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Selmon Yoseph

Father's name: Sefe Yoseph Tazuzo
Mother's name: Tawadj Melesa Negosa
Year of birth: 1950
Place of birth: Swada, Jan Amora, Semien
Region in Ethiopia: Wegera
Main occupation in Ethiopia: Merchant and activist in the ORT
The language of the interview: Amharic

Selmon Yoseph, nature, agriculture, herding sheep and cattle, poetry, merchant, legend, history, Aba Tsegay, holy sites, genealogy, games, journey, wedding, studies, assimilation, revolution, customs and traditions, lands, trade, store, ORT organization, the Red Terror, Passover, matza, jail, violence, tortures, weaving, Derg, Emperor Haile Selassie, Emperor Yeshaq, Swada, Jan Amora, Semien, Dav-Behar, Debarq, Wegera, Gondar, Israel.

Summary of the testimony:

Selmon reads out loud a poem he wrote about education in Ethiopia. He then talks about the history of the settlement in the province of Semien and the Jews who lived there before the persecutions of Emperor Yeshaq in 1400. He also tells a legend about the creation of the holy site named after Aba Tsegay. Selmon lists his family genealogy and notes that he is a 13th generation descendant of Aba Tsegay.

When he was six, his family left his birthplace and moved to Dav-Behar, where they would be able to own agricultural land. He describes the journey his family and many other Jews undertook to distant areas to find land. Selmon describes the village and its daily life, the mutual assistance, the community rules, and the various games he played as a child. He began to herd the sheep and cattle and to work the family land, and he describes how he dealt with the wild animals he encountered in the course of his work.

At the time of the revolution that brought the Derg party to power, 17-year-old Selmon went to study. He talks about the revolution and its impact on him and the entire Jewish community, including the reform of reallocation of land and the mandatory education law for all citizens.

He studied in the city of Debarq in the province of Wegera. Selmon describes how different city life was from village life. After a while, his family, who were worried about assimilation in the city, brought him back to the village. Only after he married and fathered two children was Selmon able to return to the city with his family and continue his studies. Selmon studied at night. During the day, he entered into the world of trade. He traded in farming equipment, domestic equipment, and a range of useful products.

In 1979, Selmon began to work clandestinely in the ORT organization. Under the guise of a merchant, he passed information between cities and villages, helped locate suitable locations to establish the organization’s centers, and distributed aid to the needy. When it became possible to go to Israel, Selmon and his comrades organized groups, provided them with provisions, and accompanied them. They worked during the “Red Terror” – a period during which the Derg government executed anyone suspected of opposing the regime. Selmon describes the horrors that took place around him.

On Passover, while Selmon and other activists were delivering matza from Israel, they were arrested by special forces of the regime and imprisoned. They were accused of transferring weapons to the rebel groups. Selmon describes the harsh conditions, the fear, the tortures, and the executions conducted in the prison. After a few months, conditions improved. Selmon, who knew how to weave, was sent to work during the day. The ORT organization eventually managed to secure its activists’ release.

Selmon resumed his subversive activities and continued to organize and accompany groups to Sudan. He was arrested again for a short period of time. After his third arrest, he realized he was in danger of execution. He set out for Sudan with his family. After many trials and tribulations, they immigrated to Israel.

Selmon Yoseph

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