This Day in Jewish History

1927: Owner of Egypt’s Grandest Store Brutally Murdered in Cairo

Solomon Cicurel, who ran Les Grand Magasins, was stabbed to death in bed by four assailants.

On March 4, 1927, Solomon Cicurel – one of three brothers who, together with their father, owned and ran Cairo’s leading department store – was brutally murdered in the master bedroom of his Giza villa.

Cicurel was born in 1881, the oldest of the three sons of Moreno Cicurel. Moreno had immigrated from Smyrna (today Izmir), Turkey, in 1870. His first Cairo business was a textile store he co-owned in Cairo’s El Mousky district. After that, he opened the department store Au Petit Bazaar, which eventually became Les Grand Magasins Cicurel. Les Grand Magasins was Egypt’s grandest emporium, the local equivalent to Galeries Lafayette in Paris.

After the death of Moreno in 1919, his sons – Solomon, Joseph and Salvator – continued to run the family business empire. Joseph (1887-1931) was a founder of Banque Misr and the group of companies owned by the bank, whose Jewish and Egyptian owners wanted to break the foreign grip on the country’s economy.

Solomon was the senior partner in the Grand Magasins, and he lived in a mansion on al-Rihama Street, along the Nile in Cairo’s exclusive Giza district. It was there that, in the early hours of March 4, Solomon was stabbed to death in his bed. Beside him was his wife, Elvire Toriel, who was unable to offer detectives much assistance since the assailants had rendered her unconscious with chloroform.

Because of the high standing of the Cicurels in Egyptian society, the case was given top priority and, within a day, four men had been arrested for the crime, which was apparently a burglary gone very wrong. (Elvire’s jewels, kept in the bedroom, were gone when the police arrived.) Two men were Italian: the family’s chauffeur, and a friend; a third was Greek, the driver for another Cairo family; the fourth was a local Jew.

At the time, Egypt still functioned under the “capitulations” system, by which foreign nationals were tried by their own states. And because neither Italy nor Greece had death penalties, it was only the Egyptian Jew, Dario Jacoel, who faced the gallows for the crime, which he was said to have masterminded.

For those looking for a more sensational explanation for the crime, it turned out that the Greek chauffeur, Anesthi Christo, had previously been employed by the Cicurels, and had been let go a short time before by Solomon.

Samir Rafaat, author of a 1994 Ahram Weekly article on the affair, reported in 2000 on an email he received from a supposed great-nephew of Dario Jacoel, living in Texas and bearing the same name. He claimed that he had been raised on a grisly version of the Cicurel murder, according to which his namesake had been having an affair with Mrs. Cicurel, and took revenge on her and her husband when she decided to break off. To add an even more bizarre twist, Texas court records published online in 2005 indicate that a Dario Jacoel had been convicted of three counts of sexual assault of a child and two counts of injury to a child.

Following the deaths of Solomon and Joseph Cicurel, their brother Salvator assumed leadership of the family holdings. Salvator, who captained the fencing team that represented Egypt at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, was also, at various times, president of the Sephardic Community Cairo, a top official in various commercial organizations, and friend with some of the Free Officers who overthrew the Egyptian monarch in 1952. Only in 1957 did Salvator finally sell the Grand Magasins and join the rest of his family in Paris.

In 1933, Solomon Cicurel’s daughter, Lili, married Pierre Mendès France, later prime minister of France.

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