This December, Dr. Miri Nahari and Dr. Gal Talit spoke to our students during the Research Forum about the Bricha, or clandestine immigration of Holocaust survivors to Palestine from 1945 to 1948. Both Nahari and Talit are second generation to the Bricha, and Talit is also the daughter of a Holocaust survivor from Lithuania. Thus, the history they shared with us was intensely personal for both of them and their presentation included images of their parents and themselves.
Dr. Nahari spoke first and through the use of images and a film she explained the history of the Bricha, or escape from Europe after the end of World War II. The Bricha is the largest organized illegal immigration movement in history. Approximately 300,000 people were involved, including first and foremost Holocaust survivors, the Jewish Brigade, Israeli emissaries including the Mossad l’Aliyah Bet who organized the covert operations involved in hiring boats etc., and the American Joint Distribution Committee, which financed the endeavor. Nahari spoke about the motivations that led many survivors to join the Bricha. Most had no home or family to return to after the war. She shared stories of survivors who returned to Poland only to be met with anti-Semitism by those who had taken over their homes. She mentioned the Kielce Pogrom in Poland in 1946, which resulted in the death of at least 42 Jews and injured 40 others. Events such as these convinced many survivors that they needed to leave Europe.
Immigrating to Palestine was a huge challenge, however. Survivors needed to cross, Europe usually on foot, to arrive at a port in Southern Europe. Many boats departed for Palestine from Italy and southern France. Throughout this harrowing journey the survivors needed to avoid the British who were attempting to close the boarders and apprehend ships to prevent Jewish refugees from arriving to Palestine illegally. Throughout the duration of the journey, survivors were aided by Jews from Palestine who were sent to Europe to organize the Bricha, which included gathering the survivors, forging papers for them, providing transportation, guiding them on the journey, and arranging for their passage by ship to Palestine. Both Nahari and Talit’s fathers were two such emissaries.
Dr. Nahari also spoke about the role of women and children during the Bricha. There were many orphans after the war and the Bricha set up children’s homes where female representatives cared for the children. The Bricha and other political movements coordinated effort to retrieve Jewish children from hiding in monasteries and with Christian families.
Dr. Talit’s parents met in a Displaced Persons camp in Austria. Her mother was a survivor from Lithuania who was employed by the camp because of her command of several languages. Her father was a Jew from Palestine who was sent to the camp after the war to teach children in the camp. After sharing her family story Talit mostly spoke about the Alpine Peace Project that was established by an Austrian named Ernst Laschner to commemorate the clandestine crossing of the Alps by survivors on their way from Austria to Italy to board a boat to Palestine. Since 2007 every year during the last week of June people travel to Austria to cross the Alps in memory of the journey of Jewish survivors following the war. In 2007 for the first crossing many survivors who made the crossing themselves were invited. Talit and her mother joined the group. Monuments and markers have been put up along the way to commemorate the history.
Dr. Miri Nahari and Dr. Gal Talit used their personal family stories, photographs, and film to illuminate this less well known history of the Bricha that is an essential component of survivors returning to life following the horrors of the Holocaust and an essential element of the history of the state of Israel. Our students really got a lot out of hearing these speakers.
Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program? You can find the application and more information at our website: http://holocaust-studies.haifa.ac.il/
(Images taken from http://www.habricha.org.il/)