Alitalia workers who saved Jews from 1967 pogrom in Libya

The story of Walter Arbib, one of the Jews in Yossi Melman's book

10 May, 17:35

    ROME - A little-known Italian story of heroism and solidarity involving the Jews of Libya during the 1967 pogrom returned to the fore on Monday evening during an event in the Italian capital dedicated to employees of flagship carrier Alitalia and their descendants.

    The chance was given by the distribution of a book entitled 'Fermi, non Sparate, Sono Walter!' ('Stop, Don't Shoot, I Am Walter!'), which details the life of Walter Arbib.

    Arbib is a Jew who was born in a family of Libyan origins who became a successful businessman in Canada and a philanthropist of international fame.

    The biography, written by the journalist Yossi Melman, who for years was the senior editor-in-chief of the Israeli daily Haaretz, narrates through the life of Arbib what happened in Libya in 1967 when the Six Days' War began and pogroms were carried out against the Jewish community in the country, which had been in the country for over 2,000 years.

    Editor-in-chief of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica and moderator of the event Maurizio Molinari noted that Italians - with support from the Italian government and the active interest of Rome's chief rabbi, Elio Toaff - had helped Jews to flee a country that had become hostile.

    The heroism of the employees of the Italian flagship carrier made it possible to save people from Libyan persecution and "represents something that deeply links Italy to the Jews of the Mediterranean", Molinari said.

    In a speech full of emotion, Arbib commemorated "the heroes of Alitalia, who in those days showed extraordinary courage and generosity, from the managers to the company drivers who, despite being at risk, continued their work of taking Jews from their offices to the airport".

    Arbib then named the man who 55 years ago saved his life and that of his mother: Renato Tarantino, the now defunct former Alitalia foreman in Tripoli.

    "Helping Jews meant helping people in serious difficulty. We risked a lot because solidarity came before all else," Umberto Vaccarini, Tarantino's assistant during the pogroms, said on the sidelines of the event.

    Vaccarini estimated some 2,500 Jews had been saved.

    Dror Eydar, the Israeli ambassador to Italy, underscored the coincidence between the date of yesterday and the Jewish one of the 8th of Iyar: when, 102 years ago, the Jews of Jerusalem were the victims of an Arab pogrom in the Old City.

    It was on April 4, 1920, he noted, and had begun three weeks after the insertion of the Balfour Declaration - on a national homeland for Jews in Palestine - in the Conference of Sanremo, "the embryo of which, 28 years later, became the State of Israel".

    The ambassador noted that, "among all the countries of the world, Italy was chosen to host this event of Biblical proportions of the Return to Zion, in which the world invited Jews to put an end to their long exile and return home to their ancient homeland".

    © Copyright ANSA - All rights reserved

    Business opportunities

    The information system of business
    opportunities abroad

    News from Mediterranean