Many in the diaspora of Jews from Libya are aware that they will never again be able to visit the graves of their parents, grandparents, or other loved ones who lived in the nation when more than 30,000 Jews were living there, even if they ever return to Libya.
According to a report by the British Jewish News, a new initiative in one of Rome’s Jewish cemeteries seeks to bring some closure.
Muammar Gaddafi, the eccentric strongman who ruled the North African state from 1969 until he died in 2011, bulldozed nearly all of Libya’s Jewish cemeteries, except one constructed on the grounds of an Italian-run concentration camp.
There are hardly any Jewish gravestones left in Libya, where a civil war raged until 2020, as the cemetery grounds have long since been developed with parks, apartments, and other structures.
According to the Jewish News, 16 marble plaques bearing 1,800 names of known Libyan Jews interred in Libya were unveiled last week in the Jewish section of Rome’s Prima Porta Cemetery.
Libya had been an Italian colony before it won its independence after World War II, and many Jews from that country fled to Italy to avoid the antisemitic pogroms and other forms of persecution that erupted in the North African nation after the establishment of the state of Israel and again after the 1967 Six-Day War.
Penina Meghnagi Solomon, a 73-year-old Libyan Jew currently residing in Santa Monica, Italy, said to the British outlet, “It brings closure.”
If there is a location bearing your loved one’s name where you can go and find peace, it is beneficial when there is no grave for them.
Judy Saphra, a British-Jewish philanthropist who was born in Libya and fled to Italy as a youngster, provided the funding for the plaques.
She told the Jewish News, “I was born after my father’s death at the hands of Libyan Arabs simply because he was Jewish.
This memorial is to a man I never knew. “My distraught mother wanted to spare me the hurt of such a terrible loss, so I never saw his tomb.
She didn’t lead me to my father’s tomb until years later when she attended her father’s funeral. I wanted to sponsor and commemorate this memorial to honor my father and the Jewish community of Libya in Rome.