The Aden pogrom that the world forgot

The King George V Jewish Boys' School, gutted in the 1947 pogrom

by Lyn Julius

The Museum of the Jewish Heritage of Aden at 5 Lilienblum St. in Tel Aviv is one of the city's best kept secrets. The spacious room beneath the Adeni synagogue is a window on a vanished world: a vibrant community with its synagogues, shops, boats and schools. The beginning of the end came after 82 Jews were murdered in the December 1947 riots. The community limped along for another two decades until the British granted the territory independence, and then became extinct.


Photos of buildings completely gutted by fire, like the King George V school for Jewish boys, attest to the savagery of the 1947 riots in the Crater district, where Jews lived and worked.

These were the best known, but not the only riots to shake the few thousand Jews of this British colony and trading post neighbouring Yemen, at the tip of Arabia.


Between 23 - 25 May 1932, Jews were attacked and Jewish shops looted after Muslims had claimed that a mosque had been defiled by Jews throwing 'human filth' and beer bottles. It was a familiar pretext in the Muslim world. The British colluded in blaming the victim: five Jews were deported to the interior and the British authorities refused to pay a penny of compensation to those Jews whose property was damaged.


The High Commissioner for Palestine wrote to an anxious Chaim Arlosoroff, then head of the Jewish Agency, informing him that seven Jews had been wounded, four so seriously they needed hospital treatment.


Another account, from the India Office (which was in charge of administering Aden) to the Board of Deputies in London, puts the number of injured at 60, including 25 Jews. Seven were hospitalised.


One particularly scathing letter was sent to the Jewish Chronicle in London by the Aden Jewish community president, Bentob Messa. He criticised the newspaper for its 'untrue and misleading' report. An unbroken bottle of beer was planted in the mosque,  Mr Messa maintained. The Jewish synagogue was desecrated, nine Jewish homes broken into and 22 Jewish shops looted. How could the JC blame the Jews for starting the trouble?


Another letter received by Chaim Arlosoroff from the High Commission in Palestine gave the distinct impression that the British authorities were suppressing information pertaining to the riots by censoring telegrams or refusing to deliver them.


After the May riots it seems that disturbances continued almost daily. Six months later on 9 October, the community leadership wrote to the Chief Commissioner of Aden, complaining that worshippers in the Crater 'Farhi' synagogue  had been pelted on Yom Kippur with stones by Muslims, "alarmingly defying and unmindful of public peace".


The leadership called on the authorities to  adopt draconian measures against the rioters: "The troublemongers seek to vindicate their outbursts on the most clumsy of causes."


By 1933, so 'oppressive and intolerable' had the situation become for Jews that the Zionist movement in Aden pleaded for a bigger share of the meagre 130 immigration certificates into Palestine than the Yishuv was prepared to give the Jewish community of Yemen.

The Museum of the Jewish Heritage of Aden at 5 Lilienblum St, Tel Aviv, is open every day from 10 - 12 am (hours are flexible on Fridays) from Sunday to Thursday.