The Kladova Transport was an illegal transport of Central European Jewish refugees seeking to reach Palestine organized by the Hehalutz Zionist youth movement in Vienna in the fall of 1939. Known as "Ehud's Transport," after the Zionist leader, Ehud Ueberall (later Avriel), who secured its funding, the mission was planned by Moshe Agami and conducted by Aryeh Dorfman, Emil Schaechter and Josef Schaechter, who accompanied the refugees on their journey.
Hehalutz leaders in Vienna and Berlin drew up the list of candidates. While most were affiliated with Hehalutz, other Zionist movements were also represented. In addition, over 300 Viennese Jews without Zionist affiliation were chosen. Their selection was based on the degree of danger they were in and their ability to finance their travel. Agami's plan was to gather the refugees in Bratislava and transport them by riverboat along the Danube through Slovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Romania, until reaching the Romanian port of Sulina. Once in Sulina, they were to be transferred to a ship that would sail to Palestine via the Black Sea. However, plans faltered when, shortly before the date of departure, the Mossad le Aliyah Bet (the Palestinian Jewish group organizing illegal immigration) still had not found a vessel to meet the refugees in Sulina. Feeling they had no choice, the leadership decided to begin the journey anyway, with the expectation that the Mossad would come through with a ship by the time the transport reached Romania. Therefore, in mid-November the passengers were summoned to Vienna, and shortly thereafter, were instructed to leave in groups for Bratislava. Once assembled in the Slovakian capital, the group numbered approximately 1,200 refugees. They boarded the riverboat Uranus and set out for Romania the first week in December.
When it became clear to the owners of the Uranus that no ship awaited the group in Sulina, they ordered the riverboat to return to Bratislava. However, after prolonged discussion, Agami prevailed upon them to allow the riverboat to proceed as far as the border between Hungary and Yugoslavia. There, the passengers were transferred mid-river to three Yugoslav riverboats, the Kraljica Marija, Czar Dusan and Czar Nichola II, which were to take them the rest of the way to Sulina. However, on December 30, just before they reached the Iron Gate at the Romanian border, they were stopped by the Yugoslav authorities. The British government had prevailed upon them not to allow refugee boats to proceed to the Black Sea, so as to prevent further illegal infiltration into Palestine. But the Yugoslavs attributed their decision to weather conditions, citing the fact that the Danube was beginning to freeze over. The refugees were thus instructed to return to the port of Kladovo to await warmer weather.
The Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia, under the leadership of Sime Spitzer, undertook relief efforts on behalf of the stranded refugees. In mid-January they rented a barge called the Penelope to alleviate the overcrowded living conditions aboard the three vessels in the harbor. In May they also made arrangements for 650 members of the group to move into the homes of local farmers. Knowing that their stay in Yugoslavia would be extended, the refugees began to set up social and educational institutions. In July they opened a school in Kladovo and organized a series of adult education courses on board the boats. These organizational efforts were undertaken a second time when, the following month, the group was relocated to a refugee camp in Sabac on the Sava River. There, the accommodations consisted of a flour mill and a grain storage facility. Despite their limited resources, the refugees succeeded in establishing two theaters, in addition to a school, and held a variety of cultural programs.
Only one group, consisting of 207 Zionist youth (out of the 1,200 members of the transport), was able to secure legal immigration certificates and transportation to Palestine. This group left in March 1941, a few weeks before the German occupation of Yugoslavia.
Soon after the occupation in mid-April, the Germans issued legislation requiring the Jewish badge. At this time, all outside funding of the Kladovo Transport was cut off, and the group became dependent for food and supplies on the neighboring Croatian Jewish community of Ruma. Later, both men and women from the transport were conscripted for forced labor. In July 1941 the refugees were relocated once again, this time to the city's fortress, which had been turned into a concentration camp known as the Sava.
That same summer, Serbian partisans who had become active in the Macva region, took control of certain sections of Sabac. In retaliation, German troops rounded-up the entire population of the city. More than 5,000 men were detained, including Jews from the Kladovo Transport. The prisoners, who were intended to help build a concentration camp in Jarak, Croatia, were forced to run a 23km. death race to the site, after having been kept for two nights without food or water. Those who could not keep up were shot. Four days later, after the Germans decided to abandon the site, the prisoners were marched back to Sabac. On October 11, 1941 the surviving Jewish males at the Sava camp were transferred to Zasavica, where they were killed along with 160 Roma. Four months later, the Jewish women and children from the transport were taken to the concentration camp in Sajmiste, where they were all killed in gas vans over the next few months. Only one member of the group imprisoned in Sava survived the war.
[Sources: Ofer, Dalia and Weiner, Hannah. Dead-End Journey: The Tragic Story of the Kladovo-Sabac Group, New York: University Press, 1996; Anderl, Gabriel and Manoschek, Walter. Gescheiterte Flucht: Der juedische Kladovo Transport auf dem Weg nach Palaestina 1939-1942, Vienna: Verlag fuer Gesellschaftskritik, 1993.]