By Staff Reporter
President Nicos Anastasiades paid tribute to Cyprus-Israel relations during the opening of an exhibition in New York titled ‘Jewish refugees in Cyprus en route to Israel’, which was held at the Sam and Esther Minskoff Cultural Centre in Manhattan.
“Today, relations between our two countries have entered into their brightest stage, not under conditions of need or duress, but of free will and choice,” said Anastasiades.
He said that during extensive meetings with officials from the Israeli government, including the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “whom we expect to host in our country soon”, it was established that Cyprus and Israel shared a common vision and that he would substantially and strategically upgrade relations in all possible fields “for our mutual benefit”.
Anastasiades said that behind the black and white photos on show “lies an historic encounter of two peoples, marked by common pain, common fate but also a common vision for peace and prosperity, in this narrow and explosive corner of the Eastern Mediterranean”.
The photo exhibition, which was organised with the help of Rabbi Arthur Schneier, the Minskoff cultural centre, and Cypriot-Hellenic community leaders, shows 44 photographs that Anastasiades said depicted a dark period in history in which European Jews migrated from their homelands in a long and uncertain journey to a new home.
In the second half of the 1940’s Cyprus, at the time a British colony, became the temporary refuge for tens of thousands of Jewish refugees.
Fleeing post-war Europe, survivors of the Holocaust found themselves barred from entering Palestine due to British quotas. Forced to immigrate illegally, they boarded ships and ventured into the Mediterranean, unsure of their fate, he said.
The British Navy detained 39 of the ships, carrying a total of 52,000 passengers, who were sent to Cyprus.
On the island, the British government created a series of detention camps in order to prevent Jewish refugees from another attempt at entering Palestine. There were nine camps in Cyprus, located at two sites, about 50km apart. These were in Caraolos, north of Famagusta, and in Dhekelia.
“It was a period of uncertainty, depravation, and harsh living conditions, but even under these circumstances, at the military camps there was life. Despite the immense difficulties, the prisoners turned the camps into vibrant communities,” Anastasiades said.
It is estimated that 2,200 children were born in the camps. Cypriots, workers as well as locals, helped the detainees get clean water and food, and gradually befriended them. Many prisoners tried to escape and were aided by Cypriots through underground tunnels. Through the intervention of the Israeli government, the British slowly allowed detainees to leave the camps and head for Palestine.
On February 10, 1949, the last Jews finally were freed from the confines of the camps 267 days after the establishment of the state of Israel.
In 1998 more than 150 Jewish community leaders from around the world visited Cyprus and unveiled a testimonial plaque at Larnaca port. The inscription on the plaque states that it was an expression of gratitude of the Jewish people to the many Cypriot friends, who encouraged and assisted them.
“In July 2014 the Cyprus government unveiled a commemorative plaque for Cypriots who helped those Jewish refugees, which will serve as a reminder, for present and future generations, of the warm relations developed during difficult and dark times between the Cypriot and Jewish people,” Anastasiades said.
“This bond of compassion and understanding developed between our two peoples and later between our two countries, is rooted in the depth of history and goes back to ancient times.”