When Ethiopian Jews Tried To Save European Jews From Holocaust

Jews in an Ethiopian village in procession to synagogue. (photo credit: Don Robinson)

In August 1943, at the height of the Holocaust, Ethiopian Jewish leaders approached the Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia with a daring proposal. They asked him to help Jews in Europe flee to Ethiopia and assist Jewish refugees by hosting them in Ethiopian Jewish villages.

Three months after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and two months after all four of the Auschwitz crematoria were functioning, The Palestine Post, as today’s Jerusalem Post was then called, published an article detailing Jewish immigration to Ethiopia. “Possibilities of Jewish immigration into Abyssinia were discussed by the Ethiopian Minister in London with Mr. Harry Goodman and Dr. Springer of Agudath Israel,” the August 8, 1943 article says. “A leading member of the Falasha (black Jewish) community expressed the desire to assist European Jewry and to welcome them in Falasha towns.” Falasha was the term used to describe Jews in Ethiopia at the time.

A Palestine Post article in which Falasha Jews reportedly attempt to save European Jews from the Holocaust / SETH J. FRANTZMAN

Discussions were ongoing in Addis Ababa where the emperor, who had returned to Ethiopia in May 1941 after it was liberated from Italy with British help, was showing support for the plan. 1,500 Greek refugees, among them Greek Jews, had arrived in Ethiopia in 1943, the article says.

Selassie had stayed at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1936 and was familiar with the Jewish minority in his country. He also worked closely with Orde Wingate, the British officer who was a passionate Zionist and who led the Gideon Force, which defeated the Italian fascist army in Ethiopia. Ethiopian leaders and the Ethiopian Jewish community were therefore familiar with the local Jewish community and the plight of Jews worldwide at the time.

While Ethiopian Jews suffered under the Italian occupation, by 1943 they were able to reach out to the emperor to suggest hosting Jews fleeing Europe. By that time it was too late for many of the Jews of Europe ensnared in the Nazi noose.
Harry Goodman, who is mentioned in the article, was a well-known member of the Orthodox Agudath Israel World Organization. He published in the Jewish Weekly and broadcast messages to Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. There is an M.R. Springer mentioned in some records connected to the Czech Jewish community in the UK at the time. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini even briefly considered resettling Jews in Ethiopia in the 1930s during the Italian occupation. At the time there were estimated to be more than 50,000 Jews in Ethiopia, many of them living in villages near Gondar province.

The full story of the 1943 effort to convince Ethiopia to re-settle Jews fleeing Europe has not been researched and many details about it remain unknown.

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