Exile in Mauritius
In September 1940, a convoy of 4,000 Jews sailed down the Danube from Slovakia, bound for Palestine. On reaching the Danube delta in Rumania, 1,700 refugees were transferred to the SS Atlantic. Conditions on board were dreadful. The voyage was held up in Crete, Cyprus, and Istanbul. The British navy accompanied the ship to Haifa and confined the refugees at Atlit, near Haifa. Later despite well-organized passive resistance, they were forcibly deported to Beau Bassin Prison in exotic Mauritius. At first men and women, even for married couples, were confined in separate barracks. Food supplies and clothing were inadequate. No escape was possible. The British authorities wielded absolute power and Jewish representation was almost non-existent. Many of the regulations were unfair and even insulting. “Outings on parole” were permitted every couple of months. Fifty per cent of the detainees suffered from malaria and/or avitaminoses (vitamin deficiencies); chronic dysentery and neuroses were common. Medical treatment was reasonable. 124 died in the camp. Nearly everyone had a small additional income, either from remittances from abroad, from wages for work performed in the camp, or from private enterprises the detainees were allowed to set up. Culture and education were widely available; a school and a library were established as well as a “popular university.” All the detainees lived for returning to Palestine at the end of the war. The study of languages by some helped to combat the enforced idleness. Of the younger men 212 served in the Jewish Brigade but another 300 were rejected as medically unfit. The Zionist Association of Mauritius became the channel for foreign relations. The South African Zionist Organization gave their protection to their Mauritian brethren. In February 1945, the Jews were informed that H.M. Government was allowing them to enter Palestine. In August after fifty-five months in exile, they disembarked at Haifa.