Fleeing Poland During Holocaust
By Sally M. Rogow
Thousands of Jewish people fled from Poland when World War II began in 1939. The Germans occupied Poland and immediately began arresting Jews. Jews were not safe in Russia either, many were imprisoned and sent to Siberia. After much negotiation, the Soviet authorities agreed to allow 24, 000 people to emigrate from the Soviet Union in 1942. This number included 1000 children.
Seven hundred orphaned children were sent to an orphanage in Teheran. With endless persistence and patience, a group of Jewish women from Palestine brought the world's attention to the plight of the abandoned children. With the help of Jewish women's organizations in the US and Britain, youth counsellors were sent to work with the children and bring them to Palestine.
Located on the outskirts of the big city of Teheran, the children's home was surrounded by tall buildings and rows of huts and the military barracks of the Persian Air Force. Flies infested the camp and the sanitary conditions were poor. There was no running water .In freezing cold, the children slept on straw mats on the floor. Supper came from the soup kitchen. The meals consisted mostly of bread, butter, jam and tea.
When the counsellors arrived, they found the children terrified, some were weak and sickly and others were wild and untruly. Dressed in shabby clothing, some did not even have shoes. A nurse took care of the smallest children.
Experienced in working with children, the youth counsellors organized activities to keep the children busy and help them deal with their fear. Organized into 4 age groups, school and sports activities were underway. How were they to travel with the children to Palestine, the counsellors wondered. It was a long trip and a careful plan had to be made. It was important to talk to the children about Palestine and get them ready for the long trip.
After telling the children stories about their own lives in Palestine, arrangements were made for Jewish soldiers in the British army stationed in Palestine to visit the home and talk to the children. They brought candies and told them many stories about the good life they would have in a Jewish country.
Planning the trip was difficult. At first they were to leave in June, but the government of Iraq cancelled the agreement to let the children leave. They had planned to travel through Turkey, but the country was closed to them. Finally a new plan was made, they were to cross Iraq in trucks which would leave at different times.
Frightened and weary, the children sat in the trucks until they reached the border. At the seaport, they met together and boarded a ship called the "Dorian". When the ship left the port, the war was at its height and the waters were full of mines and enemy submarines. Unable to take the short route, the ship sailed around from the Persian gulf into the Arabian Sea. After a stopover at the port of Karachi, they sailed to Aden and then through the Red Sea to the Suez Canal, from where they would take a train to Palestine.
The weather was very hot in Karachi, where they boarded another ship, the SS Noratea. The ship rolled on the rough seas until they reached Aden, a beautiful port city with a backdrop of mountains. The counsellors soothed them as the ship sailed slowly through the stormy sea to the Suez Canal. In Suez when the ship landed, the children had to climb down and board the small boats waiting for them. The boats bounded on the waves through a raging storm as they neared the coast. The counsellors, held the smallest children and the others held hands. They wept and laughed together.
Everyone cheered when they crossed the Egyptian border. They were now at the gateway to the promised land. After 8 months of travel through Iran, the Persian Gulf, Pakistan, Yemen, and Egypt, they boarded the two trains that carried them to Palestine. They landed on January 20, Greeted by Welcome home signs, Henrietta Szold and other women greeted them and brought them clothes and food. The children were safe and lived happily on a kibbutz.
Omer, Devora The Teheran Operation: The Rescue of Jewish Children from the Nazis, Washington, B'Nai Brth Books, 1991
Sally Rogow is a published author. Her most recent book are "Faces of Courage: Young Heroes of World War II" and "They Must Not Be Forgotten: Heroic Priests and Nuns Who Saved People From The Holocaust."
from the August 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine