A British protectorate since 1882, Egypt gained partial independence in 1922, with the British retaining control of Defence, Communications, Minority Affairs, and the Sudan. During the Second World War, Italian forces attacked the British in Egypt from neighbouring Libya on 13 September 1940. Pushed back by a British corps, Italy received support from its German ally and a number of Axis divisions, under the command of Erwin Rommel, managed to recover lost ground. In a new offensive in May 1942, German and Italian forces entered Egypt again. They advanced to the northern town of El Alamein, some 100 kilometres west of Alexandria, where they were held back by the British on 23 October 1942. Ten days later, the Axis forces had to retreat into Libya. Great Britain maintained its political influence in Egypt well into the 1950s and withdrew its military garrisons in 1954.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Egypt had a very small Jewish community of some 25,000 Jews (out of a total population of about 16.5 million in 1939) who mainly lived in Cairo and Alexandria. By 1945, their number had tripled as a result of persecuted European Jews seeking refuge in Egypt. 90% of the Jews in Egypt were non-nationals of diverse origin. There were Arabic-speaking Jews of old Egyptian ancestry, Berber Jews, Sephardim of Spanish-Portuguese descent, Ashkenazim and Karaites. The Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine between 1936 and 1939 and the rise of Nazi Germany affected relations between the Jews and Egyptian society. The increasing number of legal measures forbidding non-nationals to hold high political, economic or educational posts was clearly aimed at the largely foreign Jewish population. During the war, the Germans encouraged antisemitic propaganda, but there was little anti-Jewish violence. As Rommel’s Afrika Korps moved eastwards (towards Suez and Palestine) in 1942, there were plans for an SS Einsatzkommando in Egypt. However, they came to nothing thanks to the German defeat at El Alamein.
The National Archives of Egypt (Dar Al-Watha’iq Al-Qawmiyya) in Cairo are responsible for preserving documents of institutional and governmental origin. Viewing of documents is regulated according to Presidential Decree no. 472 of 1979.
EHRI Research (Summary)
While a number of archives and institutions in Egypt are likely to be relevant for Holocaust-research, EHRI has yet to determine the exact nature and importance of their holdings.