The Mass Migration of the 1950s

Hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Europe and the Arab lands seek a new home in the Jewish State.

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The following article is reprinted with permission from The Jewish Agency

The years between 1948 and 1951 witnessed the largest migration ever to reach the shores of modern Israel. This influx began at a time when the state was in the throes of its greatest struggle for survival, the War of Independence, and continued throughout a period troubled by both security concerns and economic hardship. In the mid‑1950s, a second wave arrived in Israel. The immigrants of the country's first decade radically altered the demographic landscape of Israeli society as well as the balance between Israel and the Jewish diaspora. Many of today's social issues are rooted in this mass migration: Israel's rapid economic growth, social stratification, and the formation of new political frameworks and elites. 

Dimensions

passport stamps israelSome 688,000 immigrants came to Israel during the country's first three and a half years at an average of close to 200,000 a year. As approximately 650,000 Jews lived in Israel at the time of the establishment of the state, this meant in effect a doubling of the Jewish population, even in light of the fact that some 10 percent of the new immigrants left the country during the next few years. Although immigration declined rapidly during the early 1950s, another 166,000 arrived in the middle of the decade.

Origins

The first immigrants to reach the new state were survivors of the Holocaust, some from displaced persons camps in Germany, Austria, and Italy, and others from British detention camps in Cyprus. The remnants of certain communities were transferred virtually in their entirety, for example Bulgarian and Yugoslavian Jewry. Large sections of other communities, such as those from Poland and Rumania, came to Israel during the first years. After the initial influx of European Jews, the percentage of Jews from Moslem countries in Asia and Africa increased considerably (1948 ‑ 14.4%, 1949 ‑ 47.3%, 1950 ‑ 49.6%, 1951 ‑ 71.0%). During 1950 and 1951, special operations were undertaken to bring over Jewish communities perceived to be in serious danger, for example, the Jews of Yemen and Aden (Operation Magic Carpet) and the Jewish community in Iraq (Operation Ezra and Nehemia). During the same period, the vast majority of Libyan Jewry came to the country. Considerable numbers of Jews immigrated from Turkey and Iran as well as from other North African countries (Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria).

Immigration to Israel (1948‑1951) by Major Countries of Origin  

• Poland 106.4

• Yemen and Aden 48.3

• Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria 45.4

• Bulgaria 37.3

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Jonathan Kaplan is administrative director at the Rothberg International School, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.