The territory of what is present-today Libya came gradually under Italian control after 1911. Barely extending beyond the coastal regions at first, Italy’s grip reached into the Tripolitania and Cyrenaica regions from the early 1920s and colonial rule was fully established by 1931. Italy subdivided her North African possession, which was named Libya in 1934, into four provinces and a southern military territory. After 1939, these four provinces were proclaimed “the Fourth Shore” of “Greater Italy”. In September 1940, Italy invaded Egypt from Libya, which became the scene of intense fighting between Axis and Allied forces for more than three years. On 23 January 1943, the Allies managed to occupy the colony’s capital Tripoli. While Italy officially relinquished all claims to the region in the 1947 peace treaty, the Allied occupation of Libya lasted four more years. Libya gained its full independence in 1951.
On the eve of the Second World War, the Italian colony of Libya had a total population of over 915,000 people. Some 30,000 of them were Jews, most of whom lived in the western Tripolitania Province or in Benghazi. As in Italy, anti-Jewish legislation was introduced in 1938. The racial category of “Jewish” appeared on identity cards and Jewish-owned shops had to remain open on Shabbat. After 1940, Rome ordered the Libyan administration to deport non-Italian Jews to forced labour camps like Giado, some 150 kilometres to the west of Tripoli. Of the 2,600 Jews deported there, 563 died. 870 Jews with British citizenship were sent to Italy and from there to the Bergen-Belsen camp in 1944, but they all managed to survive. After 1943, the racial legislation was repealed. Overall, some 600 Libyan Jews died in the Holocaust.
Access to North African archives depends, as a general rule, on the political situation in the region. Furthermore, archival guides are not readily available. The law of 29 August 2013 which regulates the storage and filing of Libyan archives is a recent development and EHRI has yet to assess its impact on Holocaust-related research in Libya.
As Libya was an Italian colony during the Second World War, materials about Italian citizens can be found in the central state archives in Rome.
EHRI Research (Summary)
While a number of archives and institutions in Libya are likely to be relevant for Holocaust research, the exact nature and importance of their holdings have yet to be determined by EHRI. In the EHRI Portal, Libya is mainly covered by several archival institutions, including Yad Vashem and USHMM. There has been no major recent research on the history of the Jews, let alone of the Holocaust in Libya, since Renzo de Felice’s Ebrei in un paese arabo (1978). Some updated information on the subject can be found, however, in George Bensoussan’s publication Juifs en pays arabes (2012).