My parents, Victor and Hannah Zeitoun, were married when my mother was 17 or 18. They had twelve children of which nine survived. My father and mother were prominent in the Jewish community in Tunis frequently hosting rabbis and representatives from Jewish agencies from abroad.
During World War II, as the economy deteriorated, my father’s business worsened. My mother, Hannah, wanted to leave Tunisia for Palestine. She was an ardent Zionist and believed in Israel. After the war ended, my mother made arrangements and left with the youngest children for Marseilles and then onto Israel. My father however wanted to stay in Tunis to continue in his business - making chandeliers and lamps from Italian crystal and was very successful.
During World War II, conditions worsened, the Germans bombed Tunis. My family fled to safety to the basement of the cathedral in Tunis. We slept many nights there. When the bombing stopped, my father and my grandfather (my mother’s father) tried to escape to a different area of Tunisia. The Germans stopped us and took our possessions.
Jews were taken to labor camps; if they resisted, they were beaten. My uncle, Milo, was severely beaten in the head and suffers to this day from that beating. The Germans wanted him to do forced labor that he resisted doing. The Germans were building labor camps. These were very, very hard times, there was little food; Jews were beaten and robbed by the Germans of their possessions.
British and American troops came and drove the Germans out of Tunisia. My family became friends with two Jewish soldiers who we would invite over for Shabbat (Sabbath) meals, a British soldier, William and an American soldier, Samuel.
When the war ended, my mother left for Israel with the youngest children. Money and possessions did not mean any thing to her anymore; she wanted to live in the Jewish state of Israel.
My mother and the four youngest children, who she brought over, settled in Netanya, Israel. They were pioneers; lived in tents with no running water. However she would always say, thank G-d, I live in Israel.
My father still lived in Tunis and ran his business; sent packages of food and clothes for the children. Conditions became better in Israel, however, they faced wars. In 1956, Tunisia became independent and was no longer a French colony. The Tunisian Jews, because they were thought to be allied with Israel, were told to leave. The French in turn were not welcoming to Tunisians leaving Tunisia for France. My family was told to leave suddenly and was only allowed to take about $200 with them. My mother had begged my father to invest in real estate in Paris, which he did. He was however swindled by a lawyer that he knew there. My father was a well to do and prominent man in Tunis, in Paris, however he had no job and no one knew him. He had been orphaned as a child and became a wealthy, self-made man in Tunis but was devastated by the change in his life in Paris. In 1968, he suffered a stroke and passed away.
One of my sisters married a man that she met in Israel who was from Detroit and moved there later on. From time to time, I would visit them in Detroit from Paris. I married a Jewish man from Detroit as well.