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Chapter XIII



Map of France


With the liberation of France, the country's civil administration began to function again. Elements that had co–operated with the Germans were dismissed or jailed. France under Charles de Gaulle refused to allow refugee camps to be created and also would not permit UNRRA to operate there. The French government rapidly expedited the return of refugees in France to their countries of origin. Unlike many other countries, France did not have slave labor or concentration camps with one exception.

On April 21, 1941, near the village of Struthof, the Nazis opened the only concentration camp in France, Natzweiler, located in the province of Alsace. Its annexes, scattered over the 2 sides of the Rhine, made up a network of close to 70 camps. Of the nearly 52,000 detainees of KL–Natzweiler, about 35,000 did not go through the central camp. A labor camp supporting the Nazi war industry, it was also used for medical experiments by Nazi professors from the Reich University of Strasbourg. From 1941 to 1945, the KL–Natzweiler was one of the most murderous camps of the Nazi system. Nearly 22,000 deportees died there. On November 23, 1944, the Allies discovered the site which had been evacuated by the Nazis on September 14.


Present–day view of Struthof Concentration Camp in Natzweiler, France


Camp entrance of Struthof–Natzweiler concentration camp


Jewish Shoah survivors began to arrive in France following the end of the war mainly from Germany and Austria. French Jewish survivors included those from labor and concentration camps as well as those who had lived in hiding in the countryside during the war. The JDC built an extensive organization to help the French Jews as well as the newer illegal Jewish arrivals. It also supported orphanages, youth homes, and hospitals. The JDC also had to help Jews that fell by the wayside from the massive Brichah transports that arrived from Germany and headed south to Marseilles. Some travelers became sick while others had accidents that prevented them from continuing the journey. Still others decided to abandon the transports and remained in France. It is estimated that between 1945 and 1948 about 35,000 Jews reached France illegally. The JDC, the Mossad and Brichah agreed to let the local JDC handle these cases so they would not become a burden to the French government, which was dealing with serious post war problems. The JDC opened several offices in France where these illegal Jews received help and information on the condition that the individuals learn trades through the ORT training schools that were established throughout France.

The Mossad in France was headed by Shmarya Tzameret and Ze'ev Hadari.


Shmarya Tzameret,
one of the chiefs of the Mossad in France


Shmarya Tzameret, formerly Gelfand, was born October 17, 1910, in Cleveland, Ohio. Tzameret moved to Palestine in 1925, settled in Tel Aviv, and joined the Haganah and kibbutz movement. He was one of the founders of kibbutz Beit–Hashita that was established in 1936 and was one of the first members of the Mossad. His American passport enabled him to travel throughout Europe in the service of the Mossad. The British regularly followed him but he managed to elude them. He became one of the leaders of the Mossad in France following World War II, establishing his residence in Marseilles from where he directed the movement of Jewish refugees to the illegal boats.


Chateau Vouzon (owned by the French Rothschild family) in Perigueux near Toulouse France was a home for Polish Jewish children brought to France on their way to Palestine


Ze'ev Hadari, formerly Pommerantz, was born in 1916 near Lodz, Poland. He came to Palestine in 1935 as a pioneer, joined the Haganah and was sent to Turkey by the Mossad during World War II to help rescue Jews in Europe. With the end of the war he was sent to Marseilles to head Mossad activities there. Marseilles became an important Mossad base since it had several ports and camps where Jewish refugees could await their ships. The camps were small but well supplied by the JDC and could absorb many refugees for short periods of time. The camps were off limits and self–sustained. When the Mossad office in Paris announced the arrival of an illegal ship to the shores of Marseilles, the Brichah offices in Germany and Austria were ordered to send passengers who then crossed the French borders and arrived to the embarkation point. The Mossad worked closely with the local French police to expedite the departure of the so–called South American passengers. The police often checked their papers but not their authenticity. Sometimes the illegal ships needed repairs or alterations that were performed under cover in French ports, unlike Italian ports where Britain had large naval and military forces

The Mossad and Brichah communications system was very busy signaling orders to the various camps in Germany to send transports of Jewish refugees. The French police let the transports through since they had all kinds of group visas, mostly forged, stating that the passengers would leave France from the embarkation port. The French were sympathetic to the plight of the Jews and were also happy to see them leave. As in other countries, the British government tried to pressure France to take a firmer stand against the Jewish refugees, but the French paid only lip service to the requests.

Shlomo Korn described one of the camps near Marseilles, “I left Strasburg, France and reached Marseilles with several of my friends including David Danieli. A Mossad man picked us up at the railway station and we headed out of the city. We drove a while and reached the camp called the “Chateau”. The place was once a nice place but now it was run down, the lawns were unkempt, the trees needed trimming. The place was owned by a French collaborator who supported the Germans in France. The place was requisitioned and the Mossad managed to obtain it and use it as an assembly point for “Jewish refugees heading to Palestine.”

“The rather large walled–in grounds of the estate consisted of five or six acres. The main building was a rambling, two–story house with large, high–ceilinged rooms. Except for a kitchen and supply room on the ground floor, most of the rooms were crowded with cots, dormitory style. As the weather was still warm, crude dining tables and benches occupied the yard outside the kitchen, and all meals were served outdoors. Grouped around the sides and front of the chateau were some fifteen Army tents, each crowded with cots. There were a number of Jewish refugees from the German DP camps awaiting to board the next illegal ship. They all spoke Yiddish and most of them were from Poland.”


A view of Salon–de–Provence, with the church and clock tower


The small town of Salon de Provence, a small distance north of Marseilles was the center of Brichah and Mossad activities in the port areas. Three refugee camps were located nearby, the largest, called Daphna, was five kilometers from town. The camps were off limits to civilians and the French police kept the places isolated. Each camp was headed by Palestinian military men and were organized in military fashion and focused on preparing people for the long voyage ahead.

While at the camp, Shlomo Korn had a variety of jobs including stamping papers indicating that the bearers would be heading to South America, and stocking ships with food and supplies. His work was interrupted one day when he was ordered to board a truck heading to the Salon railroad station to meet Jewish DPs arriving from Germany. The refugees left the train and boarded the trucks that would take them to the various nearby camps. During the entire operation, the French police closed the area until the trucks left the station. The refugees might wait weeks for a boat to arrive. As mentioned earlier there was a lack of ships in postwar Europe and also a shortage of sailors. Not many sailors wanted to be stuck in a camp for weeks or months in Cyprus. The British had great leverage over ship owners who could be prevented from trading with the Empire. The Mossad was forced to look to America for ships and sailors.


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