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Alitalia workers helped save Jews in Libya, 1967


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This is only indirectly connected to travel, but is a little-known story worth relating, as is any story of heroism and human virtue. It involves the actions of the Tripoli office of Alitalia in 1967, whose staff secretly helped local Jews fly out of Libya, when their community was attacked in a pogrom that resulted in deaths, injuries and major damage to belongings. It may also be apt to recall this story these days, when travel companies are aiding Ukrainian refugees.
The remaining staff members and their families were recently tracked down and honored in an emotional ceremony held in Rome.

The story begins on the day of the start of the 1967 Six-Day War, in which Israel launched a preemptive war against its Arab neighbors. Hundreds of incited locals gathered in the streets of Tripoli, and started to attack Jews, their businesses and institutions. A synagogue was burnt down, at least ten Jews were killed, and many injured.

Help appeared in an unexpected way : the staff of the local Alitalia office, led by the manager, Renato Tarantino, and his vice-manager Umberto Vaccarini. They decided to use their airline know-how, creativity and bravery to assist local Jews escape Tripoli. At the airport they protected and rescued Jews who had arrived to buy tickets, and found themselves surrounded by angry mobs of airport workers. They managed in rather devious ways to get them on planes, even while removing other passengers from the planes with various excuses. They also removed baggage from the cargo compartment and let Jews hide there. Altogether the staff members estimate that they assisted about 2500 Jews during those dramatic days, by flying them to Rome.

I have used info from an article published in Hebrew in the Ha'aretz newspaper, by Yossi Melman, who recently wrote a biography about a philanthropist who was among those saved (the book is only in Italian, as far as I know).

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