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December 16, 2022

30 Historical Photographs Capture Daily Life at the El Shatt, European Refugee Camps in Egypt During World War II

The El Shatt was a complex of World War II refugee camps in the desert of the Sinai peninsula in Egypt, established in early 1944. The region of Dalmatia (in today’s modern Croatia, then Yugoslavia) was evacuated by the Allies, following the September 1943 Italian surrender and ahead of a German invasion. The camp was disbanded after the war ended, in March 1946.

The camp was located near the Suez Canal, and was divided into five smaller bases. Refugees were housed in tents, one to two families per tent. Although far from home and living in poor conditions, they tried to preserve the illusion of normal life. They established schools, various workshops, a shared laundry, and issued a newspaper (Our Paper/Naš List). One tent was designated as a church. Josip Hatze, a famous Split-born composer and conductor, who was in his later years, spent his time organizing choirs. People from Dalmatia had difficulty adjusting to desert conditions, especially children who suffered from intestinal diseases. Many of them died, especially at Khatatba camp during an outbreak of measles. The British government kept a strict regime, allowing exit from the complex only with passes. In the vicinity of the camp there was a Royal Yugoslav Army aviation range, and their airplanes dropped bombs onto the camp on five occasions, killing several people.

More than 30,000 people, mostly women and children, lived in the camp for nearly two years. During their time in the camp, there were 300 marriages, and 475 children were born.

As the war was nearing its end, a repatriation commission was formed to organize the return. Due to sometimes strained relations between Tito’s Yugoslavia and the British allies, it took many months, from May 1945 to March 1946 for them to return. Some never did, and at the place of their exile now rests a graveyard with 715 graves.


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