Christians express sorrow over detention of Jews on remote island in WWII

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By Charles Gardner —

The Johan de Witt, one of the ships on which Jewish refugees were deported from Haifa to the island of Mauritius.
The Mauritius Exile Collection, The Ghetto Fighters House Archive, Israel.



British Christians will soon be expressing their deep sorrow and shame for the detention on a remote island of Jewish people escaping Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II.

A commemoration and reunion will take place on the Indian Ocean territory of Mauritius from September 6-8, recalling the trauma experienced by 1,580 Jewish refugees from 1940-1945.

After surviving a long voyage to Haifa, they were refused entry to Palestine, then under British control, and deported instead to the British colony thousands of miles away.

The detainees then spent four years and seven months in the Beau Bassin prison before leaving the island in August 1945.

The decision to severely restrict Jewish immigration to Palestine was taken by the British Government in 1939 in a bid to appease Arab opposition to the emerging Jewish state.

Though former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has described it as a ‘black moment’ in our history, no formal apology has yet been offered by Britain.

The Jewish refugees detained in Mauritius, when they arrived in Haifa in late August 1945.
The Zionist Archive, Jerusalem, Israel.

In a letter to those involved in the reunion written on behalf of Love Never Fails, a coalition of British Christian pro-Israel organisations, chairman Brian Greenaway says they are “deeply ashamed of the gross failures of Britain’s stewardship of its Mandate for Palestine which brought untold suffering upon the Jewish people”.

Britain had been tasked with establishing a Jewish national home and facilitating Jewish immigration, so the refugees should have been welcome to their ancient homeland.

But in line with the infamous 1939 White Paper, deportation to Mauritius was designed to discourage more Jews fleeing Nazi Europe from trying to enter Palestine.

The letter adds: “We are deeply sorry for the great disappointments and many injustices suffered by these Jewish refugees; for the trauma of being dragged from Atlit Detention Camp, near Haifa, and being put on ships for Mauritius; for the uncertainty of being sent to a faraway island in war time, not knowing when their ordeal would end; being deprived of freedom, of family life and basic human rights; for the illness, deaths and many hardships suffered in detention.

“Above all, for the injustice of being denied entry to the land of Israel in line with the Mandate for Palestine and with God’s purposes for the Jewish people.”

More than 30 former detainees and their relatives are expected to attend the commemoration along with a similar number of diplomats including the island’s British High Commissioner Charlotte Pierre.

The program will include visits to the Beau Bassin prison, a synagogue, a cemetery where the 127 detainees who died on the island are buried, and a memorial of their time there.

Representing Love Never Fails will be Rosie Ross and Anne Heelis, both long involved in campaigns to right the wrongs of British actions against the Jewish people.

The Mandate dates from 1922 and followed the San Remo Treaty of 1920 giving Britain the honored role of preparing Israel for statehood in line with their promise made in the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

All of which fulfilled many ancient biblical prophecies such as Isaiah 11:12 – “He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth.”