French judge who saved Shamir from British is honored

Israeli diplomat Raphael Gamzu recently honored late Jacques Bonneville, whose decision to ignore Britain’s request to hand over Jewish underground leader may have saved his life.

October 11, 2010 06:43
1 minute read.
RAPHAEL GAMZU,  Patrique Bonneville

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 Kenya.

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 to Taiwan.

“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.

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