From Tunisia, with Love

HIAS was truly an “international organization” in the sense of intrigue that the phrase suggests. Well…not really…but working in foreign countries with their particular laws and customs could put an international aid worker in a compromising position.

Such was the position in which Al Goldstein, director of operations in Tunisia, found himself when he tried to do a friend a favor. We came across records of his plight in the files of James P. Rice, Executive Vice President of United HIAS Service from 1956 to 1966.

The Jewish population in Tunisia had been in a steady decline since the events leading up to independence from France in 1954, and by 1964, the Jewish population of Tunisia had declined by 92%.[1]

Mostly this decline was caused by unemployment, but by the time of the Bizerte Crisis, in 1961, President Bourguiba’s increasing rapprochement with the Arab League nations and burgeoning anti-Israel sentiment caused many Tunisian Jews to worry about their future in Tunisia. Antisemitism, which had been largely absent in Tunisia (especially in government), became a more frequent occurrence.[2]

But the biggest threat to Jewish life in Tunisia was the economy. The lingering economic toll of the struggle for independence, the departure of many middle-class French Tunisians after independence, along with increasing government regulation and control of the economy threatened the stability of the merchant class of Tunisia, “in which Jews were heavily represented.”[3,4]

It was in such a context that Alphonse Fall, a Tunisian publisher and printer, decided to sell his business at a great loss and expatriate to Marseilles. But in order to get his money out of the country, his brother, Joseph Fall, head of the Caisse Israélite de Relèvement Economique loan kassa[5] in Tunisia, needed someone with access to foreign accounts to, in a sense, ‘launder’ 3,000 dinars (about $7,500).

Enter Albert Goldstein, colleague of Joseph Fall. As can be seen from the timeline below, Goldstein agreed to the transaction, which he said was pretty routine among Tunisians for getting money past the tight restrictions on currency exchange.

Goldstein had returned from Marseille, where he had made the transaction with Alphonse Fall, when he was arrested on December 19th, 1963, by a “special brigade of the economic police.”

Goldstein was released on January 17, 1964, and had to pay a fine in the amount he transferred and repay HIAS for the legal fees incurred. Needless to say, Goldstein was fired soon after.

It’s not clear from the records what became of Joseph Fall. We know that he was treated much worse by the customs authorities than Goldstein. But the date of his release, his punishment, and what he went on to do is still a mystery.

It’s no Midnight Express, but the travails of Al Goldstein are a reminder of the precarious position of HIAS officers in North Africa at a time of shifting identities and loyalties.

Finally, in the spirit of fairness, we give Goldstein the last word. Here is his own narrative of the events and motivations that got him incarcerated.

Notes

[1] http://www.ajcarchives.org/AJC_DATA/Files/1964_12_NSAfrica.pdf
[2] http://www.ajcarchives.org/AJC_DATA/Files/1962_14_NSAfrica.pdf
[3] http://www.ajcarchives.org/AJC_DATA/Files/1954_11_NorthAfrica.pdf
[4] http://www.ajcarchives.org/AJC_DATA/Files/1961_13_NSAfrica.pdf
[5] Loan kassas are free loan societies created by the Joint Distribution Committee.

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