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EU Month of Culture Spotlight: Cyprus

As part of the European Month of Culture in May 2016, we focus on scholars from European Union member states who have conducted research at The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress.

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Eliana Hadjisavvas, Arts & Humanities Research Council Fellow

Eliana Hadijivvas

Eliana Hadjisavvas was an Arts & Humanities Research Council Fellow in 2015. Photo by Travis Hensley.

The research of Eliana Hadjisavvas examines Jewish displacement at the end of the Second World War and the internment of Jewish refugees in British-run camps in colonial Cyprus.

A British national of Greek Cypriot descent, Hadjisavvas is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Birmingham in England. From October 2015 to January 2016, Hadjisavvas conducted research at the Kluge Center through an international exchange with Britain’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)–a program that allows AHRC-funded scholars to conduct short-term research at the Library of Congress. She used the Library’s collections to examine the interconnected pasts of the United Kingdom and Cyprus. Cyprus was a British colony until 1960.

As Hadjisavvas stated on our blog in November, in 1939 British policy stated that the rate of Jewish immigration to British-controlled Palestine would be 75,000 over the next five years, with further admissions subject to Arab acquiescence. At the end of World War II, Britain upheld its immigration measures and barred Holocaust survivors who sought visas for Palestine. “This led to many embarking on clandestine passages,” Hadjisavvas explained, “with thousands of Jewish refugees crammed on small, unseaworthy vessels braving the journey across the Mediterranean.” In August 1946, the British government responded by establishing internment camps in Cyprus. The erection of twelve distinct campsites in the villages of Caraolos and Xylotymbou collectively housed over 52,000 people and witnessed the births of over 2,000 children until the camps dissolution in February 1949, according to Hadjisavvas.

Map of Cyprus

Map of Cyprus. Image courtesy the CIA World Factbook. Source: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cy.html

Conditions inside the camps were challenging. Inmates were detained behind barbed wire, and there was limited food and water. “Britain’s decision to use German Prisoners of War to construct the camps caused further discontent,” Hadjisavvas said, “whilst the erection of watchtowers with armed British guards to prevent people from escaping, was disturbingly reminiscent of Nazi camps, where many of the refugees had been liberated.” Assistance from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and American and Canadian volunteers helped to provide relief, services and transport off the island.

In her work, Hadjisavvas said she sees similarities between the refugees of the 1940s and today’s refugees from Syria and Iraq. “Although refugees are now pressing Europe’s borders as a point of entry rather than embarkation, the desperation of immigrants crammed on overcrowded boats in search of safety, chillingly mirrors the plight of Jewish refugees 70 years ago,” she said. Though the Cyprus camps closed 70 years ago, there are still local Cypriots who remember them. In 2013, two Xylotymbou residents took Hadjisavvas to various sites around the village, which included a cave where Jews who had navigated their way through escape tunnels from inside the camp would hide, awaiting Cypriot aid. Few people knew of it. Following her visit, the Israeli Ambassador also made a trip to the cave and decided to work with Xylotymbou locals to establish a garden in commemoration of the camps, which was unveiled by Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades in July 2014. Through examining the stories of the past, Hadjisavvas has ensured they will be commemorated in the future.

Map of Cyprus

Map of Europe with Cyprus highlighted. Image courtesy the CIA World Factbook. Source: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cy.html

Learn more about Hadjisavvas’s work:

Related Links:

Additional posts in this series:

More about the European Month of Culture can be found here or on social media at #EUMC2016.

Check back all month for additional posts in this series.

One Comment

  1. Harry C Tabak
    February 9, 2020 at 9:35 pm

    I was one of the refugees on Cyprus in 1947 along with my parents. This is after I was born in a Displaced Persons camp in Barmberg, Germany.

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