The Dora was the first illegal boat (Aliyah Beth) to leave from Northern Europe with Jewish refugees from Germany. Among the passengers was my mother Toni Katz.
The Dora, anchored off the waterways of Vlissingen.
Photo: De Maasbode Van Woensdag, 19 July 1939
The "Death Ship" Dora: An old coal boat that saved hundred of Jews
By: Chaya Brasz, Historian.
Former Director of Center for Research on Dutch Jewry,
Ben-Zion Dinur Institute for Research in Jewish History.
Originally published as "Dodenschip Dora; Een oude kolenboot redde honderden Joden ondanks Nederlandse tegenwerking" in Vrij Nederland, May 1, 1993, pp. 38-41.
Translation by Erik Post.
On Sunday morning, July 16, 1939, the Dora, a small coal ship sailing under Panamanian flag left the harbor of Amsterdam. The ship, been described in a Dutch newspaper as "a wreck with "slave quarters", carried over 300 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany and about 20 Dutch Jews. Officially, the Dutch government claimed to "knew nothing", adn turned a blind eye, letting the boat leave secretly. Four weeks later, in the night of August 11/12th, the Dora would disembark its refugees on the coast of Palestine.
Since the early days of Nazism, the Netherlands had taken in about 15,000 Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria. Only a few hundreds of them were Halutzim - young pioneers who followed an agrarian training ("hachshara") in preparation for emigration to Palestine.
In 1933, The Deventer Association ("Vereniging tot Vakopleiding van Palestina Pioniers": "The Association for Professional Training of Palestine Pioneers"), along with the Committee for Jewish Refugees, obtained visas for tens of young people in the Netherlands. These refugees were then placed among Dutch farmers with the help of the Deventer Association, and, with support from the Refugee Committee, a laborer village ("Werkdorp") was set up in the polder of Wieringer. There, a large group of youths received training for immigration to Palestine and to other places.
In the 30's, it was almost impossible for these refugees to travel to other countries. Many Jews hoped to go to Palestine, then under British mandate, but the British only allowed a very small number of Jews to come to Palestine. The Jewish Agency, when handing out immigration certificates, favored Jews from Germany and Austria, because they were in greater danger.
At the end of 1938, there were a little over 1000 young people in hachshara in the Netherlands. Many illegal immigrants tried to get to Palestine on ships that were barely sea-worthy. Up to the start of WWII, a total of 50 illegal ships tried to get to Palestine. Until the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, 92 more ships would follow, of which the most famous was the Exodus.
When, after Kristallnacht at the end of 1938, the Dutch government allowed 150 halutzim to enter the country on condition that they would leave the country within a year, Jews from Palestine decided to organize illegal immigration from the Netherlands.
Giora Yoseftal was sent from Palestine to try to organize the illegal immigration of these Jewish refugees, but both the Refugee Committee, headed by Prof. David Cohen, and the Deventer Association, run by his brother Rudolf "Ru" Cohen, rejected his plan as they were opposed to illegal immigration.
Mossad LeAliyah Bet, a branch of the Haganah started operating in 1938 to try to save thousands of European Jews using clandestine immigration before it became too late. By December 1938, rumors about the possibility of illegal immigration from the Netherlands started to give halutzim hope.
Another group of pioneers, staying in the labor village of Wieringermeer (a new polder), was supposed to go to France by train to board an illegal immigration ship. However, a few Dutch members of the group decided they didn't want to leave after all because members of their family thought it was too dangerous, or unnecessary - they thought they were safe there. (Only a few of those who stayed behind would survive the war). So, their plan was changed, and the Haganah eventually decided that they, too, would instead leave from Amsterdam. Uri Kochba (Walter Koch), the representative of the Hechalutz movement, transfered them from Wierinermeer and hid them in various villages near the Dutch coast not far from Amsterdam, in Beverwijk, Assendelft and Heemskerk, where they would stay and wait until they could board.
A representative of the Haganah, Gideon Rufer (Gideon Raphael - later Secretary General of Foreign Affairs and Israeli Representative to the UN after the war, arrived in Amsterdam from Palestine to organize this illegal trip.
Shmarya Zameret, out of the central office of the illegal immigration organization in Paris, received the order to organize the immigration of 300 halutzim from Holland, 150 from Belgium, and another hundred from France. He traveled with an American passport under the pseudonym of "Mr. Grey", which gave him entry to European countries.
First, Zameret went to Copenhagen to arrange to buy a boat. He selected the Dora, a relatively small, but strong and stable, ship built in 1898. With the help of two Greek sailors, the brothers Pierre and Kosta, he bought the boat which would sail under Panamanian flag. They installed 175 iron bunk beds, a kitchen, lavatories, showers, cleaned the engines, and brought life jackets onboard. The Greeks received an advance in Denmark for their help, and would be paid the rest later. Originally, the plan was to man the ship with Greeks from Marseilles, but eventually a Danish crew manned the boat.
By then, Zameret, or "Mr. Grey" as he was known, was getting cries for help from the Netherlands everyday. He had to assure the Dutch government three or four times that the Palestine pioneers would really leave Holland, but they had to delay the trip several times. Not everybody in the Refugee Committee knew about the illegal immigration plan. The chairman, Prof. David Cohen, didn't know anything, while Gertrude van Tijn-Cohn and other members of the committee were in the know, but didn't think they could trust the Haganah.
The halutzim stationed in various hiding places would ususally stay there for a couple nights only, but now that they'd been there for a couple weeks already, they didn't know what would happen: people would wonder why they were there and there was a growing risk that the plan would become known. In Antwerp, the situation was even worse. 150 people who had crossed the Dutch/Belgian border illegally had now been there for more than six weeks. The police arrested them every day, after which they were released, because they promised they would leave the next day, as soon as the ship would enter the harbor. Just around that time, the Belgian government passed a law to the effect that illegal refugees had to be sent back. In France, the situation was not much better.
When the Dora left Copenhagen, Kosta and Mr. Grey took the train to Antwerp to meet the Greek crew that would replace the Danish crew, to hire more sailors, and to buy more lifeboats. Gideon Rufer mentioned that the people in Amsterdam were ready to go. There they would get more coal and more food, everything could be arranged in a couple hours and they could come and go without being noticed.
The Dora arrived in the Coenhaven (in the Amsterdam harbor). Gideon Rufer needed the help of someone who spoke Dutch fluently. He met Flip Cohen in the harbor, and Flip didn't really know who Rufer was. Rufer told him: "If they ask you who sent you, just tell them 'Kipper'." Flip Cohen went to the shipbroker on the Geldersekade (canal in Amsterdam) where he had to make contact to get the merchandise. He went there with Rufer, and paid for everything with English pounds. Uri Kochba says: "I was sent to the bakery, and had them bake special kosher bread that would stay good for a long time. We ate that aboard until it became moldy. After that, we switched to biscuits."
All the merchandise was brought from the canal to the Dora in the harbor on a big motorboat. That's where he saw the Dora for the first time. He noticed someone watching down from the ship. Later he learned this was Amiram Shochat, one of the three people from the Haganah who had organized the trip of the Dora. He told him in Hebrew: "Don't talk to anyone in the crew". The Danish crew didn't know anything about the illegal nature of the trip, and were not supposed to know.
Everything went fine until people from the Refugee Committee came to see the boat. They arrived at the worst moment, just as the coal was being loaded, so the ship was covered in a cloud of soot. They had expected a luxury passenger ship. When they saw the Dora, they refused to let the Halutzim board the boat. The members of the Refugee Committee were mostly wealthy, assimilated Jews who lived "by the rules" and represented the Jewish Community at the government. Their idea of what a boat should be didn't fit with the reality of illegal immigration. They were upset by all the delays and the problems this would cause with the Dutch Government, to whom they had promised that the halutzim would be leaving in an orderly fashion and without any problems. They already had contempt for "Ostjuden", the people who had organized the trip, and couldn't contain themselves anymore. They said "Ostjuden don't keep their word". They also believed that the papers for the boat were probably faked, bought on the black market.
Siegfried Kramarsky, a German Jewish banker who lived in the Netherlands, along with S.J. Florsheim and a few other members of the Refugee Committee, had paid the 115 000 guilders that the trip would cost, and felt responsible for the whole enterprise. The Refugee Committee blamed the Haganah for the poor quality of the ship, as they felt responsible for the voyage. In case the British captured the Dora, it was clear that the Dutch government would claim knowing nothing about the whole trip, and they would be fully responsible.
Zameret was astonished by these assimilated, law-abiding Jews who, with their haughty attitude, made decisions regarding the halutzim. In his report to the Mossad LeAliyah Bet, he noted that these people were so removed from the problems of the Jewish people. After the remark about the OstJuden, he pretended to be an American and would only speak English.
He convinced Gertrud Van Tijn, whom he described as a woman from the committee with great capacities, to go to Kramarsky. Grey explained to her that the Dora was a good ship; he also explained to her why the trip had been delayed so many times. Everything was inspected by the specialists, and the insurance papers turned out to be in order, so the Refugee Committee decided to let the trip continue.
But then, new complications arose. It turned out that the workers who had brought the coal aboard were Communists. They had noticed that there were beds aboard. Not meaning any harm, they called the editors of the party's newspaper, and so, a day after the arrival of the Dora in Amsterdam, there was a big article in the Communist Volksdagblad (the People's Daily), where the Dutch government was attacked for letting such a wreck of a ship with "slave traders quarters", with hundred of refugees aboard. They were sure the people would drown.
Other newspapers started to write about the "Ship of the Dead" ("Dodenschip"). Photographers were circling around the Dora in the Amsterdam harbor in little boats, so the harbor master received the order to go and inspect the ship.
Grey talked to the harbor master and explained the real reason of the transport, and the harbor master gave his approval, however he did make a list of improvements that had to be made. Because there were only 350 beds and 300 people were supposed to board from Amsterdam, Grey told the harbor master that there would only be 50 more people boarding from Antwerp. The people from the Refugee Committee heard this, which caused the Dutch government to officially declare the following day that they weren't expelling any refugees, and that everybody would leave from their own free will. (?)
Jacob Oppenheimer came to Holland in 1936 from Frankfurt am Main. (He later lived in the moshav Kfar HaRoeh and worked for the Israeli Ministry of (?)). He said:
"The Dutch immigration police wanted to get rid of us, but they were afraid of the publicity. The relationship with England wasn't too good, and the British of course didn't want any immigration. So in 1939, all of a sudden we were brought to Heemskerk (15 miles from Amsterdam), where we had to wait for a couple of weeks. Of course we knew where we were going. On July 14th, I was brought to the house of Dr. Pinkhof in Amsterdam. I was very religious and couldn't travel on Shabbat. Dr. Pinkhof's house wasn't far from the harbor, so on Saturday, they came and picked me up and they took me straight to the Dora."
"It was a small ship, full of people, but we never felt unsafe on the ship. The only danger we feared would come from the British."
Flip Cohen also remembers leaving very well. He was with another group of Halutzim in Beverwijk (about 15 miles from Amsterdam).
"On Saturday, I ordered some taxis. We went with the whole group. That evening, I was home for a just little while. My mother said, "Are you leaving today?" We said: "See you in Eretz Israel".
"I took my backpack and left. Apart from my younger brother Samuel, I never saw them again. I came back to the Netherlands in 1945 as a soldier with the Jewish Brigade. I found Samuel in the Portuguese Israelite Hospital. He was just back from Bergen Belsen. All the others had been murdered."
Most of the halutzim were not religious and were shuttled with busses all day Saturday to the Lloyd hotel, which at that time served as a refugee center.
Gertrud van Tijn was there, along with Florscheim, Kramarski, and Ru Cohen of the Deventer Organization. The heads of the immigration police from The Hague and from Amsterdam came to control (the boarding) with 35 civil servants. People sang, not just the people who were leaving, but also members of the Refugee Committee. Some of the civil servants of the immigration police even cried with emotion. The immigration police were amazed that there were also some Dutch people among the halutzim, but they didn't ask any questions.
At dusk, the Dora was moved to the Handelskade (the pier). There was a police cordon on the pier to keep the press at a distance, but the authorities were afraid that the Communists would come to demonstrate. Everybody knew what was going on, and when a young woman without papers* managed to move through the police cordon, they just let her go aboard without any trouble.
* Note: Polish Jews who had been residing in Germany, was "stateless" and thus had no papers. This was the case of my mother.
Before Grey left Amsterdam for Antwerp, Gertrud van Tijn came to visit him in the hotel where he was staying. He told her that the Haganah would let her know as soon as the ship arrived in Eretz Israel. But she had already thought of this herself and had given money to Eli Reens, so he could telegraph her as soon as he arrived. The son of a diamond cutter from Amsterdam, Reens had done some administrative work for the Refugee Committee. (Later, in Palestine, Reens will volunteer as a soldier in the Brigade Irene - the Free Dutch army, and will return to the Netherlands with the liberating army in September 1944. Only a nephew of his mother survived the war. Reens later lived in Kfar Pinas in Israel.)
The goodbyes between Grey and the Refugee Committee were not particularly warm. Kramarsky announced that he too would go to Antwerp, to ensure that the lifeboats required by the Amsterdam harbor master were installed, and to ensure that too many passengers wouldn't go aboard. Grey and Rufer tried to make him understand that this wasn't necessary, but to no avail.
Kramarsky arrived in Antwerp before the Dora had moored, and found out that instead of fifty people, a hundred and fifty people wanted to board the ship. Kosta had indeed bought the lifeboats and had brought one more captain along with some additional crew members.
Now they just waited for the ship. When Kramarsky saw Grey in Antwerp, there was much shouting and threatening. Kramarsk claimed there weren't enough beds onboard, but Grey argued that there were: beds were put side to side, two by two, so that three people could lie there. Grey also explained that these were refugees who were in Belgium illegally and had no other choice but to board the ship and leave under these conditions. If they couldn't board, they would be sent back to Germany. But the Refugee Committee had already given its word to the Dutch government, and threatened to take the Halutzim off in Antwerp and send them back to the Netherlands.
Zameret wrote in his report: "I spoke to a high-level Dutch civil servant who said that he wasn't interested in the plans of the Haganah, and that the only concern of the government was that the boat would disappear with the refugees as soon as possible." Grey had ordered that the passengers from Antwerp should board the Dora as soon as possible, but didn't tell Kramarsky, and continued the negotiations with people from the Refugee Committee. When Kramarsky sent his chauffeur to the harbor to take a look, he reported that the boat was there and the refugees were already aboard. Flip Cohen says: "These people were real refugees, with children, old people, not halutzim like us, who wanted really badly to go to Eretz Israel. These people didn't have a choice. Belgium wanted to get rid of them".
Kramarsky went to the Belgian harbor master and demanded that one hundred people be taken off the boat. The Belgian harbor master, who must have been a "good Christian" and saw the return of the Jewish people to the Promised Land as a Biblical fulfillment, however turned into a spokesman for the Halutzim. He told Kramarsky not to worry, and that it wasn't such a big deal if the refugees suffered a little for a couple of weeks, if it meant that they would reach the coast of the Promised Land. Kramarsky threatened to call the Dutch Governement and ask them to take diplomatic action. This made the harbor master so angry that he refused to talk to the Dutchman any longer.
At last, Kramarsky went to the ship and tried to convince the halutzim not to go on the trip, but it turned out that the passengers were quite fine with the situation. So he left, although nobody knew if he was going to take any further actions. In the meantime, the Belgian Security Agency took action. Unannounced, a tugboat arrived and picked up the Dora and brought it to Flessingen (Vlissingen).
The lifeboats were installed on the Dora just in time, but Kosta was not aboard at that moment. He was in a café talking to Grey, to demand more money for the trip. One of the engine mechanics also missed the boat. A newly hired Belgian radio operator had found what the actual goal of the trip was and didn't show up. Kosta and Grey had to find a new radio operator and contacted a Spanish Communist who used to smuggle weapons to Spain. His ship was gone and he was stranded in Antwerp without papers. The man really wanted to come along, so they called Paris about the money which would arrive the next morning in Antwerp.
The Haganah in Paris also decided that the Dora would not pick up the hundred refugees in France because there had already been too many delays. Grey, who was waiting for the money, sent Kosta, the Spaniard and the mechanics to Vlissingen by taxi. But they were sent back to the Dutch harbor: the Greek didn't have a visa, and the Spaniard didn't have a passport. There was no other choice but for the four of them to leave Antwerp the next morning on a motorboat for Flessingen.
They'd already been on the Schelde (river that connects Antwerp to the North Sea) for 8 hours when, in the distance, they finally saw the Dora. The ship was anchored off the coast. By now it was already July 18th, and Grey wanted the Dora to leave. The old captain however had ordered wine and brandy for himself, and these wouldn't be delivered until the next afternoon. Grey became really concerned that the Dutch press in Flessingen would find them out, that the Refugee Committee would realize that the ship was again along the Dutch Coast, and that the Dutch government might decide, perhaps under public pressure, to take the ship because there were too many people aboard. The captain relented and promised to leave the next morning, without wine and brandy.
At five o'clock in the morning, Grey observed the Dora from the Vlissingen dike through his binoculars. The ship was not moving, and it didn't look like it was going to leave soon. There were fishermen and a little boy from Zealand on the dike. The kid said: "You see the boat? That's a death ship. A ship full of Jewish refugees from Germany that will sink, for sure." Everybody in the Netherlands knew about the Dora, even the children.
The ship wasn't moving. Finally, around 11, a small boat from Vlissingen advanced towards the Dora. It was the Greek captain who had waited for his liquor, and after the liquor was moved onboard, the Dora finally left.
In the meantime, there were a lot of stories about the Dora in the newspapers. While the Dora waited off the coast of Vlissingen, a journalist of the Daily Herald had been aboard. He wrote that the passengers slept on the deck on straw mats, and that they had told him they were going to Bangkok, or Siam. The news drew the attention of the British government. The British representative Nevile Bland made inquiries at the Foreign office in the Netherlands, and pointed out that immigration to Palestine was illegal. After some research, the Foreign Office notified the British that the ship had given its destination as Siam, and that they weren't aware of any another destination.
The Chairman of the House of Commons, a member of the Communist Party of the Netherlands, Louis de Visser, asked questions at the end of July to the Minister of Justice, Prof. Gerbrandy. He did this with the best intentions, feeling pity for the refugees. The Communist inquired if the minister had actually encouraged the Jewish Committee to take such action. He said the refugees shouldn't leave if they couldn't secure a place to go. He also tried to plea for the possibility that they could come back to the Netherlands. At the end of August, the minister Gerbrandy would declare that he didn't know anything about the Dora at all. He asked that, going forward, the Refugee Committee should inform him about that type of emigration. In the meantime, the government representative for refugees, Mr. B.G.A. Smeets, was not happy about the Dora's trip. In a secret letter to the Justice Ministry, dated July 22, 1939, he accused the Jewish Committee of "irresponsible behavior":
"What I understand makes me ask if the government shouldn't have just prevented the ship from leaving. It was too crowded. Refugees are sleeping under sails on the upper deck, on straw. One storm and they will be gone. There isn't enough safety equipment, four little boats for 20 people each. In Amsterdam the boat was already overloaded, and in Antwerp another 100 refugees were added. The shipping inspection and the camp leader of the Lloyd Hotel can hopefully give more information. You should realize that illegal immigration with ships has already been causing much trouble everywhere. Ships that aren't allowed into harbors, that are at sea for months, that have the plague on board - for example the odyssey with the St Louis, which was actually a comfortable ship, while the Dora..."
On the way to Palestine
The trip of the Dora went pretty well, but it certainly was not a luxury cruise. Hundred of people were packed together, and got sea-sick in the Gulf of Biscaye. There was a doctor onboard, but he turned out to be addicted to morphine. When the ship went through the Strait of Gibraltar, the British ordered the ship to identify itself. At the first signs of danger, the Greek Captain, waving his revolver, would send the refugees into the hold of the ship. The Greek said it was a Panamanian ship on its way to Siam. The British believed him because ships with illegal immigrants never came through the Strait of Gibraltar, and instead usually sailed from the French Riviera, the Italian Coast, or the Coast of the Black Adriatic Sea.
When they arrived to the southern coast of Turkey, the Dora radioed the Haganah in Palestine. The Dora had been delayed and was told to drop anchor off the Turkish coast at Feniki, because it was now full moon, which meant that a landing was impossible. The only thing that interrupted the waiting was a visit from the Turkish police. Nobody was to go to the coast. By now, the amount of food, water and coal was starting to get very small, so the police gave permission for a boat to bring watermelons and potable water to the Dora.
Eventually, the Haganah on board lost patience, and, against the instructions from Palestine, decided to move forward. But as soon as the ship had started to move, it stopped again. The trip had taken longer than planned, so the Greek crew demanded more money. Under the command of the captain, armed with big kitchen knives, they started a mutiny. They could only just be kept from sabotaging the antenna. Negociations and collecting money from the passengers brought a solution. But to be sure, they locked up the captain for the rest of the trip.
Finally, on August 11, 1939, the Dora received the signal that the coast was clear and that they could attempt to land. Everybody got really scared when, just a little later, a British war ship appeared, 300 meters away, but she left after a little while, without anything happening. Then darkness fell. Looking southward, they could see the lights from Tel Aviv, while the searchlights of the police boat almost touched the ship. Everyone remained very quiet.
The landing was planned to take place in Shfayim.
Yoel Golomb, a young immigrant taking part in a naval course of the Hagana participated in the landing of the Dora and helped the immigrants come ashore. He later recalled:
"During the month of September*, a ship with Olim came into shore and we brought the Olim to Shefayim at night, in complete secrecy. That was an unforgettable experience. We unloaded the Olim, men, women, and children who climbed down the side of the ship on rope ladders. We then brought them into shore. This seemed like a simple operation but [...] we were informed that a British naval vessel had been sighted and was approaching; we managed to get all the lifeboats onto the deck, except one which we tied to the ship. The ship was named “Dora” and I think it came from Holland. The ship turned and headed back to Europe and we swam to shore.
*Note: actually August.
The olim waded in the water for the last steps. At two o'clock that night, the Dora announced that everybody had unboarded. The Haganah telegraphed Oeri Koch that "the delivery was successful and the mother is healthy". Eli Reens telegraphed to Gertrud Van Tijn as had been agreed. She passed the message on to minister Van Boeijen, who could finally breathe again. The Netherlands had gotten rid of 300 refugees without damaging its relationship with Great Britain, and it hadn't cost the treasury a penny.
Three weeks later, WWII started.
The path followed by the Dora
Photo: Utrechts Volksblad 17/07/1939
Photo: De Telegraaf, 19 July 1939
The Dora in Amsterdam.
"Authorities, shipping inspectorate and others go on board for a final investigation before the departure signal."
Photo: Utrechts Volksblad 18/07/1939
"In groups of ten or twenty, the refugees go onboard, escorted by policemen."
Photo: Utrechts Volksblad 18/07/1939
Passengers boarding The Dora
Photo: Photo: De Sumatra Post, 24 July 1939
"The Dora did not leave until 5 o'clock at night, three hours later than planned. They had been waiting for seven refugees from Enschede who were coming by car and had gotten lost."
Photo: Utrechts Volksblad 18/07/1939
The Dora in Amsterdam.
"The Dora crew hastened to cover the name of the ship with tarpaulin, apparently to prevent anyone knowing which ship was moving across the IJ through the nocturnal darkness."
Photo: Utrechts Volksblad 18/07/1939
The "Dora" - The story of the illegal immigrant ship.
By Hillel Yarkoni. Translation by Liron Katz
In 1939, there was a big push to rescue as many Jews as possible out of the Northern European countries.
Shipping companies didn't want to take the risk of bringing those Jews into Palestine. The Aliyah activists were looking for a ship owned by people who had smuggled weapons into the Spanish Republic.
They found two Greek brothers, Pierre and Costa Arteshides, the sons of a retired Greek captain, Parisian citizens who had done that sort of operation before. They agreed to take the job for the right amount of money, to buy and take care of the supply, then to bring the boat to Palestine.
In Copenhagen, Denmark, a small ancient merchant ship was found, with the gross capacity of 584 ton. Built in 1898 as a passengers ship, it had been transformed later into a cargo ship that transported, among other things, cattle. Although the ship was old, its mechanics were in good shape.
It was bought after some serious financials difficulties and a long negotiation with the Greeks. The ship's original name of "TJALDUR" was changed to "DORA", and she would sail under Panamanian flag.
The Dora (Tjasldur)
Officially, the chief captain was the elder Arteshides, however the officer who would in fact be the active captain during this voyage was a Danish captain. The rest of the crew was from France, Algiers, as well as one Jewish guy - an immigrant from Russia who was a waiter in the officers' dinning room.
After the renovations and transformations needed to use it to carry illegal immigrant, the ship sailed from Copenhagen to Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, after some of the immigrants saw the condition of the Dora, a scandal started. The local Communist journalists took advantage of the affair, accusing the Dutch government of deporting Jews in horrendous and unsafe conditions.
Not until the immigration officers were talked into changing their mind, and the ship had gone through a new inspection by the Dutch authorities, could the Dora finally sail to Antwerpen in Belgium, with 300 passengers on board.
There were 120 additional immigrants, members of the "heHalutz" who had been smuggled out of Germany. They had been staying there undercover, illegally, and had to get out as soon as possible before they would be caught. (* My mother, Toni Katz, was one of these illegal aliens, hiding in Belgium, waiting for the boat to arrive.) Sixty additional "Halutzim" were due to join the "Dora" in Belgium. Again, a scandal started when the head of the Dutch immigration committee demanded to offload 100 passengers.
The people of the Mossad LeAliyah Bet who were in charge of the illegal immigration operation didn't give in. With the help of the manager of the harbor, who wanted to get the immigrants out as fast as possible, they convinced the head of the Dutch immigration committee that it was better for the passengers to suffer for a few weeks during the trip, than to be sent back Germany and concentration camps.
Because by now the "Dora", and the scandals surrounding it, had attracted so much attention with the government and the local press, and due to the poor conditions of the boat, it was decided to abandon the initial plan of having one more stop in Le Havre, France, where an additional 100 immigrants were supposed to be picked up.
Finally, on July 12th* (actually the Dora left Vlissingen on July 19th) the Dora sailed off for Palestine.
Three "Hagana" members went along: the ship manager, Tzvi Spector, the emergency captain, Amiram Shohat, and in charge of the radio connection, Yekutiel Pekta.
After a storm in the Biscaye bay, the ship entered the Mediterranean Sea on July 29th.
The Lloyd observation station, watching Gibraltar, reported to the Palestine C.I.D (Criminal Investigation Department) on its entry in the Mediterranean Sea.
Later, the ship entered the port of Mersin in Turkey to get some supplies, mainly water and food.
Under the threat of guns, none of the people onboard were permitted to leave the ship.
A rebellion by the Greek sailors took place soon after, but the Danish captain's calm helped restore order.
The "Dora" finally reached Sheffaym beach without been caught on August 12th 1939.
Tzvi Spector swam first to the shore to make sure the way was clear. Then, the immigrants were taken down by boats, and all made it to the shore safely.
After landing, the new immigrants were first concentrated in "Kefar Shemariahu", and were later distributed in various absorption centers.
They had arrived just 19 days before the beginning of WW2.
According to the agreement with the Arteshides brothers, the Dora was supposed to do a second trip, but this agreement was not honored. Only after legal battle some of the money that had been paid in advance to the Greek family was paid back.
The Dora was later captured by the Germans and was at their service between 1941-1942. On December 21st 1942, it was sunken by a British war ship near the Djerba harbor in Tunis.
The Dora in the News
Although it was supposed to be kept secret, the departure of the Dora was widely reported in the Dutch, Belgian and British press at the time, and it's a wonder that this unwelcome publicity didn't lead to the interception of the Dora by the British navy.
Between July 14 and July 25, no less than 60 news articles and disptaches about the departure of the Dora appeared in the press in the Netherlands, some of them including photos of the passengers and of the ship. At least eight articles appeared in the British press, and several more in Belgium.
Nottingham Evening Post. July 17, 1939.
Daily Herald. July 20, 1939.
Article on the Dora, De Sumatra Post, July 24, 1939.
List of refugees who boarded the Dora in Antwerpen, 19 July 1939
Source: The Foreign Police in Belgium ARA; Foreign Police files, A177.761 (via Janiv Stamberger)
The list contains 171 names.
|Name||Date of Birth||Notes|
|Gallewski , Josef||21.5.1917|
|Goldberg, Ruth||7.7.??||(year unreadable)|
|Gutmann, Eva||16.3?.1920||(month not clear)|
|Halpern, Leo||31.12.192? (1920?)||(year not clear)|
|Katz, Lous (or Louis?)||22.7.1904|
|Malz, Emil||2.10.1915 *||Year unclear|
|Maml(ot?), Rosa||23.4.1905||(first name unreadable)|
Günter Stillmann (born: 2nd May 1912, † 27.01.1986), a Jewish communist and German resistance fighter. His resistance work included printing pamphlets, providing assistance to detaines and acting as messenger courrier for the for the KPD.
Note: here, info found online is unclear:
"After the pogroms of the Nazis, he travelled to Palestine, but came back after a short time."
* Note the inconsistency with the departure date of the Dora.
He returned to Germany in 1948. As a Jewish communist, he decided to live in the GDR. He is buried in the cemetery of the Socialists in Berlin-Friedichsfelde.
Günter Stillmann: Berlin - Palästina und zurück Erinnerungen
Born in Aurich, Lower Saxony, Germany.
He was then taken to Antwerp with others "in a box with the inscription" 'Beware of Glass'". From there he took a boat to Palestine (the Dora).
In 1957, Siegfried, his wife Edith (formerly Kahn) and son Gerschon moved back to Germany, to the state of Bremen. He was a member of the board of the the Israelite community of Bremen, then chairman of the community.
All information from: https://stolpersteineaurich.wordpress.com/1914/12/08/siegfried-stoppelmann/
- Special Thanks:
- Chaya Brasz, for graciously allowing me to post a translation of her article on the Dora
- Bernd Philipsen, for the scans of contemporary newspaper articles about the Dora odyssey
- Janiv Stamberger, for sharing a copy of the passenger list who boarded the Dora in Antwerpen. (The Foreign Police in Belgium ARA; Foreign Police files, A177.761)
- Erik Post, for translating the Dora article
- Liron Katz, for translating Hillel Yarkoni's article
- Related Links:
- Dora page on the Maapilim.org site
- Yoel Golomb's testimony of the landing of the Dora: www.palyam.org
- The "Dora" - The story of the illegal immigrant ship. Original Hebrew article Sfinot maapilim me’alef ad tav. Tel Aviv, 2005.
- Partial list of passengers aboard the Dora
- References and Publications:
- "Dodenschip Dora; Een oude kolenboot redde honderden Joden ondanks Nederlandse tegenwerking". Vrij Nederland, May 1, 1993.
- Sfinot maapilim me’alef ad tav. Tel Aviv, 2005.