Shipwrecked, internment and freedom
Slovakian temporary passport issued to a Jewish family.
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 Hauser saga 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 family’s passport, the one they used from the start of their trek, at the beginning of the war and that would end 4 long years later. The travel document in this article travelled through occupied hostile Axis Europe, moving to Italy and from there, at the end, to British Palestine.
Slovakian TEMPORARY passport numbered 1100/276/40 was issued to Symcha, Braudla and Lia Hauser who most likely fled Poland in 1939 to the newly formed Slovakian State as refuges. The passport was issued to them at Bratislava on April 5th 1940 by the city’s police authorities. It was valid for the short period of time of 9 months only, and was issued for the purpose of immigration. It was valid for many locations and also specifically as indicated on page 5, for South America.
The family left their temporary place of refuge on May 17th on board the “Pentcho” and due to rough seas and the possibility of using a poorly looked-after vessel, was shipwrecked at the Aegean Sea and 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 Mittino – I 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.
From 1940 to around 1942, the family was living on the Island but catastrophe struck again: the father, Symcha, passed away towards the end of 1941, we can see this was the case by the Italian hand applied annotation at the lower left side of the inner-jacket of the passport mentioning this and the date was November 30th (this was the vital clue that led me to solving the true events and story behind this passport).
Paging through passport can only reveal bits and fragments of the puzzle, but it was enough to piece together the full story, well, most of it.
At the back of the document, there is one entry marking for Italy, for Bari, dating from February 11th 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 (during the war Bari was the location for internment camps holding refugees and those that were not permitted to remain in the country and after the war the center for refugees and a major port from where illegal immigrants sailed to British Palestine and after 1948 to the newly formed State of Israel).
They were 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 (they were given refugee transportation papers by the British, for Palestine, on May 26th).
Thank you for reading “Our Passports”.