RAPHAEL GAMZU, Patrique Bonneville 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A French judge who prevented the extradition of future prime minister Yitzhak Shamir after he escaped a British prison in Eritrea in 1947 has received recognition for his role.
Israeli diplomat Raphael Gamzu recently planted several trees in Israel in honor of the late Jacques Bonneville, whose decision to ignore Britain’s request to hand over the Jewish underground leader may have saved his life.
In April 1947, Bonneville presided over the trial of Shamir and an
associate, future deputy Knesset speaker Aryeh Ben-Eliezer, in the
French colony of Djibouti, where they had been caught entering illegally
after having escaped from the British internment camp via Ethiopia and
At the time the British were conducting a campaign aimed at quashing the
Jewish underground in Palestine. Several Lehi (Stern Group) and IZL
(Irgun) members had been executed and Whitehall had demanded that the
two Jewish underground fighters be handed over without delay. If
extradited, the two escaped convicts might have met a similar fate.
However, Bonneville ignored the British demands and gave them light
prison sentences instead. They were eventually transferred to France,
using the Irgun’s excellent contacts with French government officials,
and were released in early May 1948.
“I think he certainly was sympathetic to the Jewish people and this is
why he didn’t want to extradite them,” said Gamzu, Israel’s former envoy
“Perhaps there was also an element of competition between the French and
British empires, but when his son Patrique told me the story and I
found out that Shamir had mentioned the judge positively several times
in his memoirs it became clear to me that the French judge had an
affinity for our cause.”
Bonneville is the father of Patrique Bonneville, France’s current envoy to Taiwan.
The younger Bonneville is credited with saving thousands of documents on
Shanghai’s pre-World War II Jewish community from destruction that were
found in the city’s old French Consulate.
On Friday, Shamir will turn 95.