“We were not sent away or harassed because we were Jewish, but because we were foreigners. A big percentage of the Jews present in Egypt had a foreign nationality, and consequently, many of those who became refugees were Jews,” Cohen points out. “We had Egyptian nationality, but they took it away and forced us to leave. People called us ‘British Zionist Jews’ — it was a very hard time,” Cohen explains with a melancholic tone.
“We were given one week to leave the country. Egyptian police stayed outside our door and did not allow us to leave the house. They closed my father’s shop and put him in jail for two days,” he says.
Cohen explains how their Muslim neighbors went to the Mugamma, Cairo’s administrative hub in Tahrir Square, to try to prolong their stay.
“We stayed another two months in Cairo, then we left on a boat to England,” he says.
After disembarking in the Greek port of Piraeus, Israeli immigration officers were waiting for Jewish families.
“They asked us why we were going to London and proposed we go to Israel instead. They offered us a house and a new nationality. And we accepted,” Cohen recounts.
The arrival in Israel was shocking for the Cohen family. They all had to share one room, they had no running water or jobs, and they had left their belongings behind.
In Egypt they were rich and part of the high society of Cairo. In Israel, they were no one — just another refugee family.