized for having wasted their time.
He married my Babbé Esther Rosenthal’s eldest daughter Sarah (Sarina), my grandmother, and eventually opened his own jewellers’ shop on rue Chérif. Rue Chérif was one of the most elegant streets in Alexandria. One of his brothers worked in Brussels and Amsterdam and bought the choicest diamonds to enhance my grandfather’s creations, whilst another lived in Paris and sent him all the newest designs. My grandfather catered to the Egyptian Royal family and many Pachas.
My indomitable strong willed Chassidic Babbé Esther was very much for gender equality, and brought up her daughters with similar “revolutionary” ideas.
Prior to her marriage, my very erudite grandmother Sarah became headmistress of a school that King Fuad, the King of Egypt had founded. He and his wife Queen Nazli would often visit the school, and the king was always very impressed with the way my grandmother was running it.
My gt. Aunt Marie became headmistress after my grandmother Sarah married my grandfather Marco. King Fuad decided to visit the School. According to Tante Marie, she panicked as she had no suitable regal chair for the King and Queen to sit on.
She immediately thought of my grandparents who had rather lavish furniture. My grandmother lent her sister her red velvet high-backed armchairs for the occasion. To my Tante Marie’s relief, King Fuad and his wife Queen Nazli were able to, as Tante Marie described it “Sit their Royal posteriors in the style they were accustomed to”.
My other maternal aunt Gt.Tante Becky collected Beduin necklaces, and her husband Uncle Moshé used to collect Jewish prayer beads. He would walk up and down in the interior courtyard of the cottages at Abukir reading from a Siddur as he was a very devout Jew and prayed non-stop.
Gt. Tante Becky would often visit the friendly local Abukir Beduin encampment joining the tribe in their very large main tent or around a campfire, and would squat on a carpet on the ground in a circle, listening to their legends, stories and songs. She had been given presents of very ornately embroidered kaftans and head scarves by the Beduin women, which she would dress up in, wearing all the exotic tribal jewelry. She would then regale us with Beduin dances and shake an Arab tambourine as she tripped the light fantastic.
I remember there was a long breakwater separating an alleged shark-infested area and a more or less safe one. My dad told me that when they went to Abukir, my mum’s first cousin Myra Epstein would follow them everywhere, and refused to leave them alone; she liked them!
My dad tried to shake her off, but to no avail, and according to him, he was so fed up with her and her constant inane chatter that when my mum and he went for a walk on the breakwater, and Myra trotted behind pestering them, he suddenly turned round and gleefully shoved her in the water, fully dressed, in the alleged shark-infested part of the sea. He only helped her out after she promised to leave them alone. She kept her promise.
Moascar Detention Camp
Poor Myra…she, her parents my Gt.Aunt Rose and her husband Uncle Joshua Epstein were left with rather unpleasant memories of the area. Uncle Joshua had once been the sole agent for Rishon LeZion wines in Alexandria.
The whole Epstein family were considered dangerous Zionists by the Egyptians, and were arrested and incarcerated in 1947/48 in the desert detention camp of Moascar close to Abukir. The buildings had once been WWII British barracks.
Myra was eventually allowed to get married to Benny Sedbon a fellow inmate. The nuptials were held at the Nebi Daniel Synagogue in Alexandria. Sadly, her parents were not allowed to leave the camp. Tante Rose never saw Myra again.
Tante Marie organized the whole wedding as well as taking Myra’s measurements for the sewing of her wedding dress.
My mum drove to the camp in Moascar to pick up Benny and Myra’s passports or identity papers, residence permits etc.. and other personal documents so she could give them to the French consul in Alexandria, as they needed a French landing permit. She then asked the French Consul General in Alexandria M. Filiol for a “Laisser-Passer” for France for the newlyweds.
M. Filiol who highly respected and liked my mum went especially to the Consulate on Sunday, when it was closed, and gladly provided the needed “Laisser-Passer” without which neither Myra nor Benny would have been allowed to land in France, and would have had to go back to the Moascar detention camp.
Myra’s daughter Daniela sent me a copy of her parents’ wedding photo which showed her mum and dad surrounded by loving family members standing on the front steps of the Nebi Daniel Synagogue. Myra looked stunning in her beautiful wedding gown.
She and Benny were escorted separately manacled like common criminals by Egyptian armed guards to their ship in Alexandria Harbour from whence they left for France and then Israel. I remember attending the wedding with my mum and other relatives. The rabbi insisted the armed Egyptian guards remove the handcuffs from Myra and Benny as he could not officiate otherwise. They complied after a very unpleasant loud and lengthy argument.
Gt. Tante Rose and Uncle Josh were finally released from the desert internment camp in Moascar. They left for France on their way to Israel. They longed to be reunited with Myra, Benny and their new baby grand-daughter Daniela. Tante Rose decided to go to Paris first, as she wanted to see her beloved elder sister Marie. On the way there she succumbed to a massive heart attack in the metro and tragically no one has ever discovered where she was buried. Myra returned to Paris and desperately searched for her mother’s last resting place but to no avail. Uncle Josh arrived in Israel alone. He lived to a ripe old age with Myra, Benny and their children until he peacefully passed away.
Abukir was a most relaxing and very healthy family gathering place. In the distance one could still see parts of Napoleon’s shipwrecked fleet sticking out of the sea. The British, under the command of Ralph Abercrombie, had won a decisive victory against the French during the Battle of Abukir on 21 March 1801.
The sand was not as pearly white and fine as the sand near Marsa Matrouh and El Alamein, and the sea was not as crystal clear.
In Abukir, the sea was sometimes ominously dark. At the very far end of the beach right at the back where there were high rocks, fishermen sat in a group chatting, while they mended their damaged nets.
When I lived in Alexandria, I used to visit all my great aunts and uncles frequently. They and their children would always visit my grandparents during the High Holy Days. My dad would take me to see his cousins, and my nonno would take me to see their parents.
My dad’s cousins would rush over, pick me up and sit me on the dining room table where some of them were doing their homework. They were studying for their French Bacalaureat. Tante Adèle would march in and take me off the table whilst remonstrating to her children “Get on with your homework!” She was very strict.
Because of the importance she and her siblings gave to their children’s education, all my dad’s cousins excelled in their chosen profession, and so did their children, wherever they settled after leaving Egypt.
My great aunts Adèle and Helen were amazing Lebanese cooks, and always welcomed and entertained my nonno with family gossip in Lebanese/Syrian dialect so I wouldn’t understand. The gossip must have been very juicy, and it was quite frustrating to be kept in the dark. My great aunts would then ply us both with Syrian/Lebanese delicacies. Tante Adèle taught me to say “béddé tnain”…. give me “two” in Lebanese Arabic…meaning that it was so good that I wanted twice the amount.
Several members of my Dwek and Dowek family were arrested in 1947/48 and were incarcerated by the Egyptians in various detention camps as they were suspected of being either Zionists or Communists. When they were released and were immediately expelled from Egypt they resettled in France, Britain and other countries.
Edna’s Ashkenazi maternal family
My mum would take me to visit my gt.grandmother, rebbitzim Babbé Esther. She was such a very old lady. I was really fond of her, and she was the one who started calling me katkootta..little bird.
Babbé Esther was born in Sfat (Safed), Palestine and spoke Hebrew, and Yiddish as well as a little Arabic. She had piercing intelligent very black eyes that smiled lovingly as she spoke to me in Hebrew and Yiddish. One of her daughters (a great aunt of mine) was always there to help her, and would translate my Babbé’s endearing comments to me. Her whole being would brim with absolute joy when my mum took me to see her.
There was always a large jar of candies on her bedside table, and she would fill my pockets and my mum’s handbag with sweets. Although I did not particularly like sweets, I really enjoyed visiting her. She would look at me with absolute delight. We seemed to understand one another. She was very special indeed; a strong willed and extremely courageous lady full of inner joy.
I would also drop by to visit my mum’s Tante Marie Svider who lived in Camp de César close to the Lycée Français. She was very lively, amusing and interesting, and had Kalamata olive-black shining eyes just like my Babbé Esther. She made absolutely delicious gefilte fish, and grew the sweetest smelling “fullah” flowers (gardenias) on her balcony. Everyone said she had a green thumb. My maternal relatives seem to have been a rather colourful lot.
For some bizarre reason my gt.Tante Marie thoroughly enjoyed listening to the headache-giving crackling static of her old fashioned radio. From time to time an unfathomable gurgling sound interrupted the scratchy garbling static, and my Tante Marie would laugh heartily at the “obviously” amusing Yiddish anecdote she was listening to. I laughed with her although I did not understand a word of Yiddish.
She decided to stop this ignorance from going any further, and taught me several words and short sentences. She and Tante Becky who lived with her after Uncle Moshé passed away, would roar with laughter when I repeated them, having no idea what they meant. They warned me never to use these words in public.
Tante Marie’s husband was called Uncle Leon Svider. He was in the habit of having several five or six minute daily naps in one of the comfortable armchairs in the dining room. I was watching him one day, and between the bottom of his trousers and his black socks, I was horrified to see a shocking sight. The skin of his uncovered legs was so white and without a single hair that it looked scary. I gingerly touched one of his legs to see whether it was real, and that woke him up. He was very annoyed.
“What is this?” I gasped, pointing to the disgusting white apparition. Uncle Leon growled that this was his skin. “How can it be so white and hairless?” “WHITE??? HAIRLESS???” he said, “They are white because unlike you I am an Ashkenazi!”
I stared at my 7 year-old suntanned legs full of scratches and scrapes caused by my climbing trees in our garden, and for the first time I was made to realize that if one’s skin was sickly white and hairless one was obviously an Ashkenazi, and if it was sun-tanned, one was a Sephardi.
As Uncle Moshé had similar white hairless legs, I informed my parents that he must be Ashkenazi. My parents agreed, and my dad added, with a twinkle in his eyes that Uncle Moshé had hairless legs because he shaved them like the Romans used to. My mum guffawed, and gave my dad a little push of amusement.
Aunts Becky and Marie would frequently tell me that we were descendants of the famous and greatly beloved Hassidic Tzadik Levi Ytzhak of Berditchev (Ukraine). They would be a little put off when I giggled at the strange name. “Don’t laugh
Ednalleh, Babbé Esther Rosenthal your great grandmother, our mother, was the great grand daughter of Levi Ytzhak.” they would remonstrate.
It was only after Laurence and I moved to Montreal, and I went to Rodals, a Chabad Lubavitch book shop that also sold religious items, that I came upon a book on my illustrious ancestor. I showed the book to the owner and told him that I was Levi Ytzhak’s direct descendant. The Chassidic gentleman with his luxuriant beard, and side locks was so excited and impressed that he called his wife, his brother and his children to come and meet me.
Ever since that day, whenever I meet any Chabad Lubavitch I make a point of mentioning my revered ancestor, in order to be made a fuss of.
After some research, I discovered that an imposing mausoleum had been erected in Berditchev in his honour over his grave. Chassidim flock to it on their annual pilgrimage.
Unfortunately, the non-Jewish Ukrainians still have not learnt that it is wrong to be anti-Semitic, and some of them keep covering the mausoleum with large graffiti of swastikas. The massacre of 33,000 Jews in the Kiev ravine of Babi Yar who were shot to death and their corpses thrown in the ravine in September 1941 by the German Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing squads) and local Ukrainian collaborators does not seem to have caused the slightest dent in their thick racist carapace.
Return to Alexandria from Heliopolis, Edna’s Graeco-Roman adventures, and anti-Semitism at the Scottish School.
We eventually returned to Alexandria from Heliopolis, and I was sent to the Scottish School for Girls. I was even more bored there than at St. Clare’s College.
I could not stand the school or the two anti-Semitic Armenian teachers; one a Miss Mélinée Athanassian, and the second a Miss Zerwi, who suddenly, for no apparent reason, as I was sitting quietly at my desk, suddenly walked up to me and slapped my face, calling me a “dirty Jew”.
Miss Mélinée became our home-room and history teacher for a couple of years. When I asked her why she had given me low marks for several tests when all my
answers were correct, she swore there was no way in Hell that she would ever in her lifetime allow “une Juive…a JEW” to ace all the subjects.
Miss Mélinée frequently told me that I was too intelligent for my own good, and I had to learn how to be humble!
When I think of the Turkish massacres of Armenians, and the subsequent Holocaust involving the torture, starvation, gassing and sending to the ovens of six million Jews, the information of which was seeping out still, I find it incomprehensible to fathom how these despicable adult Armenian women could foist such abhorrent anti-Semitic behaviour on an innocent Jewish child.
After the slap and name calling, I walked out of the classroom down the school corridor and demanded to see the Headmistress who was teaching class.
I was a little thing, and she was quite a formidable very tall stern Scot called Miss Heddle. She realized something serious was amiss, called a substitute teacher in, and went downstairs to her office. I stood there, very quiet and white with rage, and told her what had happened. No one, but NO ONE had the right to either lay a hand on or insult Edna Anzarut or her religion. I informed her I was leaving,
and would not return until those two teachers were fired. I walked out of the school as Miss Heddle stood there looking totally shocked.
A large percentage of girls attending the school were Jewish and their parents and mine had been outraged. They too demanded that the Headmistress ensure the two teachers apologize to me in front of the whole school or be fired. They apologized, and I had the satisfaction to see them grovel.
Many years’ later I was told by an old school friend living in Israel that she too had been the subject of physical attacks, (she was punched, and her head was slammed against the blackboard during detentions after school) and those two Armenian anti-Semites frequently aimed demeaning racial slurs at her. This obnoxious behaviour stopped immediately after their contrite forced public apology.
The math teacher a Mr. Mazza who was a Jewish convert to Catholicism would become enraged when I held my hand up and tried to explain to him that the equation that he was chalking on the blackboard could be simplified. He would scream “Don’t be REVOLUTIONARY Miss Anzarut” and fling a chalk at me..he always missed.
Another Armenian teacher, a Miss Moughi Athanassian, asked the class to write an essay about a country. My mum had initially worked as a journalist for the Journal Suisse, and I was always invited to the very enjoyable children’s parties held by the Swiss community. I had also frequently travelled to Switzerland with my parents, and therefore very knowledgeably wrote about the country in detail. The teacher gave me a zero and wrote that I had a very vivid imagination.
This time both my parents intervened, and Miss Heddle finally confided in them. “Edna is highly gifted. She has surprisingly vast general knowledge for such a young child, and some of the teachers feel threatened. They sometimes wonder whether she is making fun of them. Unfortunately we do not have the resources to deal with highly gifted children. We tried making her skip several grades, but she was was neither emotionally nor physically mature for this.” My parents suggested I be given more challenging work, but Miss Heddle said this was not possible as they had to follow the school curriculum, and could not give me extra-curricular academic activities during school hours, as they just did not have the resources.
I was and still am a very avid reader, and at home in Alexandria we had floor to ceiling wall-to-wall bookcases filled with leather-bound books. Classics galore in both French and English, and oodles of encyclopaedias; Larousse and Britannica to name a few. I would sit on the oriental rug on the floor and read excerpts with great fascination. I read Shakespeare’s works, Racine, Corneille, Dostoyevski, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and his poems, Emil Ludwig’s biography of Napoleon and Molière’s comedies as well as Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel.
I discovered an interesting little-known aspect of the Scottish School for Girls. Well-preserved vestiges of a Graeco-Roman temple lay beneath the school, in what they called the sub-basement. Alas, our mentally constipated teachers at the time decided that we should not be allowed to see them.
I was always captivated by the Graeco-Roman history of Alexandria. My mum was friends with Alan Rowe the British world-renowned University of Manchester lecturer in Near Eastern archaeology, and curator of the Graeco-Roman museum in Alexandria. I often went with her whenever they had made a new discovery.
Alan Rowe, very excitedly called my mum one day. They had unearthed in the catacombs of Kom el Shukafa three sarcophagi of priestesses serving Nemesis, the Graeco-Roman Goddess of Divine vengeance and retribution. One of the opened sarcophagi contained a perfectly preserved mummy. Interred with the priestess was a delicate and superb gold chain necklace with exceptionally intricate intertwined links from which hung one of Nemesis’ emblems in the form of a wheel….the original wheel of fortune.
Kom el Shukafa is a historical archaeological site (2nd century AD) in Alexandria and is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages. The necropolis consist of Alexandrian tombs, statues and archaeological artifacts influenced by Graeco-Roman-Pharaonic merged cults.
In his papers, now stored in the grand and beautiful John Rylands Library in Manchester, Alan Rowe mentions the necklace as follows :
My mum rushed to the museum, and was so enthralled by the necklace that she asked to borrow and have it copied by one of her father’s Armenian goldsmiths. This was refused, but the goldsmith was allowed to examine the necklace, and make very detailed drawings in order to make an exact replica. He brought with him several examples of gold and matched one of them. The resulting copy was absolutely perfect, and I have the great pleasure of wearing it everyday round my neck.
Over the years, Alan Rowe gave my mum a gift for publicizing in the press, the important work and excavations he headed. He gave her an 18” tall Graeco-Roman amphora. She was able to take it with her to the UK in 1956, and it is now in one of my glass cabinets with other original ancient Egyptian and Nubian objects that she bought in Upper Egypt, on my 11th birthday, when we first went there.
The ridiculous school ban regarding the Graeco-Roman temple in the sub-basement of the school made no sense to me so one day, when I saw that a key had been left in the lock, I tried to open the door leading down the stairs to the “forbidden chambers”. I was caught, given a talking to, and had to waste my time writing a hundred lines as punishment stating :“I must never go and look at the Roman temple in the sub-basement”.
School became very tedious, due to a slew of several more ridiculous and frustrating incidents. I therefore ran away quite frequently, and wandered around Alexandria taking in all the exotically enchanting smells, sights and sounds of the beautiful city where I was born. I would then go to the Sporting Club to have a meringue while my parents were informed about my misconduct. As a result of these escapades, I believe I learnt more from my spellbinding wanderings and meanderings in Alexandria than I did at that School.
Terrifying fellaheen hunger riots (mouzahra)
My running away days came to a stop after I was nearly caught up in a hunger riot, a mouzahra. As I heard the terrifying roar of the crowds, I panicked and rushed into the nearest apartment building, crouched down, and hid, petrified, in a small pitch-dark niche - a tiny breathing space, right at the bottom of the stairwell in the lobby.
I quaked with fear as the crazed starving Arab mob approached the apartment building. I heard the sound of shattering glass. It sounded as if they were smashing windows of shops and glass doors. Their frenzied screams went on and on “Death to the British, Death to the French, Death to the Jews”. To my great relief they marched past my hiding place.
Sadly, the Muslim Brotherhood took advantage of the plight of the felaheen, and enflamed their rage by blaming Jews and Foreign expats.
The tragic situation regarding the lack of food for the fellaheen was an abomination. A case in point: the once regal beautiful lions at the zoo had become quite emaciated and weak and were eventually found dead in their enclosures. An autopsy showed that they had died of hunger. Their keepers had been stealing the meat to feed their own families.
Another incident occurred at the Graeco-Roman museum in Alexandria. The workers had adopted a tiny kitten. When I visited the place, as a little girl, they came to me and begged me to take the kitten as they had no more food to feed it with..let alone feed themselves. I was heartbroken for these people. For many years I wondered what starvation wages they were being paid for all their hard work.
I put the scrawny flea-infested weakly mewing kitten in a paper bag and brought it home. We bathed it in an anti-flea concoction until its tiger-stripe fur was clean and shiny. We called her Kitty. Alas..we were too late. Kitty barely survived a couple of months. She fought hard to live, but never recovered, and one morning we found her lifeless body in the cosy basket we had bought for her.
The Egyptian revolution and subsequent expulsion of Britons and Jews did nothing to alleviate the inhuman and horrific food problems facing the abjectly poverty stricken fellaheen. It just compounded them.
Life returned to idyllic normalcy as soon as these tragic riots were over.
The headmistress in her wisdom, decided that the three Armenian teachers should not be allowed to have anything to do with my scholastic life, and I was put in another class. She eventually retired, and was replaced by a new headmistress, another Scottish missionary called Miss Black, a roly-poly type of person with huge glasses and a big smile. Miss Black had lived in China and when asked, would write Chinese proverbs in our copybooks using beautiful calligraphy.
I was finally allowed a certain amount of leeway in my studies, and was given the opportunity to do added research in one of my favourite subjects : Biology.
I was also encouraged to write, produce and direct plays that were acted in front of the whole school and the parents. One particular teacher, Miss Tanya who was Russian, and was our very talented art teacher, would spend added time after school encouraging and teaching me everything she had learnt at art school, as she realized I was predisposed towards painting and drawing. I thought of her when I attended the prestigious St. Martin’s College of Art and design in London.
The other teachers were quite pleasant, polite and knowledgeable, and school became more enjoyable. I have good memories of my last years there. The schoolgirls were always kind, considerate, very gracious, and friendly. We all got along quite famously as we were fond of one another.
My Nonno and I
My nonno, who had become a rabbinical judge, and I often took the tram from Cleopatra to the Gare de Ramleh on our way to Binyamin, a hole in the wall café, to eat a delicious pita filled with fool moudamess, hummus, tahini, huevos haminados and pickled gherkins.
Benyamin was a Middle Eastern Jew, and the native Egyptian Arab food that he sold, freshly made in gigantic steaming boiling-hot vats stirred with enormous ladles by good humoured and jolly Arabs, and eaten on the premises, was so good that people from all walks of life came from all over Alexandria to enjoy it. Benyamin was famous.
I still marvel when I remember the Arab employees, fellaheen (peasants) from the villages, in their spotlessly clean gallabiyeh who were able to keep their good humour in the gagging summer heat, bending over and continuously stirring the fool moudamess in those boiling vats. They were always always smiling, joking and sharing pleasantries. They felt most honoured and proud that effendis enjoyed their simple but tasty and healthy peasant food.
There were three enormous steaming vats, and four employees. While three of them constantly stirred the fellaheen food, the fourth one made the pita sandwiches and/or filled our plates with delicious large squares of fried Halloumi cheese with their melted oozing interiors, fool moudamess tahini, hummus, and a small Egyptian salad topped with a pita. We drank boiling hot glasses of sweet mint tea as we waited for our fare. I have enormous respect for these incredibly hardworking goodnatured Egyptian men of yore.
My nonno had a tremendous sense of humour. On the way to the Gare de Ramleh, as we reached the station of Mazarita, the tram passed a couple of cemeteries with their low stone walls. To my grandfather’s astonishment I immediately made the sign of the cross.
He knew I had attended St. Clare’s College, so with a giggle asked me ”Chérie why are you doing ‘forehead pippick tseetsee tseetsee tseetse tseetsee ?” (our family’s
amusing anatomical description of the sign of the cross) I replied very seriously that it was because we had just passed a cemetery. He laughingly explained that none of the people in the cemetery were in any condition to care.
The tram approached a mosque, and I was ready for that. I made a perfect sign of the cross when we reached it. My nonno put his hand over his mouth to stifle his mirth…”Chérie..another forehead, pippick, tseetsee tseetsee tseetsee tseetsee. What was that one for?” “Nonno…we just passed a mosque”.
At that my grandfather doubled up with laughter. He took his big white silk handkerchief out of his pocket, wiped his eyes and blew his nose, and assured me that he doubted very much that Mohamed would appreciate it.
I overheard him describing all this to my nonna and my parents. They thought it was very amusing, especially as I was always very proud of being Jewish.
On one occasion my parents were asked by the headmistress why I insisted on pronouncing our Biblical cities, patriarchal names and etc.. wrong when we had to read out-loud portions of the bible at school. Jerusalem became Yerushalayim; Ahasueres was Ahashverosh; King Solomon was Schlomo ha Melekh; Benjamin was Benyameen; Joseph was Yosef; Moses was Moshé; Aaron was Aharon…unsw.
My dad politely explained that in fact I was pronouncing them the correct way, and that their English bible had anglicized the names. Miss Heddle held my parents in high esteem..so she graciously accepted my dad’s explanation, but suggested I revert to the anglicized version as my Hebraically correct one produced great hilarity among the other schoolchildren who thought I was monkeying about trying to be funny. I complied good-willingly as it made perfect sense. I really liked Miss Heddle. She was a dour Scot, but was very fair, and very intelligent.
I stopped doing the sign of the cross after that, as it was obviously too complicated to make adults understand; it was a total waste of my time and energy and furthermore, it was not appreciated.
The above are some reminiscences of my childhood years when I thought life was complicated, but it was actually quite idyllic and in its purest most simple innocent form.
Edna’s last days in Egypt
Years went by; After King Farouk was forced to abdicate a new nationalistic unfriendly regime took over, we moved to Cairo, and eventually the Suez Crisis occurred.
My parents were on holiday in Europe at the time, and I was staying with family in Cairo. They were warm hearted people, and when they celebrated their wedding anniversary, they invited me as well. We dined on board King Farouk’s luxurious royal dahabiyeh, (a flat bottomed steamer) on the river Nile. It was called the s/s Misr, had been built in England, and contained 16 state rooms and 8 suites. The weather was balmy, so my relatives decided we should dine in style outside, with a view of the Nile. This was to be my last celebratory meal in Cairo.
When my parents heard the news of the planned Anglo-Franco military attack on Egypt, they immediately boarded a plane for Cairo, and within a week my mum had packed a suitcase for me. They wanted me safe and sound in England, and out of Egypt. My British passport had been renewed a few months prior to my departure.
I left for England 10 days’ later with a British passport containing an Egyptian exit and return visa!
My parents did not want our loyal chauffeur to drive me to the airport, in case he had been forced to become an informer. They did not want the servant around for the same reason, and sent them both on wild goose chase errands.
We took photographs of the three of us with my dog Teddy on the magnificent very large wraparound roof garden of our penthouse apartment on Adly Street. I tearfully stared at the breathtaking view of the Mokattam Hills beyond.
Edna's short residence in Cairo
I enjoyed my time in Cairo. I had made so very many friends and, like Alexandria, was constantly invited to parties. The city of Cairo however was very unlike the beautiful elegant seaside city of Alexandria. Whereas Alexandria had superb Graeco-Roman sites and remains, Old Cairo had stunning Islamic architecture with balconies enhanced by ornately carved mousharabiyehs, a type of wooden privacy screen with arabesque latticework that covered them and behind which Muslim women could sit unobserved while they watched the goings on in the street below.
There were shops with dextrously talented artisans designing and producing a variety of greatly prized beautiful Islamic inlaid wood, brass, gold and silver items. This area was called the Khan el Khalil.
There was the new superb Opera House in modern Cairo. Khedive Ismaïl who was the ruler of Egypt at the time, commissioned Giuseppe Verdi to compose an opera for its inauguration. He came up with Aïda . It was first performed on 24 December 1871. Verdi refused to conduct, and did not attend the premiere. He was outraged that only important dignitaries were invited, and the general public had been left out. The costumes and the sets were awe-inspiringly sumptuous, and the mesmerized audience gave several standing ovations.
The pyramids were a short and interesting drive away. There were imposing bridges crossing the Nile with enormous British stone lions guarding them.
There was my wonderful Guezireh Sporting Club with its Olympic-size pool. Deposed royalty and important diplomats would sit in the shade at tables right next to ours, while we swam with their children who were our age.
During the winter months we would drive to Sokhna, an unspoilt coral garden of Eden on the Red Sea. Friends of my parents had bought unused British Officers barracks there, and turned it into a private club. They employed an excellent cook and we became members as we loved going there.
Although I had desperately wished to leave to further my education in London, I was still very drawn to the country and its many faceted places of unusual scenery, as well as its archaeological, artistic and historical past grandeur.
Our faces were tired and drawn, but we bravely smiled at one another, and tried to joke. I ran around playing with Teddy. That was the last time I saw my dog.
Before they left, my parents had no other choice but to give him to friends who had children and remained in Egypt. They took very good care of him, and showered him with love.
My dad went to the bank as usual, to prove that nothing untoward was happening. Our home was being watched by the Egyptian secret police. My dad gave me a crunchy hug, kissed and blessed me, trying to hold back his tears.
My mum drove me to Cairo International Airport. We wept and hugged, and the kind passport-control officer looked extremely moved and was very compassionate. He allowed me to return and hug and kiss my mum several times. I remember asking her whether we would ever see each other again, and whether she would by then have white hair.. her hair was a beautiful blue-black.
It was September 1956.
Goodbye to Edna’s beloved Alexandria
Before I left Egypt, I took the train to Alexandria to say goodbye to my dearest grandparents.
They saw right through my pretended smiling and joyful face, and immediately realized I was leaving for England. They looked heartbroken.
My nonna rushed into the kitchen and prepared me a succulent meal, while my nonno looked at me with love and great sadness. I asked them to come for a walk outside as the weather was so beautiful.
The street was devoid of the usual people, but for a lone spying informer (with polished shoes – regular Arabs walked around bare foot) wearing a gallabiyeh. I took a black and white photograph of my grandparents with my Kodak box camera, and it includes the Arab spy who suddenly turned round and stared at us with the malevolent look of a honey badger who had just lost its prey.
I decided with my grandparents’ urging to walk around the city and say goodbye to my Alexandria. I hopped on a tram going to Ramleh station, and walked around Sharia (rue) Saad Zaghloul . It was deserted, except for a few Arab hawkers who looked desperately unhappy. There was no one interested in buying their wares.
A little Arab beggar girl came up to me and held out her dainty brown hand pleading “Ya Hannein”. I dug into my pockets and gave her most of my change. Her bright eyes beamed and she thanked and blessed me…”Rabbénu Hallikki” .
I wandered around all the familiar places and noticed how very quiet everything was. There was no traffic, and I realized that most of the shops were closed, and boarded with wood and protective wrought-iron grills. Alexandria had turned into a ghost town.
The inviting elegant tea shops were empty. In days gone by my nonna and her German speaking friends used to meet once a month at Beaudrault; a most elegant “thé dansant" venue. They would wear very chic hats, gloves and matching leather handbags, as they watched young couples dancing. The white gloved waiters would then bring a tray of delicious french pastries and various types of tea to their table, and my nonna and her friends would choose the ones they preferred. They would then enjoy lively chats peppered with laughter.
I wended my way towards the corniche, until I reached Silsilleh, which was a very large breakwater. We were members of the Club Royal de Chasse et de Pèche that had been built there. I hopped down the stone steps, and walked into the clubhouse. The waiters recognized me, and smilingly offered me lunch.
In the past, during lunchtime, when we had a few hours off from school, I would meet my mum there and we would sit on the rocks and fish for boorree , using small greyish translucent shrimps (gambarri) for bait. These were bought from the man who sold blocks of ice for people who did not have a fridge and used ice boxes instead. I would stick the sharp point of the hook through the tail of the shrimp right through its body.
As I became older I started wondering whether shrimps could feel pain, and if so, I found it objectionable that during my childhood years I derived enjoyment by torturing them in order to catch fish that I threw back into the sea.
We would put the shrimps in small two-handled pliable baskets made of dried palm fronds. The handles were tied tightly together with a thin rope and we would let the baskets hang down in the sea so the bottom of the baskets remained wet and the gambarri would stay alive. The fish were not interested in dead bait.
The view was magnificent. We were quite close to the very small rocky limestone island at the entrance of Alexandria harbour where the famous Pharos once stood, the ancient lighthouse built by Ptolemy I Soter in circa 260 B.C. There was a rocky breakwater leading to the island, and when the sea was calm, my dad and I would gingerly walk across the very narrow slippery seaweed covered path leading to the island, sit on an eroded ancient masonry slab, and eat sandwiches as we watched the high waves buffeting the harbour wall.
I clambered the steps of Silsilleh two at a time, crossed the tramlines, and walked back towards our country club the Alexandria Sporting Club. The gate-keepers were delighted to see me and waved me in without asking for my membership card.
I crossed the race tracks, and recalled that during races, we kids were supposed to wait until the race was over before crossing to get to the main club precinct, with its manicured lawns and flower beds.
King Farouk never missed attending the races, and was accompanied by his retinue. We were always very impatient, and looked to see how far the horses were, and after ensuring that they were still quite a distance away, we would, with what we thought was the speed of lightening, dash across, and then hear the horses thundering dangerously past just behind us.
This greatly infuriated the King, and he and his friends, would stand up waving hysterically, and shaking their fists at us whilst screaming vituperations. We would look back when we had reached the other side and always thought the whole episode was hilarious. It really was so funny to see this rather corpulent man wearing a fez with a black patch on one of his eyes (the consequence of an assassin’s bullet) hop up and down with rage..it made our day.
I turned right and went up the stairs of the clubhouse by the golf course. I would meet friends there, and also used to feed the sparrows with bread-crumbs that the waiters would bring us. I was greeted by affable smiling waiters, and offered tea and croissants. I could not refuse, and we had a friendly chat.
They all came out on the veranda, dressed in their smart white gallabiyeh, their white gloves, and their red fez, and told me how very sad and worried they were. They were especially anguished about their future and wondered whether they would have any earning power. They had their family to feed. They too blessed me, as they tried to hold back their tears. “Rabbénu khalliki ya mazmazelle Edna”
I shook their hand, wished them well and bade them a very sad goodbye. I then walked towards the empty tennis courts, and observed a couple of handsome young Egyptians wearing pilot uniforms disconsolately walking by. They shyly smiled at me. I felt very sorry for them, knowing full well that they would be killed as their plane would inevitably be shot down by the Israeli airforce. A total waste of life.
I remembered how very lively that area used to be, with gleeful saucy suntanned teenagers wearing shorts or pretty frocks swinging tennis rackets around as they chatted vivaciously.
Three non-Jewish girls saw me and rushed over to hug and kiss me. They tearfully exclaimed that everyone had gone...the club was unrecognizable for its lack of lively and attractive healthy looking suntanned members.
The usually busy and joyful atmosphere of the swimming pool and area had evaporated. No one was there.
The main clubhouse was deserted, but for the elegant white robed and gloved waiters. I noticed that the large glass dome-covered counters were filled with tired looking pastries.
When I was a little girl I used to sneak in by the side door - the servants entrance in the little lane on the swimming pool side - wearing my bathing suit, and would hide behind the pastry counters, to watch either King Farouk and his retinue having a meal, or his wife the Queen and her lady friends having tea and gossiping.
We were not allowed in the clubhouse when the Royal family was there. The Head waiter would rush over and order me out immediately, but I would tantalizingly refuse until he gave me a tea plate with a meringue slathered with strawberries and whipped cream….and he did..very relieved to see the back of me before the Royal family realized I was there. This was a different world.
I walked to the beach, and removed my shoes, sticking my toes in the warm grainy white sand. I paddled into the sea without getting my clothes wet. I had the immense urge to feel the wavelets lapping onto my legs for the last time. I listened to the sound of the Mediterranean Sea, and drunkenly breathed in its inebriating clean salty smell.
I sat on a boulder and looked far out at the horizon. Beyond the imaginary line was the safety of England, where I would never again be scared to say the word “Israel” in public or sing the Hatikvah. I remembered watching the breathtaking sunsets with my dad. He would point out that just before the sun dipped below the horizon there was a green flash. We always looked for it.
On the way back to Cleopatra, I was hailed on the empty corniche sidewalk by a gentle Arab hawker roasting sweet corn (durra) over the embers on top of his two wheeled cart. They smelled and looked delicious. I dug into my pocket and found some more small change.
The hawker refused it and offered me a roasted corn on the cob free of charge. I thanked him but agreed to take it only if he accepted the money. He looked so very forlorn, and blessed me “Rabbenu Halliki ya Mazmazelle”. These were good kind people. The criminal nationalistic Egyptian politics were destroying the world they knew. Expelling foreign expats from Egypt would never be a panacea for their abject poverty and their lack of food.
I returned to my grandparents’ home, and we sat in their beautiful dining room with its grandfather clock, ornate silk Persian carpets, and oil paintings. We ate the delicious supper that my nonna had prepared. She had also made me palatchinken - Austrian jam-filled pancakes. They were yummy. My nonna was an amazing cook. Her Zacher Tortes and Linzer Tortes were to die for. Her various goulashes, and roasts were absolute delicacies. When friends or relatives dropped by they would make a beeline for the kitchen fridge calling out “Caroline are there any leftovers we can eat?”
Although I did not like card games, I insisted we play pinochle. This was fun, even though I lost. My grandfather always won. My nonna and I decided he must be cheating somehow. How could anyone always win? My nonno would gleefully rub his hands together and laughingly tell us that he was invincible!
I spent the night sleeping on my Nona's comfortable down-filled couch in the bedroom. As usual, we chatted and giggled as I jumped in her bed and we tried
to push one another off the bed. She and my nonno were great fun, and we tried not to dwell on sad thoughts.
We spoke of happier times, when she and I would go hand in hand for walks to the Arab souks to buy fresh vegetables and mangoes. We would also stop for a dandurma ice cream, and then make our way towards the Alexandria corniche and the Mediterranean. We both loved the seaside…..
The next morning, we sat down for breakfast, and my nonno asked me to stand. He put his hand on my head and prayed in Hebrew, blessing me.
My grandparents came with me to Sidi Gaber train station for my return trip to Cairo. It was sunny and bright, but Alexandria seemed to be covered with a pall of mourning. The city had lost its vibrancy - its enriching lively Jewish community had practically disappeared. In the early 1950s there were over 85,000 Jews; there are now in 2017 less than half a dozen elderly Jews remaining. A tragedy for Egypt.
Edgar and Sophie’s departure from Egypt
My dad had been asked to remain in Cairo until the last minute by Ionian Bank H.O. in London. Everyone mistakenly believed that the “uncomfortable political” situation was a temporary one.
It became obvious that it was too dangerous to stay, and in October 1956 my parents bought airplane tickets for Geneva and then onwards to London.
They had not been expelled yet, so their British passports were stamped with an Egyptian exit and return visa. They were allowed one suitcase each, one blanket, and the sum of approx. C$ 2.00 (TWO Canadian Dollars) minus the tax.
My mother’s initial reaction was to smash all the furniture, the paintings etc., but she reconsidered, and in the end she filled all the vases with flowers bought from the florist. This is how she wanted to remember their beautiful home.
After parking the cars in separate public garages and securely locking them, she threw the keys of the Humber and the Peugeot in the River Nile. She also threw the keys of our home in the river.
The next day, my parents sat on their elegant, very modern bright and comfortable armchairs especially ordered and imported from Paris, as they waited for the taxi.
The weather outdoors was superb, and the entrance hall where they sat was bathed in sunshine streaming through the French doors and windows. The whole situation seemed unreal.
My dad turned on the gramophone and put a record of Beethoven’s Egmont overture.
There was an aggressive banging on the door. My dad opened it thinking it was the taxi. Two policemen stood there with their expulsion order. They were gloating.
My parents took one look at them, and the irony of the tragically-comical situation hit them. They burst out laughing. Here they were ready to leave out of choice, and the shaweesh were standing in the lobby with an expulsion order.
My father, still laughing, had the immense satisfaction of telling them in flawless cultured Arabic that they were too late! He showed them the two suitcases, the blankets the airline tickets, and the stamped passports which included a return visa.
The policemen looked sick. My parents were laughing at them. No-one who had received an expulsion order had ever reacted like this before.
The taxi driver arrived, and was standing behind the two shaweesh (policemen).
My dad ordered them to get out. “Emshee, emshee…Barra..Barra “ (Get out of our way!!!! Get out of here!!!!) he told them threateningly They sheepishly obeyed.
The taxi driver lifted the two suitcases and put them in the trunk of his waiting cab, my parents carried the blankets, and left the door of their home open.
They turned around for a last glimpse; the long-stemmed flowers in the elegant Baccarat vases beckoned them, but my parents turned their back on what had been, and left their past life behind them. It was the end of October 1956.
Leon and Caroline’s departure from Egypt
My grandfather’s kindness and philanthropy were well known, and he was highly respected for his wisdom and logic. My grandmother was a wonderful and dignified lady, a very intelligent linguist with a tremendous sense of humour.
For the second time in their life, my grandparents being British (like all the rest of the family) decided to pack their bags and leave all their memories behind. They could not envision life without us.
My grandfather’s formidable sister Tante Adèle went to their home to help them pack. As they were leaving by ship and were not expelled, the Egyptian Government allowed them to take everything and anything they wanted.
Tante Adèle carefully examined some of the very valuable moveable objects that had previously been in their villa; large silk Persian carpets, beautiful paintings, priceless crystal and porcelain vases, heavy sterling-silver ornate cutlery, serving platters, soup tureens, ladles with my grandparents’ initials, the very delicate intricate Satsuma-Ware dinner, tea sets and vases, the ornate very fine Limoges dinner services, as well as a myriad of other unique items, and told them they would not need them in England. My depressed grandparents were so grateful for her help that they agreed and believed everything she said.
When Tante Adèle left Alexandria for London, she visited them in their Belsize Park cosy but sparsely furnished flat, and proudly told my grandparents to be happy, as most of the above items were safe. She had been able to bring the majority by boat from Alexandria.
My grandparents' delight was short-lived however, as Tante Adèle added that she had given everything to one of her daughters, who was thrilled with this unexpected gift. What was left probably ended up looted or for sale at the expensive high end antique dealer shops in the Attarine area of Alexandria.
I suppose that Tante Adèle believed she was doing both my grandparents and her daughter a favour.
My grandparents arrived in London in early December 1956. I rushed to see them. They were sitting in my Uncle Ray’s entrance hall with their suitcases at their feet and looked haggard and shocked. I knelt down beside them, and put my arms around them. All I could think of was to thank God that we were reunited; this was all that mattered.
As they were homeless, St John’s Ambulance Headquarters, discovering my dad’s valuable involvement during WW2, found them a pleasant hotel in Earl’s Court. They stayed there for while, and were then moved to a ground floor cosy apartment in Belsize Park, in North London.
When it was sunny and warm, we would all go to Regent’s Park for a picnic. I
have a black and white photograph of my nonno relaxing on a deckchair with his eyes half closed. My dad is standing behind him tickling his ear with a long feather that he had found in the grass. They are both laughing.
Unfortunately, the traumatic upheaval had been too much for my dearest nonno Leon, and he died a couple of years’ later. I had never encountered death in the family before. I realized with a big heartache that I would never hear my nonno’s voice, or enjoy picnics with him. I had lost the physical presence of my beloved grandfather, and I missed him.
During his time in hospital he was looked after by efficient Jamaican nurses. They asked my parents the reason my nonna kept speaking to them in a language that was totally incomprehensible to them.
My parents smiled sadly..they realized that my grandmother had concluded that as they were dark skinned, they must be Arabs and tried to converse with them using her unique rendition of the Arabic language…a rendition that only her servants in Alexandria understood.
My grandmother came to live with us in Orpington (Kent). She looked wan and totally lost without my grandfather. We surrounded her with love, and my grandfather’s sisters, their husbands, adult children and grandchildren often came to visit her and us in Orpington. We would sit in the garden and have tea.
Sophie and Edgar’s story - Life in Orpington and London.
My parents rebuilt their life, and bought a lovely home with a big garden in Orpington (Kent), at 6 Knoll Rise, at the urging of friends of theirs the Cohens who lived a few minutes’ walking distance on Broxbourne Road.
My dad was immediately recruited by Ansbachers who were merchant bankers.
In the meantime Swiss Merchant banker head hunters were sent by Rally Brother Bankers (belonging to Harry Recanatti) and they tried to lure my dad away from Ansbachers.
They relentlessly pursued my father until he finally agreed to join their ranks.
They even followed him to their hotel in Évolene in the Valais (Switzerland) at
the top of a mountain, where he and my mum had gone for a holiday. They brought a contract, for him to sign.
They needed a British banker to buy London merchant banks and reorganize them as one big bank for their account in the City. Harry Recanatti had decided that Edgar Anzarut was their man, and that was that.
Tragically, my dad died at the age of 52 of a horrifically painful incurable cancer of the oesophagus, a stress related illness. He had never smoked in his life or been close to smokers.
I prayed that Nasser would suffer just as much. He did. He died in 1970, of a heart attack after enduring agonizingly painful cancer. He was desperate and had gone to the USSR to be treated. The Soviet Prime Minister Mr. Kosygin attended his funeral. Nasser was 52.
I blame Egypt and the Egyptians one hundred percent for having deprived me of my best friend, my beloved dad.
I blame Egypt and the Egyptians 100% for having taken away my mother’s husband, who had been the love of her life.
I blame Egypt and the Egyptians 100% for having destroyed my grandmother who lost her eldest son at such an early age.
I blame Egypt and the Egyptians 100% for the untimely death of a brilliant, wise, beloved, kind man in his prime, a man with an amazing sense of humour, who had such an incredible future ahead of him.
I blame Egypt and the Egyptians 100% for the permanent aching grief they caused us, and for depriving my three sons of an amazing brilliant minded, full of fun grandfather.
As he lay dying, my dad would tell me that I was his breath of oxygen. Sadly, this breath of oxygen was unable to do anything to prolong his shortened life.
After my dad passed away, Rally Brother Bankers were unable to replace him with anyone, and had to give up their plans in London at that time.
My mum was offered a job in Chateauroux (France) by NATO Supply Centre. She sadly had to explain to my nonna that she had to go and live in a senior citizen home in London. My auntie Eileen found her a place in a Jewish home in Earls’s Court. My mum visited my grandmother several times a year. She would drive from Chateauroux to London, and take my nonna out for long drives, tea and dinner.
Laurence, I and our three sons would go once a year, and would take her with us wherever we went. Looking back, I marvel at my grandmother’s fortitude and courage. She had lost every single member of her cherished family either to death or to emigration. Yet she managed to keep her spirits up. We telephoned her from Canada once a week, and our three children chatted with her.
Although our local Orpington doctor had advised her to use a cane to walk, she replied “I am a Melkenstein, and we Melkensteins never walk with a cane”. She refused to use a walking stick, and would walk everywhere and anytime she could. She used to do the little bits of shopping for the other people living in the Home, and would walk to Earl’s Court Road, where she would sit at a table in a coffee bar enjoying an espresso, surrounded by young people. She told me that the people at the Home were all too old, and not much fun. She walked unaided till the day she died.
My mother Sophie had been a journalist. She first worked for the Journal Suisse, and then became Manager of Agence France Presse in Alexandria.
She had many scoops to her credit including her interview with King Farouk just before he was deported, and last but not least, the one of Mrs. Rommel when she
visited the grave-sites at El Alamein battlefield. I still remember my mother's hilarious description of Mrs. Rommel, who was able to burst into tears on demand, whenever the cameras were aimed at her.
Thanks to her journalistic political contacts, which included the Chief of the Egyptian Secret Police, my mother was instrumental in helping with the release of several members of our family interned in the desert camp in Moascar near Abukir, by the Egyptian authorities who suspected them of being Zionists.
Sophie, my mother, left Orpington after my father's death, and joined the ranks of NATO Supply Centre in Chateauroux (France). She was given a security clearance, and put in charge of the Contracts Division there.
This important department was eventually moved to Luxembourg.
She found a large and comfortable apartment in Strassen, an attractive and bucolic suburb of Luxembourg City. Across the lane were 3 small and very old dairy farms. The farmer would milk his cows at a definite time every day. He would take his cows to graze in the fields on the other side of my mother’s apartment, and she would have breakfast on her small sunny balcony and watch them as they wandered around. My three sons enjoyed watching the dairy farmer as he worked around his farms.
We used to go for long walks in the forest nearby, and my mum would then take us to a very quaint village with a salon de thé. We had to get there early before all their pastries were sold out.
When my mum retired, she left Luxembourg and moved back to England settling not far from Hythe in Kent, where our Orpington next-door friends and neighbours, the Crawfords were living.
She bought a pretty cottage in one of the most charming towns of South East England, Tenterden (Kent). It has a large conservation area and is close to Ashford. At one time it was part of the Cinque Ports and is surrounded by beautiful quaint villages.
Joel and I went to stay with her during the summer. My auntie Eileen brought
my nonna by car from London, and as she slept in one of the spare bedrooms it felt a little like the old days. My nonna confided that it was her dream to walk on a sandy beach and put her feet in the sea once more before she passed away. We drove to Camber Sands with its miles of fine sandy beaches. We parked by the seashore, and I helped her remove her shoes.
She was very frail, and my 5 year-old youngest son Joel and I helped her across the warm sand until we reached the sea. She was beaming, and her eyes shone with excitement as she put her feet in the water. Her dream had come true.
My mum, Joel and I then took her to have a cream tea in Rye (East Sussex), a small town which is a medieval gem and has enchanting cobbled streets. The teashop was situated in a Tudor timbered house and she enjoyed this tremendously.
After a while my mum missed her friends in Luxembourg, and decided to return, as she had kept her apartment in Strassen. She had made so many friends among other NATO staff who had also retired.
I would visit her once a year, and we would drive all over the Duchy of
Luxembourg, France, Germany and Belgium and visit the ancient Luxembourg castles, one of the most stunning being Vianden.
In the village below there was a gift shop, and the owner told me that Victor Hugo had spent several years living in the village of Vianden.
We frequently visited Echternach and had delicious lunches in delightful restaurants whose exterior walls were covered with different coloured sweet-smelling climbing roses in full bloom. Luxembourg is the country for roses. In fact the roses in Britain originated from Luxembourg; they were sent as annual gifts by the Duchy of Luxembourg. My mum and I would then drive to the peaceful park on the banks of the river, and my mum would have a nap while I sketched the picturesque view of the bridge across the narrow river, and the German village on the other side.
We would also drive to Belgium just to have the best cup of coffee around. We would frequently drive to the Moselle River and sit in the park watching the barges go by, and the wild swans preening themselves. We would then cross the road and have a gourmet buffet lunch on the vast balcony of one of the restaurants overlooking the river, and enjoy a bottle of their delicious Moselle wine.
Across the bridge on the German side of the Moselle was Remich. Once there we took the lane by the river and drove to small villages which were far more attractive than the Luxembourg ones.
We would go to Bernkastel and Beilstein with their tiny uphill lanes, and their typical architecture, housing souvenir shops, and little restaurants serving the most delicious meals at a fraction of the price of restaurants in Luxembourg.
There were red geraniums and other colourful flowers in window-baskets perched on every balcony, and tall flower pots at the entrance, as well as grape-vines climbing everywhere on trellises, with bunches of grapes ready to be picked.
The villages in the German Moselle were totally unspoilt and some of the homes, inns and restaurants were several centuries old. In one of the villages I noticed several granite plaques on the ground, with the names of Jewish families who had lived there and perished during the Shoah.
On one of those trips which I took with my middle son Ian, we discovered a graveyard and noticed a Magen David carved on one of the tombstones. It was over two hundred years’ old. These Jewish people had been grape growers, and wine makers.
On both sides of the winding Moselle river were miles and miles of lush vineyards covering the undulating landscape. My son Ian joined us every year, and when my mum became too tired to venture out, he would drive me to quaint villages and towns dotting the hilly area of the German Moselle. Trier with its rich
Roman remains and its Judengasse, the Jewish area, a lane off the main square, whose total Jewish population was murdered in Bergen Belsen, and Auschwitz.
I remember going for a walk several years’ earlier with my mum and my three little boys. We stopped by a café, and sat down at a picnic table outside savouring a plate of delicious bratwurst and sauerkraut.
Right across was a German antique dealer. The outside window showcased several very large and ornate solid silver Jewish candelabras surrounded by other beautiful ornate Jewish silver religious artefacts surmounted by the Magen David. My mum and I stared at one another in horror. We shared the same thoughts: What had happened to their owners?
There were several more and frequent reminders of the German Moselle’s tragic Nazi past; the disappearance and annihilation of their Jewish residents carted to extermination camps.
Ian, who had joined me in Luxembourg, insisted that I see Cochem. It was a truly enjoyable and memorable scenic drive. Cochem is a beautiful medieval German town on the Moselle, with a cathedral, and many quaint “salons de thé”, serving delicious meringues with strawberries and whipped cream downed with a glass of Riesling. Cochem was the starting point of all the Rhine cruises.
My mum urged me to go on a Rhine River cruise, which I did. The cruise boat took us past vestiges of grand medieval castles high up on the hills. The guide pointed out the area where the legendary Lorelei beckoned, It was very Wagnerian…The Nibelungen, the Valkyries, the Rhine Maidens, Siegfried…
Lunch was a delicacy. A veal stew smothered with mushrooms, and cooked in Riesling. The waiter was amused when I asked for a very small stein of beer. The German idea of small is quite large, and we both had a good laugh when he brought me the stein.
As the years went by, my mum decided to move to an apartment in a senior residence in Luxembourg. She lived there for 9 more years. I visited her every year, and Ian aways joined me there. I stayed in a pension which was a five minutes’ walking distance from her apartment.
For Luxembourg mother’s day, I would commission a taxi to pick us up, and we would either have lunch at the Royale, a superb hotel, with an elegant indoor and outdoor restaurant serving an exquisite array of food, or we would go for lunch to a restaurant in Place d’Armes, a large very lively pedestrian square surrounded by gift shops, restaurants and cafés with a band playing joyful music. The taxi driver would take us right to the front door of the restaurant so my mum would not have far to walk.
My mum would say to me that since the day I was born, when I appeared, it was like the Sun in a room full of moons.
The last time I visited her, I asked what she wanted for her birthday, and she asked me for some orchids. I asked whether she wished me to order these on her birthday, but she was very insistent; she wanted me to give them to her during my stay, which I did. She was thrilled with them and kept showing them off to anyone who came in to see her. Ian and Daniel had each given her a large bottle of her favourite perfume. No sooner was my mum rushed to hospital, than these were permanently “borrowed” by the manager of the very expensive Kosher Jewish ‘home’ Fondation Roer-Katz” which was considered to be the top senior citizen abode in Luxembourg.
When I demanded their immediate return, Daniele Halphen the manager of the ‘home’ told me that they had returned her Canadian black mink coat made by the Grosvenor bothers. (They were elite London Jewish furriers who emigrated to Montreal, and had been asked by the Canadian government to make a fur coat as a gift for Soraya, the wife of the Shah of Iran).
My mum’s coat had been “missing” for two years. Daniele Halphen, the manager of the Foundation Roer Katz angrily stated that I should be satisfied with the return of the fur coat and not demand anything more. I had warned them when I was leaving for my three-week annual in-between trip to Djerba, that if the coat was not in my mum’s closet when I returned, I would alert the police and the British embassy. This scared them into doing what I asked.
My mum passed away two weeks shy of her 97th birthday, in 2010. Just after I flew back to Beaconsfield from my annual trip to Luxembourg and spent three weeks with her. She was so lively, and told me many amusing stories about her various aunts.
I took videos of her as she and I laughed uproariously at her anecdotes. She poetically said that memories and souvenirs are like a fast flowing river, you try to stop the flow, and hold on to them for just a little while, but the current is too
fast for that. She was still very politically aware, and she was delighted with the British PM Cameron – she had disliked Blair!
She insisted I have lunch and dinner with her every day, and we would chat. I
asked for a wheelchair, and took her across the little lane opposite her apartment, overlooking the beautiful gorge of La Pétrusse with a view of the bridge, the Pont Adolphe. She wanted to stay in the sun, and was so happy as she felt the warming rays. She said she was feeling the cold more than usual.
My mum took an unexpected and sudden turn for the worse on the eve of my departure. I was very worried, and the next morning asked the taxi driver to drop me off at her apartment at the "home" so I would kiss her goodbye.
She was sitting in an armchair, and stared at me. She knew I would be coming; she was expecting me. Her eloquent bright intelligent eyes were looking intently at me, they held a desperate and important unspoken message.
I kissed and lovingly hugged her and said “Mummy chérie.. goodbye until my next visit…in good health….repeat after me mummy..” she tried to whisper the words but looked so frail and weak and sounded unconvinced. My mum just looked at me.
Her expressive eyes were telling me something – it was very important.
I phoned her several times a day from Beaconsfield, but she was unable to hear my voice as she was very hard of hearing. She wept as she kept asking “Is that you my Edna chérie…is that you?..ohhh…I can’t hear you..I can’t hear you “ “Est-ce que c’est toi Edna chérie? Est-ce que c’est toi?…..ohhh je n’entends pas ta voix…..Je n’entends rien.”
One of the helpers was there and took the phone to speak to me “Mon Dieu..mon Dieu, c’est tellement triste. Une vraie tragédie” and she was sobbing. I asked her to tell my mother that I loved her with all my heart, and that my arms were around her holding her.
My return trip to London and Luxembourg a couple of weeks’ later was a very sad one.
I understood what she had been trying to tell me, she did not want to be buried in
Luxembourg, alone and far from my dad, she was holding me to this. I followed her instructions to have her buried in London, in Hoop Lane (Golders Green) in
the Sephardi cemetery, next to my father, a few rows in front of my grandparents’ graves.
My only consolation was that they were all together safely in England, and not in Egypt.
I deeply cherish the time I spent with my parents and grandparents. Not a day
goes by that I don’t think of my mum, dad and my grandparents Leon and Caroline. I am so very grateful and feel truly blessed and honoured to have belonged to such a highly erudite, caring family, who possessed a positive outlook, no matter what, and enjoyed a marvellous sense of humour.
Sadly, nowadays, because of very busy schedules and the fact that travel and distance are involved, the majority of grandchildren lack the time, and are thus missing out on the wonderful loving closeness, attachment and fascinating viva voce stories of their grandparents’ past..their childhood and youth.
These are unique stories of a world gone by related by grandparents who lived such a totally different life than their own. A terrible loss of a three generational life full of enriching mutual respect and togetherness.
Edna and Laurence’s story - Our departure for Canada.
Laurence who had spent a year working in California returned to England hoping my dad would still be alive..But he arrived too late, and it was my Gt. Uncle Raphael Dwek who escorted me to the altar when Laurence and I got married.
Laurence and I decided to leave England and emigrate to Canada as “Britain was going down the drain” at the time, and there was a brain drain to “the colonies”.
However, there was a problem for me to get a Canadian visa. Although I was British by birth and by descent, I was born in Egypt, and Canada had a very limited quota for people born in Egypt. Laurence was born in England and there was no visa problem for him. The Canadian Embassy agreed to give me a visa as soon as we proved that Laurence and I were married. We had to rush to the Embassy the day after our wedding and hang around until I received my visa. We then got on a plane and went to Majorca for our honeymoon.
We returned to Orpington where we stayed for a week and then left for Canada.
We arrived in Montreal, and eventually settled in Beaconsfield, a lovely garden suburb of Montreal, which reminded me a little of Orpington.
We had a beautiful architect-designed home built right next to a babbling brook, a walking distance from Lake St Louis and the enjoyable Lord Reading Yacht Club where we docked and sailed our “Tanzer 25” yacht which we called Nefertiti.
After the "exciting and enriching" life that I had encountered due to the past
political insurrections that I had experienced, as well as their aftermath, living in
Beaconsfield (Canada) may sound very boring to some but it really isn't. Every so often we have to put up with a "Quebec separatist government" and what we all sarcastically nicknamed their "neverendum referendums".
My husband Laurence and I have three fine sons who grew up in Beaconsfield. Daniel, is a successful consulting engineer and works alongside his dad in Montreal. Ian is a well respected periodontist with two offices in the Boston area, and Joel is a highly valued emergency physician at the Jewish General
Hospital in Montreal. All three attended private day schools. Daniel and Ian went to Lower Canada College and Joel went to Selwyn House School. They are avid skiers, sailors, and squash players.
Daniel has twin daughters Rebecca and Carly. Both girls went to Jewish schools, and are now in Junior College. Carly was a very talented competitive figure skater for many years, but was forced to give up competing due to an ankle injury. They are both lively, quite bright and always very busy.
Ian has a son called Joshua and a daughter Ariana. Ariana is at GMVS in Sugarbush (Green Mountain Valley School); an outstanding boarding school for student-athletes, promoting competitive skiing and high academic standards. Joshua, who graduated from GMVS is now at Bates, a well known and prestigious College that has an excellent ski team added to a demanding academic performance. Robert Kennedy was an alumnus of Bates. They frequently visit and stay with us in Beaconsfield with their Gordon setter, and bring the excitement and joy of youth with them.
Joel has two very pretty and highly intelligent little girls, Sasha and Maya. They go to the Hebrew Foundation School which adds the learning of Judaism to its curriculum in English, French and Hebrew. We see them often and have lots of fun with them.
Manchester-Anzarut family descendants
On 19th April 2000, I had been surfing the web and discovered The Jewish Telegraph address in Manchester. As I was looking for the descendants of my grandfather's older brother Jacques, I put a request in for any of his descendants to please contact me. The response was one of excitement and great warmth.
One of these came from Johnny Sueke who asked whether there were any more Anzaruts.
He also asked whether I knew a Raymond Anzarut who had been a film director and producer. Uncle Ray is my father's younger brother.
Another response came from Marlene Gould. I gave my newly-found cousins phone numbers of various Gt. Aunts (in their late 90s), and Johnny and his cousin Marlene had a family reunion with members of our family in London. Marlene's mother, my father's cousin Marjorie (91) came down especially from Manchester to meet her Aunt Helen who is 98.
As Marlene described the event, the dining table was groaning with food, and they all had a most wonderful time. Another bonus to the family reunion was that our eldest son Daniel, happened to be in London at the same time, and was invited to dinner by Marlene and her husband David. Daniel met cousin Marjorie as well as Johnny, his wife Minoo, and their nephew Michael Sultan. It was very moving for me to know that some of the descendants of Jacques, and one of the descendants of his brother Leon were all sitting together, reunited in London.
Sir Martin Gilbert - In Ishmael’s House
Martin Gilbert was a good friend and my husband Laurence’s first cousin He was a world renowned British historian and was entrusted by Winston Churchill’s children with the fascinating task of writing the great man’s official biography. Martin also specialized and wrote historically accurate and fascinating books and atlases on Jewish expulsion, genocide, and the eventual Holocaust.
He was encouraged to write a factual book dealing with the history of Jews in Arab lands, and contacted me in April 2009, asking me for my personal experiences in Egypt and my subsequent arrival in England.
I had never been able to write or talk about this traumatic part of my life. My mum and I had blocked it from our memory as it gave us nightmares.
Martin phoned, wrote, and gently tried to persuade me to overcome this phobia. Laurence also insisted and so did my mum. Our story had to be told within the concept of historical importance. I finally succumbed, and typed 23 pages. I did not read these, and sent them to Martin without any editing, after ensuring with my mum that everything I remembered was correct. It was.
My mum and I had nightmares for several weeks after that. I purposely omitted including details of this part of my life in these memoirs.
Martin wrote back and thanked me. He added…. “Edna, this is very heavy stuff indeed !” He added that he could not but help compare the traumatic political upheavals, and the revolutionary consequences these held for my family and I, and he was so very grateful and appreciative for the stress-free years that he and Laurence, my husband, had enjoyed growing up in London, a life they had both taken for granted. I gave Martin permission to only publish three or four incidents, as the rest still held extremely painful memories for me, and these had to forever remain private.
Martin respected my wishes and only added the incidents I requested. These can be found in his acclaimed book “In Ishmael’s House”, in the chapters dealing with the Jews of Egypt.
Edna’s last pleasant reminiscences of her childhood in Alexandria
My childhood in Alexandria was very much influenced by the Mediterranean Sea. Spending leisure time at the various beaches with friends, driving West or East to other beaches with different landscapes, and being members of various clubs.
There was one club that I loved going to. “The Swimming Club.” It was built on a small rocky island in the middle of the Western Harbour of Alexandria, across from the King’s summer residence the Palace of Ras el Tine.
My parents had to drive through a very smelly area called the Mexx to get to the Western Harbour. This was where the leather tanning factories were situated, and we would hurriedly shut the windows quite tight so that we would not gag.
Arabs riding donkeys and dromedaries, or pulling two-wheel hand-carts crowded the dirty littered streets, and it was slow going for motorists.
A very large felucca or dhow would leave the dock of the Western Harbour at regular times, and would take us to the Swimming Club and back. We would sail past ships and other yachts.
Teenage male members would play water polo in the deep waters surrounding the club, while we girls looked on…waiting to dive in. This is where I learnt how to swim without worrying about sinking.
There were suffraguis (servants/waiters) and a cook who served hot meals and cold drinks.
When there was a full moon, we would also frequently enjoy what we called “cutter parties”. We teenagers would pile into a large dhow at sunset, and sail away to the middle of the harbour, and spend several hours picnicking, singing, chatting and joking with our friends under the bright night sky, and then jump in the dark sardine-shimmering star-spangled warm sea and swim around the anchored dhow.
Sadly, King Farouk who had a phobia and was concerned about members of the club who might be Israeli spies or other imaginary baboolahs intent on ogling his many forms of leisure and pleasure, ordered that the club be shut down and dismantled.
To slightly change Mme Roland’s “Oh Liberté, que de crimes ont été commis en ton nom” on her way to the guillotine” I shall say “Oh politique Egyptienne que de crimes ont été commis en ton nom.
I dedicate these Memoirs to my beloved parents and grandparents, who taught me the importance of close-knit loving family ties, honour, gentility, and compassion, and never to play games with people’s life.
They endowed me with a great sense of humour, inner joy, resilience, unswerving determination and will-power, as well as a certain amount of sagacity and various artistic talents which have assisted me so greatly during the vicissitudes of life.
Edna Anzarut-Turner. 26th July 2017.
©copyright 2017 Edna Anzarut-Turner