In April 1944, when Zmira Abukasis née Borbea was 16 years old, she was sent to Bergen- Belsen, where veteran prisoners offered to sell her a watch in exchange for a slice of bread. Zmira, who did not yet know the camp rules, bought the watch. The severe hunger in the camp quickly taught Zmira that in Bergen-Belsen nothing is as valuable as a slice of bread.
Zmira (Ezmeralda) Borbea was born in Tripoli, Libya on 18 July 1928. As a girl she worked as a nanny for the baby of a fascist Christian. She remembers Mussolini’s visit to Libya in 1937.
Zmira also has clear memories of the British air raids of Libya that began in the second half of 1940. For one-and-a-half years the family stayed in bomb shelters under the walls of Tripoli. Zmira witnessed the destruction of the synagogue in a British air raid. In April-May 1941 the Italians regained control over the region. In December 1941 over 300 Jews with British citizenship, including Zmira and her family, were loaded onto trucks that transported them to the port. Each family was permitted to take only one suitcase. They sailed to Naples in Italy aboard the “Argentina”, which was ordinarily used for transporting cows; from there they were taken to Florence. The women and children were sent to an Italian village where a number of people lived in each apartment. The children would go to the villagers’ houses to beg for food. The men were sent to the Civitella del Tronto internment camp in central Italy.
Following the occupation of northern Italy by Germany in 1943, all three hundred Jews were sent to the Sforzacosta prisoner of war camp. From there they were sent to Bergen-Belsen, arriving during Passover of April 1944. At first, Zmira was unable to bring herself to eat the daily ration of food in the camp, a five-centimeter-thick slice of bread, made from sawdust and potato skins. According to Zmira there was an active barter-system in operation in the camp. She traded a slice of bread in exchange for the watch, as she was not yet aware of the hunger that awaited her. A year later, in April 1945, the camp was liberated by the British. After a period of time in the Displaced Persons camp in Hannover, Germany, the family returned to Libya and later immigrated to Israel from there.
Zmira donated the watch she bought in Bergen-Belsen to Yad Vashem.