SOAS University of London

Brunei Gallery, SOAS University of London

Empty Cradles: Israel’s Disappeared Children

Yaffa Dayan

Date: 23 September 2022Time: 10:30 AM

Finishes: 10 December 2022Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery

Type of Event: Exhibition

SOAS’s Brunei Gallery is pleased to present a major new exhibition, Empty Cradles: Israel’s Disappeared Children on display from 23 September to 10 December 2022. 

The disappeared children belonged to Jewish families who migrated to Israel from the Middle East and North Africa in the 1940s and 50s and were staying in temporary immigration camps. Over half of the children were from Yemen. The state officially maintains that the children died, but the families were never shown bodies, graves, or death certificates. Instead, they believe their children were sent away to homes run by women’s organisations and in many cases illicitly adopted, perhaps even abroad.

A growing body of evidence, much of which is assembled in the new exhibition, has been uncovered to support the families’ claims. The exhibition shares moving testimonies from mothers who had their children taken from them, often by force. It also reveals their experiences of condescension and racism by the Israeli authorities towards them, and how they were frequently accused of being unfit to raise their own children.

Documents and photographs reproduced in the exhibition record the policy of systematically separating Yemenite children from their parents, and how this led to their disconnection and disappearance. The exhibition also charts the role of so-called “baby homes” in housing “lost” children and putting them up for adoption.

While the disappearances took place in Israel, the exhibition documents how international women’s organisations, including some based in the United Kingdom, were also a crucial part of the story. Publicity material from the time shows that volunteers, donors, tourists, and members of the public around the world were aware of, and involved with work, with the children and shared assumptions about the “unfitness” of the parents, and even visited the “baby homes” when many parents could not.

The organisations involved still operate today, and many of the disappeared children could still be alive. Now families, campaigners, and researchers are hoping that conversations and awareness generated by the Empty Cradles exhibition may encourage members of the public with knowledge about these events to come forward. 

This exhibition is produced by researchers at Queen Mary University of London and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (grant reference AH/S012982/1). For press enquiries please email Lindsey Frodsham at l.frodsham@qmul.ac.uk

Organiser: Queen Mary University, Brunei Gallery SOAS

Contact email: l.frodsham@qmul.ac.uk