The Critic Magazine

Surviving the straits of hell

NINETY-FIVE-YEAR-OLD MOSHE HA-ELION proudly ushers me forward to admire the view from his smart fourteenth-floor apartment overlooking the beach in Bat Yam, south of Jaffa. It is late January and the mist is rising over the Mediterranean as if shielding us from the memories of the Europe he fled in 1946.

I have come to hear his reflections not only of Auschwitz but also of the hard years that followed: the actual process of surviving. On a warm summer’s night in June 1946, Ha-Elion was one of 1,300 Holocaust survivors on a tiny beach on the Italian Riviera. They waited patiently to board a secret ship, the Josiah Wedgwood that planned to run the Royal Navy blockade of the Palestine coast.

When I stumbled across an old newspaper cutting that reported their voyage, my mind buzzed with questions. Where had they come from? What had they endured? How did they make their way to this obscure little port?

I assumed I would be able buy a book on Amazon, but soon found myself having to write the book myself. To answer my questions I had to turn into a detective. I found a list of the survivors’ names, ages and places of birth at the former Atlit detention centre, where the Josiah Wedgwood’s passengers were interned by the British after they arrived in Haifa. But it failed to answer the burning question: who were they?

I hunted on

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