70 years on, Oslo Children's Disaster commemorated

27 Jewish children making aliyah from Tunisia were killed in a plane crash on November 20, 1949.

Memorial to the children killed in the Hurum Air Disaster in the moshav of Yanuv in Central Israel.  (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Memorial to the children killed in the Hurum Air Disaster in the moshav of Yanuv in Central Israel.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A monument will be unveiled Wednesday in Jerusalem’s Mekor Chaim neighborhood marking the 70th anniversary of the Hurum Air Disaster, in which an Aero Holland plane transporting Jewish children from Tunisia who were to transit through Norway while immigrating to Israel crashed near Oslo, killing three counselors, four crew members and 27 children.
“Aliyah for North African Jewry has not been easy. That is why we are doing this event,” Felix Perez, one of the organizers of the event, told The Jerusalem Post. “It’s not only about the 70th anniversary of the Oslo Children’s Disaster.”
He said that the crash symbolizes all the tragedies that North African Jewry faced while making aliyah, adding that today Ethiopian Jewry too is facing many difficulties on this same journey to Israel.
Perez’s wife Nicole said, “towards the end of the 1940s, about 500,000 Jews lived in North Africa, including 120,000 in Tunisia. They faced persecution, especially during the Holocaust when Nazi Germany occupied the French colony.
“Every year, we commemorate this tragedy as one of the most painful episodes of the aliyah of the Jews from North Africa and Tunisia. For Norway, it is also a terrible air disaster,” she said.
Perez pointed out that North African Jewry had a lot of difficulties “because they lived in poor areas, had no support” and struggled to integrate into Israeli society.
He explained that every 10 years, there is a big commemoration for the event in some place in the world, and this year it will be in Jerusalem.
Perez told several heart-wrenching stories of children, who made aliyah in the 1940s and 1950s from Israel, and were shunned by the local communities.
“The community of Ohavei Tsion and its Rabbi Eric Bellaïche are pillars of Judaism from North Africa and Tunisia,” he continued. “The community believes it is very important that Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, also commemorates this event.”
While memorials to the crash were built in Yanuv near Netanya, Netanya itself and Netivot, as well as in Norway and Tunisia, Perez made it his mission to build a monument in Jerusalem.
“The presence of top-level personalities including from France, Israel and Norway reflects the importance they attach to this subject. We must keep in mind that a million Jews in Israel have roots in North Africa,” said Perez.
At the time of the disaster, Nicole Perez’s father was the head of a local Jewish community center in France. He would print the Jewish Agency’s news, and that week listed the names of the victims on the front page of the bulletin.
“We still have that original newspaper,” Felix Perez said, adding that this is what has kept them so passionate about keeping this story alive.
Despite the solemness of the anniversary and the struggles that North African Jews faced, today second and third generation Tunisian Jews living in Israel are flourishing, he said.
“This should be celebrated. They are top doctors, dentists, rabbis, lawyers and more,” he said. “The same can be said for Russian immigrants and others from the Diaspora that have made aliyah.
“Our message needs to be a positive one. Although aliyah is hard, at the end you will succeed. We want people to come on aliyah, to build their future here,” he said, adding that France and the United States are becoming dangerous for  Jews.
“It is important to live in a Jewish country, integration [into Israel] for all Jewry is hard but it will be a success, despite the difficulties,” he concluded.