Another sample found - Our Passports
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Another sample found

 

Czech Jewish woman interned and freed.

 

Last year I located a fine example of WW2 and Holocaust related travel document, one that depicts the heroic effort made to escape occupation and destruction – a temporary issued Slovakian stateless passport for a Jewish family consisting of the father, mother and their young daughter, issued in 1940 and used to escape the Slovakian fascist puppet-state. Recently, I was lucky enough to find a superb sample used, under the similar circumstances to avoid a most certain death had the holder remained in occupied Czechoslovakia.

 

When we read about one of history’s darkest moments, the period of six long years that dragged the world into conflict and slaughter, we are always relieved to find out that the plight of a victim ends with their rescue and freedom. This, in my opinion, is the most rewarding part of their story, of their ordeal.

 

The dark veil that was pulled over the continent and other parts of the globe for many years will always be etched into our memories and preserved into history books for centuries to come. We will learn about the time when man has descended to the lowest bottomless pits of evil, reaching to places where light does not shine, and at that precise moment can also overcome some of the hardest of difficulties, escape situations that at first seem impossible but at the end stand up high, and face evil with courage & strength.

 

Some of the amazing tales of escape, rescue and salvage from WW2 can be told by those who lived through the darkest long years of the war, by those who were hunted and persecuted just because of their religion: the Jewish people.

 

The document is an amazing example when it comes to escaping evil and finding salvation at the end of a long and terrifying journey. The words in this article did not come from a face-to-face interview or some hand written journal that was written during the war. No, the story that will unfold here today was brought into light by paging through the passport used to travel through occupied hostile Axis Europe, moving to Italy and from there, at the end, to British Palestine.

 

Czechoslovakian passport numbered 1/396-37 was issued to Etela Bohomova on July 15th 1939 at Piešťanoch.  Etela was 22 years old and she used the travel document once only to enter Hungary: consular visa was obtained on August 15th and the same day she entered reaching Budapest. Her visit was short, about 2 weeks only. And that is it – no more visas or entries indie the passport for the next 3 years.

 

This was the case with many citizens in Europe at the time: they either made frequent travel trips abroad, be it on business, family visits or plain touristic purposes or just one single voyage. Each individual had his or her reasons for traveling, something very similar to today.

 

As mentioned above, most likely Etela placed her passport at her home, inside a cabinet with her other important personal papers. It laid there untouched until she decided later on that she had to try and use it, her only travel document, still valid for the next 2 years. But her government was not the same peaceful democratic one that issued other the passport in the first place: it has changed to a German sponsored and supported fascist government, one of a new state that did not exist a year earlier.

 

On page 7 we can locate the Bratislava police extension of the passport from May 15th to June 30th 1940 – a very brief and short period of time to leave the borders, for the purpose of immigration. An important note: the fact that she was not issued a temporary or permanent Slovakian passport is strange and begs for an explanation, which cannot be found inside the document. Seems the authorities were not bothered with such formalities and we most likely more than happy to see this Jewish young woman leave their country, allowing her to sue, for a short period of time only, her old Czech passport.

 

On May 16th she sailed via boat from the post of Bratislava, taking her all the way to the Adriatic Sea. We can roughly trace her voyage and the event’s that followed by examining the other annotations and applied rubber-stamps inside her passport: On page 9 it is hand inscribed inside her passport, above her entry stamp into British Palestine, that she is the wife of Karol Princz, and this is a very crucial piece of information and evidence that would most likely explain to us, 70 years later, the events that unfolded once she sailed out of Bratislava.

 

On-line research has revealed to us that Karol was onboard the ill-fated ship “Pentcho” that due to rough seas and the possibility of using a poorly looked-after vessel, was shipwrecked at the Aegean Sea around the same time (he is numbered 361 on the list of shipwrecked passengers). He had managed miraculously to find refuge at the port of Rhodes. The small Island with the community of close to 2,000 Jewish members did their utmost to bring comfort and assistance to close to 200 refugees of the Pentcho, who had lost all their belongings at sea.

 

The ancient Jewish community of the Island consisted of Sephardic Jews who have been living on the island since the Spanish Inquisition over 500 years ago and some families dating back to the ancient times. They all contributed to their brothers who were in need: food, clothing and some money donations as well (moat likely the internees were under the supervision of the special police headed by Lt. Col. Ferdinand MittinoI added a sampled image of another passport that was issued by him to a Jewess living on the Island in 1938).

 

Up to the end of WWI the island was part of the Ottoman Empire but from 1922 to 1948 it was part of the Italian Fascist empire, part of Mussolini’s Italy. Today, Rhodes is part of Greece, its natural home.

 

Following the rise of fascism in Europe, many Jews fled from Europe via rivers and sea for British Palestine and some stopped, briefly, at the Island of Rhodes for refueling and refreshment of supplies. This same was most likely the case of the Pentcho, which, according to some reports, was shipwrecked close to the Island of Samos and hauled to Rhodes.

 

Back to Karol: From 1940 to around 1942, Etela being his wife, was most likely living on the Island together. At the back of the document, there is one entry marking for Italy, for Bari, dating from March 16th 1942. On line records and information does indicate that the survivors of the ship wreck, who were lodged at the Rhodes stadium, were transported from their make-shift refugee dwellings to internment at the infamous Ferramonti Di Tarsia camp.

 

The couple was very very fortunate indeed, to put it mildly: they spent over 1 year in an Italian Fascist internment camp, in much better conditions had they been under German hands, only to be liberated by the British in late 1943, then moving to Allied refugee centers in the same camps until June 5th of 1944 were they immigrated to the Mandate and arriving at Haifa port – see page 9 (they also had a young son, Josef, that joined them, born into freedom a month earlier on April 20th).

 

Smaller image source: Wikipedia.

 

 

Thank you for reading “Our Passports”.

 

 

Neil Kaplan
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