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Refugees Detained at La Spezia Call Hunger Strike; Insist on Sailing for Palestine

April 10, 1946
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The 1,040 Jewish refugees who were detained here as they were preparing to embark on the Italian steamer “Fede” for Palestine, today were on the second day of a hunger strike in protest against the authorities’ refusal to permit the ship to depart.

The refugees, who are confined on the “Fede,” announced their determination to remain until the ship proceeds to Palestine. Only children under 17, of whom there are a handful, and pregnant women numbering about 100 of the 340 women aboard, are exempt from the hunger strike.

Jewish community leaders here have telegraphed to the Pope, as well as to the American, British and Soviet ambassadors at Rome, and members of the Anglo-American inquiry committee now meeting at Lausanne, appealing to them to intervene on behalf of the detained refugees.

Dr. Umberto Nachon, representative in Italy of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, left today for Genoa to confer with officials of the Allied Commission regarding disposition of the refugees. He visited the passengers yesterday and reported that they were maintaining discipline and good spirits even in the midst of the hunger strike. The passengers have raised the Zionist flag alongside the ship’s Italian emblem.

Police Chief Russo of La Spezia today told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that had the refugees told him they were Jews, he would have allowed them to proceed without any interference. He explained that the police halted the lorries on which the refugees arrived for embarkation because they thought the Jews were fascists for whom the authorities were hunting. The suspicions of the police, he stated, were heightened by the fact that the refugees refused to answer any questions. For want of better quarters, since La Spezia is a badly battered city and port, the police put the refugees aboard the craft on which they intended to sail for Palestine.


Earlier reports had stated that the Italian authorities had arrested the refugees and had halted the ship on orders from the Allied Commission. Actually, the Allied Commission is now apparently embarrassed and is seeking to persuade the refugees, who came here without documents from all parts of Europe, to accept the status of displaced persons and to consent to be removed to a camp at Chiavari, a town near La Spezia. The passengers, however, have rejected all the blandishments of the authorities, reiterating their threat to sink their ship, and to drown with it, unless permitted to sail.

Further evidencing their determination to resist all efforts to move them, the passengers have removed vital parts of the ship’s engines making movement impossible in the event the authorities try to transport them aboard the craft to some place other than Palestine. The engines, however, can be repaired within two hours should the authorities relent and permit the “Fede” to sail for Palestine.

A 25-year-old Rumanian, Moshe Feldman, is providing strong and colorful leadership of the group, which is much cheered by the attitude of the Italian people and the Italian press. Many newspapers in north Italy have published sympathetic editorials and yesterday a delegation from the La Spezia Socialist and Communist parties boarded the “Fede” to express their sympathy with the refugees.

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