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.