Palestine Jewish Seamen Torpedoed in South Atlantic Landed in New York
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Palestine Jewish Seamen Torpedoed in South Atlantic Landed in New York

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Two Palestinian Jewish seamen, Efraim Cukier and Joseph Szapiro, whose ship was torpedoed in the South Atlantic off Brasil, were resting here today after having landed from an American tanker which rescued them from an open boat in which they had been sailing for seven days. Cukier, nineteen years old and already a veteran of three years at sea, related the details of the sinking.

He was in the forecastle, sleeping, when the torpedo from a Nazi U-boat struck his vessel, a Dutch freighter, about 10:30 one evening. Seizing his passport, snapshots and a few other papers, he ran on deck and helped to launch one of the two lifeboats into which the entire crew piled. Within five minutes after the torpedo struck the freighter sank, The two lifeboats were separated. The one into which Cukier and 29 other members of the crew crowded headed for the West Indies, about 400 miles distant, but were picked up fifty miles short of their goal by the American boat. The other lifeboat, in which a third Palestinian sailor, Gad Helb, had gone, succeeded in reaching the Bahamas Cukier discovered when he reached here.

The young seaman, who is an oiler, was a student at the Haifa Naval Academy for two years until August of 1940, when he signed on an Italian freighter that had been brought into Haifa by a British warship and was being refitted there. Extensive repairs on the captured vessel delayed its sailing until January 1941, when left for England by a circuitous route that took nine months and during which the leaking, thirty-seven-year old boat touched at Port Said, Capetown, Mauritius, the United States – at Norfolk, Virginia, Nova Scotia and finally, England.

Cukier and several other Palestinians who had been on the Italian vessel spent six months in England awaiting repatriation, but no ship was available. Finally, Cukier said, he decided to take any ship which might eventually get him home. On April 1 he signed on board the Dutch freighter, which he thought was bound for Russia, but which ended up in Canada and was on route elsewhere when she was sunk.


While at Mauritius he spoke with some of the Jewish internees who were sent there from Palestine. Cukier reveals that he had a particular interest in them – especially the survivors of the S.S. Patria which blew up in Haifa harbor on November, 1940. The captured Italian ship on which he was working at the time was berthed just a few yards from the Patria, and Cukier and many of his shipmates helped to rescue the hundreds of people who were floating in the water immediately after the blast. In Mauritius, the internees are not treated badly, as far as he could see, Cukier said. Some of them work on the sugar plantations on the island. Men end women are kept in separate camps, although they are allowed to visit each other.

Right now Cukier’s chief desire is to get a berth on a ship headed for the Near East so that he can get home to his family who have a small farm in the Emek region. After that he plans to go right back to sea, joining the other 200 Palestinian seamen who are helping to deliver the “goods” that keep the Allied war machine rolling.

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