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Gebeyhu Yaacov

Father's name: Yaacov
Mother's name: Webet Edismo
Year of birth: 1935
Place of birth: Lev Waha Mariam, Gojjam
Region in Ethiopia: Gojjam
Main occupation in Ethiopia: Officer in the Derg army
The language of the interview: Amharic

Gebeyhu Yaacov, agriculture, shepherding, war, racism, shell, leasing, produce, wedding, epidemic, kidnapping, Queen Elizabeth, workers, judge, fighting, killing, army, discrimination, soil fertility, rains, fruit, theft, robbers, weapon, school, immigration to Israel, Italians, Derg, Mengistu Haile Mariam, Emperor Haile Selassie, EHAPA, E.D.U., Lev Waha Mariam, Gojjam, Belessa, Lasta, Osaba, Ambover, Addis Ababa, Israel, Mahin Abu, Armacho, Gondar, Denembia, Chahara, Tebery, Chilkoana, Engarev, Ambover, Kenya, Djibouti.

Summary of the testimony:

Gebeyhu describes his family tree, his village, and its local history. He talks about the war with the Italians, during which both sides harassed the local Jews, who were suspected of aiding and abetting the enemy. During exchanges of fire, young Gebeyhu hid with the women and children in caves in the area. His grandmother was killed by a mortar shell in one of the bombings.

Gebeyhu began to work with his father in agricultural work. After a short time, his father died. He worked with his uncle to support his mother and siblings. They leased lands from Christians in exchange for a quarter of the produce. When his uncle also died, Gebeyhu brought his wife, mother, and siblings, with all their possessions, to his maternal grandmother in Osaba. Gebeyhu’s mother contracted an illness and he took care of her for three months, until she recovered. During the three years he lived in Osaba, he was unable to find a plot of land which he could farm to make a living. During those years he divorced his wife and remarried.

He first saw his second wife by a well. He relates that he kidnapped her from her house and held her for three months, after which he went to her parents and asked for permission to marry her. The parents initially refused and wanted to bring her back to her ex-husband. Eventually they agreed and Gebeyhu married his chosen bride. The couple had a daughter during Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Ethiopia, and named her after the queen.

Gebeyhu eventually leased a good plot of land and settled on it with his extended family. He began to employee workers, who worked the land in exchange for a quarter of the produce. Once every year or two, he replaced them with new workers. When the Derg party, led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, deposed Emperor Haile Selassie and seized power, it cancelled the lease fees and re-allocated the lands.

The Derg regime established local committees. Gebeyhu was selected as the district judge’s assistant and was responsible for legal issues. Gebeyhu describes various experiences from his time in this position.

An order was received from the district authority to enlist anyone with a gun. Gebeyhu was conscripted to the Derg army and sent, without any training, to fight in the desert area of Mahin Abu, in the province of Armacho. Gebeyhu and his comrades fought against two underground groups. All the area’s residents opposed the Derg soldiers. He describes harsh fighting, burning houses, and many casualties. When Gebeyhu returned home, feeling defeated, the Derg regime declared general conscription. Gebeyhu was taken for training and appointed to the rank of captain. His job was to enlist and train fighters in the areas of Gondar, Denembia, and Chahara. He relates that Jews were discriminated against in the army. He was demoted to the rank of first lieutenant because he was Jewish.

Gebeyhu was sent with his soldiers to fight in the area of Tebery. They managed to win the battle with the help of air support. Their opponents sustained many casualties. His troops only buried people wearing an insignia of the Derg regime. He expresses regret that there were no records enabling them to notify families about their loved ones who had been killed in battle. The fighting moved to the Chilkoana area, where Gebeyhu was injured in his stomach from mortar shell shrapnel. Despite his commanders’ entreaties, Gebeyhu refused to be evacuated and leave his soldiers. He and his soldiers were transferred to Engarev, where they guarded the base and fought for three months.

At the end of his military service, Gebeyhu was released and was able to return home. Many of the region’s Jews had escaped to Sudan. Gebeyhu was appointed as secretary of the school in Ambover. He succeeded in bringing back to school students who had run away to Addis Ababa, Kenya, and Sudan in an attempt to immigrate to Israel. He also managed to incorporate poor students who did not have enough money to buy the school uniform. He was responsible for growing and selling the school’s produce to supplement the school’s budget. Gebeyhu was sent to a seminar on the topic of soil quality and fertility. When he returned, he taught local residents how to build terraces to prevent erosion during the rainy season, and how to plan and build houses. He was one of the people responsible for distributing agricultural land in the region.

Gebeyhu sent his children to Sudan, one after the other, to immigrate to Israel. He remained in Ethiopia with his wife and young children. During a complication of childbirth, his wife and the baby died. Gebeyhu remarried a while later. He tells the story of returning his father-in-law’s five cows that were stolen. He also describes the process of buying a bull or cow.

Gebeyhu used his connections to help Jews leave for Sudan and find them a trustworthy guide. Someone informed on him for smuggling his son and nephew to Kenya, and Gebeyhu was arrested. During his imprisonment, he became ill and was sent to a clinic to receive treatment. At his friends’ recommendations, Gebeyhu managed to get permission to continue the treatment in a clinic in Gondar. There, Gebeyhu lived in a safe house and was fortunate enough to receive permits to immigrate to Israel.

During this period, the opponents of the regime were approaching Addis Ababa. All the roads leading to the city were closed. Gebeyhu managed to escape to the capital, where he waited for a month for his family to join him. They waited another five months in Addis Ababa, at the end of which they immigrated to Israel.

Gebeyhu Yaacov

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