Remy & Joe Pessah

ريمي و جو پيساح - Remy & Joe Pessah

Joe was crying. His ‘Baby Love,’ Remy, had other suitors and he couldn’t bear it. His mother came to him: “If she really loves you she will wait for you” she said.

At that time, Joe was studying electrical engineering in Cairo and did not have the means to marry Remy. His mother went to Remy’s family’s downtown Cairo apartment to speak to Remy’s mother. Remy would have waited no matter what.

They met in 1960. She was fourteen, he seventeen. Remy went to the synagogue after school to study Hebrew. Joe was her teacher.

“It was love from far away,” she says. “At one point we confessed that we really liked each other, but we couldn’t meet alone, so we always had a chaperone.”

For six years their love grew until they were engaged in 1966. While Remy dreamed of their future together, greater forces would change their story forever.

“In 1967 the war broke out and all my dreams were shattered,” she says.

Egyptian president Nasser mobilized his troops in the Sinai and closed the golf of Aqaba. Israel responded and within three days Israeli forces had pushed the Egyptians back and taken the Sinai. By June 10th,1967, Six Days after the war had begun, it was over.
But the hard times for Egyptian Jews were just beginning.

Nasser had all Jewish men from eighteen to sixty-five rounded up and sent to prison camps. “Every home was hit,” Remy says.

Although her father was too old and her older brothers were out of the country she was nevertheless affected. The Egyptian authorities took Joe’s father and uncle during the flying bombs of the 6 Day War and sent them to Abbu Zabbal prison and one month later that they came for her Joe.

His fate was worse. One of his colleagues at the university had implicated him and his best friend Roland Gouel as spies. Motivated by jealousy over the two students’ positions as class leaders, a student named Hassan condemned them.

At Joe’s house the Egyptians rifled through his belongings and found wires and fuses he used for electrical engineering projects. They took this as evidence that he was a spy and brought Joe, his brother and his cousin to Abbu Zabbal.

Remy went to Synagogue the following day. His cousin was there and told her that Joe had been taken.

“I went through a severe depression,” she says. “I was very involved in my education at the University of Cairo to keep my sanity. Every week we would hear rumors that they will be released. I would wait and wait and nothing would happen.”

It was not until six months later that she received a postcard asking for two pairs of underwear to be sent to a particular address. “It was a relief just to know they were alive,” she says.

After eight months Remy had a chance to see the man she had been planning her life with. She traveled two and a half hours to see him behind the bars of Abbu Zabbal for five minutes.

“The first time seeing him was sad, he had changed. His hair was very short… It was very difficult to see him in that state.”

By 1968, one year after his incarceration they were able to see each other once a month. When he was moved to another prison camp, Tora, they could see each other every two weeks for five minutes; later for ten minutes.

Then one day in 1970 Remy’s father came to her and said: “I have good news Remy, They will release Joe.”

“Enough Dad, I don’t want anymore hopes. I don’t want to believe and be disappointed.”

Her father told her to trust him. But still skeptical she went to the UN and spoke to an official who confirmed the happy news.

All the imprisoned Jews were to be deported with their families. Remy and Joe had never gotten married. So they brought a rabbi into the prison and they were married there.

About her wedding she says: “That was it, he went to his cell and I went home.”

On Monday June 21st 1970 Joe was released and sent immediately to the airport. He could not stop and see his home one more time or to pick up his clothes. Remy had a flight for Thursday but went to the airport to see Joe.

She was not able to get close to him but did holler at him from a distance as he walked along the tarmac.

“I am coming on Thursday,” she said.

Joe turned and extended three fingers. “Three days? I had three years in prison and you give me three days of freedom.”

From her Los Altos home, Remy laughs. “I wanted to throw a bomb on his head.”

Despite the time, the pain and the fear – Joe’s mother had been right all along.

After their re-union they lived in Paris for six months before moving to the U.S. They settled in Los Altos California and raised two children David and Jacob. David made Aliyah and now lives in Israel , Jacob lives in Redwood City .