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Ada Aharoni
Ada Aharoni

Ada Aharoni (Ph.D) is an internationally renowned poet and writer who has been called "The Poet of Love and Peace." She has published 25 books (amazon.com), and is recipient of several international prizes and awards, including the World Crown of Poetry, the British Council Poetry Award, and the Haifa and Bremen Literature Prize, and she has been elected one of the "Hundred World Heroines" (Rochester, New York). She is the Founder and International President of IFLAC PAVE PEACE Association: The International Forum for the Culture of Peace, and LENA: League of Jewish and Arab Women for Peace in the Middle East. She is the editor of 2 magazines: Galim (Waves), and the online IPRA magazine: Horizon, and is the head of the "PCC: Peace Through Culture and Communications Commission" of IPRA: The International Peace Research Association

The following work is copyright © 2013. All rights reserved. No distribution or reprinting in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.


Human Cargo Rescue


One hot, humid day in the early summer of 1939, an Egyptian policeman came to the door of the operating room of the Jewish Hospital in Alexandria, accompanied by a foreigner in civilian clothes. The policeman asked to speak to the Rais, Dr. Katz, the chief surgeon, explaining that the German sailor with him, whose name was Mark, wanted to tell him something very important. I told them they could speak freely to me, as I was the Chief Nurse, and I would report it to Dr. Katz.

Mark told me he was a sailor from the crew of the German freighter Cairo, which was due to sail back to Hamburg the following morning. This was the last German ship to board at the Port of Alexandria, before World War II. All the ship's cargo had been unloaded at various Mediterranean ports - except for its human cargo. This was a group of German Jews, who had embarked in Hamburg in the hope of finding refuge from the Nazis in one of the Mediterranean ports. But every time the vessel had docked at a port, the ship's captain, Gunther, who was a Nazi, had locked them in their cabin, as he was determined to return them to a concentration camp in Germany.

The thirteen people, the young sailor said, were by now distraught and in total despair, knowing that they were doomed if they could not disembark in Alexandria, as it was the last port of call. Mark was so sorry for them that he felt impelled to do something. He had asked the policeman, Mahmoud, who guarded the ship, whether there were Jews in the city who could help. The policeman decided to bring him to the Jewish Hospital.

The sailor had an ingenious rescue plan.   According to international maritime law, he told us, if an epidemic breaks out aboard a vessel anchored in port, the captain is obliged to inform the quarantine authorities, and the ship has to remain in port until it gets health clearance.

"If," he said, "these thirteen people were suddenly to be taken ill, the health authorities will have to be informed, a doctor will be sent aboard and will probably order them to be hospitalized. All one needed to do to make them appear sick," he said breathlessly, "is to give them a strong dose of sleeping pills." His beautiful blue eyes were imploring.

"Wait," I said at length, "This seems to be a feasible plan, but Dr. Katz has to approve of it." I introduced Mark and the kind policeman, Mahmoud, to Dr. Katz, and reported what they had told me.

"But how will you accomplish this plan?" Dr. Katz asked Mark.

"As it is part of my job to give the refugees their evening meal," Mark said, "I could tell them about the plan and make sure they took the pills. I would then inform the authorities about the epidemic and the thirteen sick people would be brought here, to the Jewish Hospital." His voice was earnest, and his big blue eyes were full of hope.

Dr. Katz asked me what I thought about this daring plan, and I immediately said that we should try it. We were all aware of the enormous risk we were taking, including the brave sailor, but he was confident that everything would work out. We provided him with the sleeping pills after asking him to tell us about the state of health and age of each person in the group. He knew them well, because they had been on the ship for more than four weeks, and he had become friends with each of them.

I drove policeman Mahmoud and Mark back to the docks, reminding him several times during the drive, to make sure that each person put the pills in his or her mouth and swallowed them with some water. He assured me that it would be alright, and not to worry.

 None of us connected with the rescue mission had much sleep that night. Too much was at stake. Thirteen human beings might be severely endangered if our plan went wrong.

The next day was a light one in the operating room, with only one case of minor surgery. We waited anxiously for a phone call from the quarantine authorities. Finally, it came at noon.

 “Thirteen Jewish passengers aboard a German freighter were in deep comas after apparently taking an overdose of sleeping pills. Could we admit them to the hospital?” Of course we could.

We began to make immediate preparations for the necessary first aid, but it was four hours before they were brought to the hospital. All were in a deep coma. They were very weak, and because they arrived at four o'clock instead of nine, as planned, most of them had developed severe lung infections. The impatient and disappointed Nazi captain, Gunther, who came to take them back to the ship the next day, was forced to leave without them.

It took nearly two months to put the passengers on their feet again. Guards were stationed at their bedsides all the time. Once they had recovered, they all expressed their desire to go to Palestine, where they had relatives. But how were we going to get them there? They had no immigration certificates or tourist visas for Palestine, and all our requests to the British authorities in Egypt were fruitless. It was clear that we would have to arrange for them to go illegally.

 Once again, it was the Egyptian police, through contacts with the brave Mahmoud, who came to the rescue. With the help of false passports, the Jewish immigrants’ joy knew no bounds, and they were able at last to join their families in Palestine.