Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Refugees End “horror Voyage” on Ship Called “floating Concentration Camp”

September 14, 1941
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Ending a “horror voyage” from Europe, 787 refugees, the majority of them Jews, reached New York today on board the Spanish freighter Navemer, which acquired the name “The Floating Concentration Camp” when sailing from Portugal for Cuba and the United States on August 17th.

The 5,470 ton freighter, with normal accommodations for 15 passengers, made the voyage across the Atlantic carrying 1,180 passengers. Several hundred of them landed in Cuba, some were sent to hospitals when the steamer landed in Bermuda and five died on the high seas.

Describing the ship as “hell on earth,” the passengers upon reaching the Columbia Street pier, in Brooklyn, today, stated that hardly one of them escaped an attack of dysentery. Death and sickness, they said, were rampant aboard the vessel. The food was spoiled, the water was bad, and the passengers had to sleep on the deck. This, despite the fact that the fares they paid ranged from $300 to $1,000 for each passenger.

Public Health authorities held the Navemar in quarantine for several hours while they made a thorough inspection. The cutter which takes newspaper reporters down to the bay to meet incoming ships was ordered not to go near the freighter. Custom passes issued to relatives to meet the passengers at the pier beyond the custom barriers were declared void. No one but officials could get near the ship.

Thousands of relatives and friends of the passengers were waiting outside the pier for many hours while representatives of the Joint Distribution Committee and the HIAS were making arrangements to meet the immigrants. Among the passengers were a number of rabbis who declared that they hardly had any food until they reached Cuba where the local JDC representatives sent kosher food to the steamer.

“When the story of the Navemar is all told it will sound like something out of the dark ages,”Zalman Schneur, famous Jewish poet and novelist, who was one of the passengers on the freighter stated. The majority of the passengers were refugees from Germany and from unoccupied France.

Recommended from JTA