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OBJECT OF THE MONTH – November 2007

Tefillin bag, a relic from the Patria disaster

Accession no. JMP 177.909/01
Velvet, yarn and embroidery
Given to the Museum by an anonymous donor in 2003

When hundreds of Czech Jews fled the Protectorate and headed for the British Mandate territory of Palestine at the beginning of September 1940, little did they suspect the tragic fate that awaited them. Most had given away all their possessions in bribes in order to obtain a rare emigration permit and, in so doing, to escape from the gas chambers. At first they went by train to Vienna, then – with other Jewish refugees from Poland, Slovakia and Austria – by steamers along the Danube to the port of Tulcea, from where they went on ships to the Palestinian port of Haifa. This was the most important and the last mass escape from Nazi-controlled Central Europe. In total, it involved 3,600 Jews.
The British Mandate government, however, refused to accept the refugees, as they were not castaways according to international treaties. They were therefore transferred to another ship, the Patria, which was anchored at Haifa Harbour, for the purpose of deporting the refugees to the island of Mauritius. An illegal group, however, smuggled a mine on board the Patria with the aim of disabling the ship so that it would not be able to set off. In the event, on 25 November 1940, the explosion ripped a larger-than-planned hole in the side of the ship, which capsized within a few minutes. More than 250 people died in the disaster, and others died later as a result of their injuries. Many of the victims came from Czechoslovakia.


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