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Yad Vashem

The World Wars and Gibraltar


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There are two further areas of Jewish history in Northern Ireland which require much more intensive research, the current resources for which are admittedly quite sparse. These are the experiences of the community during the First and Second World Wars and the history of the Gibraltarian Jews in Northern Ireland. Carnmoney cemetery holds the headstones of Sergeant Pilot Albert Goldstone, “lost in Action, Hamburg 1942”, pilot Louis Sergai and the grave of Harris Sergai whose son Bennett Sergai was lost in action in the Great War (Harris’s will makes mention of monies made payable to him by the American Government for the loss of his son). These stones are in part testimony to Jewish loyalty towards the British war effort. We know that 50,000 Jews served in the British forces in WW1 and that of this 1596 were decorated.18 Also, because of the propensity for a large number of Jews to work in civilian occupations and trades, a large majority were conscripted into service in England were the proportion of Jews in the armed forces was higher than in the general population. However, the experience in Northern Ireland may have been different, given the absence of conscription and a vehement atmosphere of xenophobia in the First World War and the close proximity of a neutral Irish state which housed a larger neighbouring Jewish community in Dublin and Cork in the Second.

 

Carmoney graveyard also contains some unexpected headstones of Gibraltarian Jews, namely those of Isaac Rafael Attias, Joseph Benselum, Reuben Benggio and Leah Pariente. Jews had lived in Gibraltar in the fourteenth century. However, when the island passed to English control in 1713 the Jewish residents were expelled until 1749. At its height the Jewish community there numbered 2000 in the mid nineteenth century, a time when the colony’s strategic importance was most acute. During the Second World War the Jewish community was evacuated with the rest of the inhabitants to other British territories. A very small number made their way to Northern Ireland, with Joseph Benselum even residing in Saintfield! There has however been little research into the numbers of Gibraltarian Jews that came to Northern Ireland (gravestones are admittedly only an indication of those who stayed). Similarly there has been little study of the precise number of Jewish recruits from the province or of the reasons why the Northern Ireland government rejected the applications of asylum from around 244 Austrian Jewish families.19

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