Jewish young people interned on the island of Mauritius.
Photograph | Photograph Number: 59939
- Photo Designation
LABOR CAMPS/MINOR CAMPS -- Mauritius
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Henry Wellisch
Jewish young people interned on the island of Mauritius.
Heinrich Wellisch is pictured in the second row, third from the right.
- Event History
- In December 1940, 1,580 Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria, who had been passengers on the illegal immigrant ship Atlantic, were transported to the island of Mauritius after the vessel was intercepted by the British. The passengers were interned in the town of Beau Bassin, the men in a former prison, the women in adjacent huts of corrugated iron. The refugees were forced to remain there four-and-a-half years, where they were afflicted by tropical diseases and a lack of adequate food and clothing. With assistance from the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the Zionist Federation and the Jewish Agency for Palestine, the internees were able to survive their long incarceration. They quickly began to organize their own political and cultural associations to fight for their release and create activities to sustain themselves while they waited for permission to immigrate. 128 Jews died during their internment; 212 joined Allied fighting units; and 60 children were born. 1,320 Mauritius refugees arrived in Haifa on August 26, 1945 after the ban on their return to Palestine was rescinded.
[Source: Encyclopedia Judaica. "Mauritius." Keter Publishing, 1972. 11:1133-34.]
- Heinrich (now Henry) Wellisch is the son of Emil Wellisch and Jolan Deutsch Wellisch. He was born in Vienna on September 22, 1922. Both his parents were of Hungarian origin, however, his father was born in Galicia while his grandfather was temporarily there on business. The family moved to Vienna in the 1890s. Heinrich attended commercial school but had to abandon his studies due to the political circumstances. Instead, he apprenticed himself to a Jewish cabinetmaker in Vienna and also joined the Zionist Youth movement, Techelet Lavan (Blue and White). Following the Anschluss the Wellisch family tried unsuccessfully to leave Austria. Eventually a cousin in America sent Heinrich an affidavit in early September 1939, but later in the fall he received a deportation notice for Poland (the Nisko affair). Heinrich thought it would be unwise to wait for the papers from America and that he should try to leave immediately, if possible, to avoid deportation. Fortunately he was able to join one of the "illegal" transports for Palestine, and on December 24, 1939 he left for Bratislava to join several hundred other Viennese Jews waiting for the transport to get underway. This happened only in September 1940 when approximately 3600 Jews, including Heinrich's parents, who had decided to join the transport, sailed down the Danube to Romania. This huge transport set sail from Tulcea on three dilapidated Greek steamers, the Milos, the Pacific and the Atlantic. Heinrich and his parents were on the last. The ship was dangerously overcrowded and lacked adequate food and sanitation. When on October 16, they arrived at Crete, they could not continue as the ship had run out of coal. With the help of Greek Jewish community they eventually got coal and set sail again on November 8 only to again run out almost immediately. When the ship came to a stop in the middle of the Mediterranean, the passengers stripped the ship’s wood for fuel and eventually reached Cyprus where the British authorities gave them coal and a military escort. They arrived in Haifa thinking their problems were over. However, upon their arrival, the British announced their intention to transfer the passengers to the Patria, a French passenger liner, for deportation to Mauritius as a way of deterring future illegal immigration. They had completed the transfer of refugees from the Pacific and the Milos, which had arrived earlier, and were beginning to offload the Atlantic, when the Patria suddenly exploded and sank. The Haganah with the help of passengers, had planted explosives in order to disable the vessel and prevent its sailing. Due to a tragic miscalculation, the ship capsized killing over 250 of the 1800 on board. British authorities decided to allow the survivors to remain in Palestine but to continue with the deportation of the rest of the passengers from the Atlantic, including the Wellisch family. The 1780 Jewish refugees arrived two weeks later in Beau Bassin on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. The men were interned in a former prison, the women in adjacent corrugated iron huts. However, they were free to organize religious, social and cultural activities. Men and women were strictly separated and were only allowed to meet in an open area during daylight hours. Eventually married women were permitted to visit their husbands in the men's camp, but also only during daylight hours. After the arrival of the refugees, typhoid and malaria epidemics broke out, and Jolan Wellisch came down with both but luckily recovered. During the four years on the island, 128 refugees died there. Using the skills he had begun to acquire before leaving Vienna, Heinrich spent his time working in a carpentry shop making furniture. In the fall of 1944, Heinrich, along with a group of other young men, enlisted in the Jewish Brigade of the British army. He left Mauritius in the beginning of 1945 and began military training in the Suez Canal area. However, he only arrived in Belgium in the summer of 1945. His unit, a transport company, was later transferred to Holland, where they spent much of their time illegally transporting Jewish refugees bound for Palestine. In August 1945, the British finally granted the Mauritius internees permission to come to Palestine. Jolan and Emil settled in Kirjat Haim near Haifa. In October 1946, Heinrich was discharged from the army and joined his parents in Palestine. In May 1948 Heinrich joined the Israeli army and participated in the War of Independence. In May 1951, he and his parents immigrated to Canada to reunite with other relatives.
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: Henry Wellisch
Record last modified: 2006-01-23 00:00:00
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/pa1149428