Port De Bouc (Jul. 31)
Although they have given up hope of using force to disembark the refugees who are on a sit-down strike on three deportation vessels, British officials here apparently still believe that there is hope that the visaless Jews will leave the ships, a British source indicated today.
This source said that the refugees could be disembarked with the help of the French Government, and added that at any rate no action would be taken until current Anglo-French discussions had ended. He declared that there were no immediate plans for moving the ships.
Jewish sources expressed doubt that the refugees could be persuaded to land here, but pointed out that the British decision to leave the ships at anchor for some days was apparently a maneuver aimed at “frying them out.” Conditions aboard the ships, which were bad to begin with, have not been improved by the passengers’ subjection to three days of blazing broiling sun. Up to now, however, only about 40 to 50 have agreed to land, and most of these were ill.
Eye-witness accounts of the situation aboard ship were obtained today. One report was by a 22-year-old American from the Bronx, who is one of the estimated 15 crew members of the Exodus who mingled with the refugees when they were being transshiped at Haifa. The youth, who wore dark glasses and refused to give his name, displayed three head wounds he had suffered during the clash with a British boarding party.
He said that during the 11-day voyage from Haifa to Port du Bouc the refugees’ daily diet consisted of breakfast, which was hot tea, without sugar, and a supply of hard biscuits which had to last for all three meals; lunch, composed of hot rice with dried milk; and a bowl of soup for dinner. During the first few days of the trip the soup contained meat. After that it was meatless.
ONLY ONE DOCTOR FOR 1,500 DEPORTEES
There was only one doctor on board his ship — the Ocean Vigour — for 1,500 persons. The British soldiers were tough at the beginning, but softened up after several days, expressing sympathy with the refugees and criticism of the government which had given them the job of policing deportees. The two British troops commanders were kind and prevented any incidents.
One of the commanders, a Major Ellis, was quoted by the crew member as revealing that he had received orders from a Col. Gregson, who was in command of the entire convoy, to use tear gas and water hoses to force the refugees out of the hold, if they refused to disembark.
The American related that five days out of Haifa the refugees realized that they were not being taken to Cyprus, as they had been told in leaflets distributed to them by the troops. They guessed that they were either being sent back to France or to North Africa. A meeting was them held and they decided to offer passive resistance if an attempt was made to force them to disembark. Even the sick said they would not leave, but they were persuaded by the others who said they must regain their health before going to Palestine.
Another account was given later in a memorandum sent from the Empire Rival and signed by a Jewish doctor and three members of the ship committee. It was counter signed by a Major G.P. Elliot, commander of the troops on the Empire Rival. The memo said: “Inhuman conditions prevail for 1,256 people, including 500 children who are living in extremely overcrowded conditions in a state of constant hunger.” It added that they were forced to sleep on the deck or the floors of the hold and that sanitation facilities were so bad that they feared wide-spread illness. The memo appealed for dispatch of a Red Cross ship.
Laura Margolis, JDC director in France, who today assumed supervision of food distribution to the ships, said that many of the women are in the ninth month of pregnancy, but were refusing to come ashore. She stated that their health was endangered by the almost complete lack of milk. The stomachs of most of the deportees are so bad that they now find difficulty in eating the food being sent out to them, she disclosed.