Conflict Stories: What is left of Yemen’s Jewish Community, photos by Katharina Eglau.

Conflict Stories: What is left of Yemen’s Jewish Community, photos by Katharina Eglau.

Yemen’s Jewish community has a long history of displacement and survival amidst conflict. Photographer Katharina Eglau documented Yemeni Jews in Raydah before they migrated to Israel, lending a glimpse into an extremely fragile yet intricate and resilient community. Less than 50 Jews still live in Yemen today.

Jews are considered Yemen’s only religious minority with an estimated population of under 50, according to a 2018 UNHCR report. Yemenite Jews have lingered, or rather survived, despite being marginalized both in Yemen and in Israel, along with being caught in civil wars and conflict. 

IMAGO / JOKER / Katharina Eglau |
IMAGO / JOKER / Katharina Eglau |

Katharina Eglau from JOKER photo agency, a partner of IMAGO, is a German photographer with 30 years behind the lens – she recently returned to Berlin after 13 years reporting from the Middle East. In 2009, she documented what was left of the Jewish Community in Raydah, Yemen. 

When Yemen was under the Himyarite Kingdom, most had converted to Judaism in the fifth century AD. It was only in 630 AD during Persian rule when Yemen became a province of the Islamic Empire. Along with some time under Ottoman rule in the 16th century, Islam has remained to be the main religion in Yemen. 

Until the Republican Revolution (aka North Yemen Civil War) in 1962, Jews in Yemen lived under Sharia Law and were considered protected minorities, but still lived under discriminatory rules. The largest wave of Jewish migration to Israel organized by the Jewish Agency took place in the 1950’s as Israel was freshly independent, with over 50,000 Jews airlifted from Yemen. 

Although many were pressured to migrate, Yemenite Jews in Israel were reported of being subject to racism and seen as ‘impure’ for their skin color and not speaking Hebrew or Yiddish, enduring ruthless bureaucracy. 200,000 hidden documents on missing Yemenite Jewish children during this mass-migration to Israel were later released – something the Israeli government has tried to reconcile with. 

Having been displaced within Yemen as well, much of their long-standing culture and practices such as crafting silver jewelry, have dwindled tremendously over the years. With the outbreak of the ongoing Yemen civil war in 2014, and less than 50 Jews remaining in the country, Eglau’s reportage from 2009 serves as an archive of the small but complex and historically rich community in Raydah. 

imago/JOKER
IMAGO / JOKER / Katharina Eglau |

Accompanying text from Katharina Eglau’s photography exhibition in Herford, 2020  

Text courtesy of Katharina Eglau, translated from German 

Felix Arabia: happy Arabia, the Romans once called the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen has a fascinating cultural landscape that is thousands of years old. For five (now seven) years, war has been raging in the country, which has been heavily bombed by Saudi Arabia.

Jewish life has existed in Yemen for more than 2,500 years. Perhaps the roots go back even to the time of King Solomon, when Jewish traders settled in the south of the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen was still home to ten Jewish families of about 200 people until the war began, most of them in the town of Raydah 50 kilometers north of Sanaa. They have since all emigrated to Israel.

imago/JOKER
IMAGO / JOKER / Katharina Eglau |
imago/JOKER
IMAGO / JOKER / Katharina Eglau |
imago/JOKER
IMAGO / JOKER / Katharina Eglau |
imago/JOKER
IMAGO / JOKER / Katharina Eglau |
Katharina Eglau, Winterfeldtstr. 86, 10777 Berlin
Courtesy of Katharina Eglau
imago/JOKER
IMAGO / JOKER / Katharina Eglau |
imago/JOKER
IMAGO / JOKER / Katharina Eglau |
Katharina Eglau, Winterfeldtstr. 86, 10777 Berlin
Courtesy of Katharina Eglau

From IMAGO’s archive 

 
imago/UIG
IMAGO / UIG | Yemeni Jewish immigrants learn Hebrew after arrival in Israel. 1949.
imago images/Pictures From Histo
IMAGO / agephotostock | Mizrahi Jewish family of Yemeni origin, Jerusalem, c. 1910.
imago images/Artokoloro
IMAGO / Artokoloro | Yemenite Jewish community, 1898.
imago/UPI Photo
IMAGO / UPI Photo / Debbie Hill | Yemenite Israelis hold photos of children who disappeared, at a protest calling on the Israeli government to reveal the truth about hundreds of Yemenite children and babies who disappeared in the 1950s. Jerusalem, Israel. 21 June, 2017.
imago/Xinhua
IMAGO / Xinhua / Mohammed | A Yemeni Jewish family outside their residence in Sanaa, Yemen. 28 December, 2016.
Featured as part of our Conflict Stories Series. Written by writer,  Sofia Bergmann.

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