On the 75th anniversary of the immigrant ship, Moledet, arriving in Haifa Port, survivors and family members gathered at the Atlit Detention Camp on March 31st to remember and honor those who played a significant role in their history and escape from Europe! Hosted by the Moledet Heritage Group, the event was one of connection, testimony, and tribute. Also in attendance were representatives of Love Never Fails, a coalition of nineteen different Christian organizations in the UK who came together in the 1990s to repent and display their remorse for British and Christian anti-Semitism through the ages. Today, they stand together to show love for the Jewish people and provide humanitarian aid in Israel, Britain, and worldwide. Much of the work Love Never Fails does in Israel is to bring reconciliation regarding Britain’s mistreatment and injustice during the British Mandate.
March 23rd, 1947, marked the day the Moledet — whose name translates to mean ‘homeland’ — set out from Metaponto, Italy, with 1,563 immigrants aboard. A former Swedish coastal steamer, the ship had been on the water since 1876; however, from the start of its expedition to Israel, it was clear that something was amiss. Leaning to one side, the ship’s stability only grew worse as they journeyed on. Thirty miles from Haifa, the Moledet’s engine failed.
Sending SOS calls to the port, the British responded by dispatching destroyer ships to assist. Evacuating half the passengers to lighten the load, the British towed the Moledet into the port on March 31st; however, rather than being welcomed to their homeland, the Jewish immigrants were swiftly deported to the British “Winter Camps” in Cyprus where they were held behind barbed wire and left in horrible conditions. The ship’s escorts attempted to evade arrest, but they were ultimately captured and sent to the Atlit Detention Camp — which was used as a camp for illegal immigrants until it became a prisoner of war and civil internment camp following the Arab-Israeli War.
Life Goes On!
Even amid the trauma of the Holocaust and escaping Europe, the need to connect with people and experience love was too strong to ignore. Many of the attendees were children of parents who had met in displacement camps on their way to Israel.
Eli Landau’s mother was five months pregnant with him when she and her husband boarded the Moledet. When approached by the British, Eli’s parents were asked where they wanted to go — Canada, America, Australia — anywhere but Israel! With the same Zionist spirit as many refugees, his parents were determined to make Aliyah and start their lives in the Land of Israel. Eli was born in Cyprus and was six months old when his family finally stepped foot in Israel.
A second-generation survivor, Ephrat was born two years after her parents were released from one of Britain’s Cyrpus camps. Originally from Poland, Ephrat’s mother had been in a concentration camp – coming face to face with the nefarious Dr.Mengele. Both surviving the Holocaust, her parents met in a displacement camp in Italy where they fell in love and boarded the Moledet to start their new lives.
Maria Lati was born in Cyprus, weighing just two kilograms, where she remained until the immigrants were released after Israel gained its independence. Maria later married Avraham Lati, a Syrian Jew who escaped with his family and was also placed in a detention camp upon arrival. Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War that pushed the Syrians to the Golan Heights, the Syrian government issued sanctions on its Jewish citizens, taking away their rights and causing a rise in violence and anti-Semitism. Paying a guide to smuggle them over the border, Avraham’s family fled for their lives, docking on the shore of Rosh Hanikra before being placed in a camp in Haifa.
Gathering in the beautiful spring sunshine, it was astounding to stand in the middle of the detention camp, surrounded by first and second-generation survivors — many of whom were born in the camps. Despite the bitter reality of what the British did during their rule of Palestine, the survivors were open to sharing their stories and embracing the British representatives who asked for forgiveness.
As everyone found their seats inside one of the huts, the ceremony began with Eli Sharon, the compere for the event, explaining the purpose of their gathering and welcoming key guests who had either flown in specifically for the event or driven from far away.
In a speech full of passion and humility, Michael Treharne, the UK Director of Bridges For Peace, expressed the purpose of Love Never Fails’ presence. “I stand here today representing Love Never Fails, charities and ministries representing thousands of supporters of Israel from around the UK, and we say sorry. Sorry for the tragic failings of the British Mandate and the Christian church’s silence… Through the projects of Love Never Fails Members, we work to make reconciliation a reality in various areas of Jewish society around Israel. Our teams of volunteers are on the ground, especially in the current Ukraine situation, helping tens of thousands make it to their homeland and successfully make Aliyah. Each year our ministries support Holocaust survivors and school children through practical help. We are involved in education in the UK about what is really happening in Israel and around the world, countering disinformation and sounding the alarm about antisemitism. We will continue to make amends for our history, not just by words, but by actions.”
Along with testimonial videos of being on the Moledet and a presentation of the various journeys taken to escape Europe between 1944 and 1949, a choir from Jerusalem called Ensemble Halelu performed. Giving a musical performance that captured the room’s attention, the group was enthusiastic as they sang their hearts out, honored to perform for the survivors and other guests.
Following the official ceremony, as the sun set on the Mediterranean, everyone moved toward the monument Love Never Fails co-funded with the Atlit Museum. With deep appreciation, Rosie Ross, the founder of the organization Repairing the Breach, shared how the memorial paid tribute to those who had died on their way to Israel by sea.
It was a significant moment to watch Orna Kavel (chairman of the Moledet Heritage Association), an Israeli whose mother survived the Holocaust and Cyprus camps, and Hugh Stary (a representative from Repairing the Breach), a Brit whose father was a British officer stationed in Haifa Port during the Mandate, lower the cloth and unveil the monument together. Incredibly, just a few weeks before the ceremony, Hugh discovered two pictures his father had taken of the Moledet as it was towed into the port!
Lighting the evening sky with flashlights, the choir sang two more songs before the attendees shared their final thanks. History is still alive, and watching the survivors walk out of the camp was an empowering display of freedom and strength! Without the survivors and refugees being our forerunners in the Land, Israel would not be the country it is today!
Thank you to the Zehavit Rothenberg, the Atlit Museum staff, the Moledet Heritage Group, and Love Never Fails for including us in this incredible remembrance and dedication ceremony! May we never forget the stories, people, and history that continue to shape our future!
Click here to view the pictures from the event