The Mauritius Exile Collection
Extent and Medium
The Association of Former Mauritius Detainees, based in Israel, contacted former Mauritius detainees and their children (the second generation), to compile the collection.
In late September 1940, three “illegal immigration” ships set sail from the port city of Tulcea, Romania. Aboard the Pacific , the Milos and the Atlantic were Jews from Czechoslovakia, Austria, Germany and Poland, headed for Mandate Palestine though without immigration certificates. In early November the Pacific and the Milos reached the Haifa port, where the British – alerted to their arrival – were prepared to transfer the refugees to another ship, the Patria, which would then deport them to the island of Mauritius, a British colony in the Indian Ocean. Meanwhile, operatives of the Haganah planned to sabotage that ship to prevent the deportation. Their intention was to cause a rupture in the ship’s hull, just large enough to prevent its departure but without risking lives. On 24 November, after a particularly difficult voyage, the Atlantic arrived at the Haifa port, where the British began transferring its passengers to the deportation ship also. Some 130 of the immigrants from the Atlantic had boarded the Patria by early evening when the British called a halt to the transferring, intending to continue in the morning. On the morning of 25 November the Haganah detonated the small explosive charge which – due to the ship’s dilapidated condition – ripped a large enough hole that caused the Patria to sink within a quarter of an hour, along with 215 refugees and fifty crewmen and British police. The survivors of the sinking of the Patria and those refugees still on the Atlantic were taken to the detention camp at Atlit on the Mediterranean coast just south of Haifa. They were held there in two separate groups, according to the ship they arrived on. The British decided to allow the Patria survivors to remain in Palestine, while the refugees from the Atlantic would be deported. On 9 December, the nearly 1,600 men, women, and children were boarded onto two ships headed for Port Louis, the capital city of Mauritius. From there they were taken by bus to Beau Bassin, where the men were separated from the women and children and taken to a former French prison. The women and children were then taken to a nearby camp, separated from the men’s camp by a high wall. The British administration imposed a strict visitation policy; many of the refugees fell ill with typhus, malaria and tropical diseases from which they hadn’t been immunized. They likewise had to contend with cyclones. During the Mauritius detainees’ years on the island, 128 of them died. Nevertheless the refugees attempted to maintain community life, culture and economy. After nearly five years of exile, in August 1945, the British authorities permitted the Mauritius refugees to immigrate to Palestine and begin to build their lives in Eretz Israel.
The items of the Mauritius collection were deposited with the GFH Archives (Beit Lohamei Haghetaot) by the Association of Former Mauritius Detainees, 29 June 2008.
Scope and Content
The collection includes items created by the would-be immigrant refugees en route from Europe to Mandate Palestine, in detention at Haifa and Atlit, en route to Mauritius and as exiles while interned in detention camps there. artifacts, photographs, documents, letters, and artworks.
Content includes: artifacts, mainly decorative items and utensils, toys, games, jewelry and souvenirs, handcrafted of local materials such as wood, shell, and fiber; photographs of individuals, groups, events, architectural and natural sites, and documentary photos of their journeys; documents such as diaries, poetry written on the island, programs of cultural events, maps, transcripts of speeches; letters including official British administrative communications, personal correspondence with family and friends abroad delivered by the International Red Cross, written communications with Jewish organizations and communities overseas; artworks by professional and amateur artists, including portraits, landscapes, sketches and caricatures made during their detention; also: postwar memoirs, articles and publications about the years in exile.
Conditions Governing Reproduction
Those archival materials which have been digitized and made available for viewing -- accessed on this site or through the GFH website’s Online Archive -- may be downloaded for personal use and classroom presentation, but not for distribution in any media.
High-resolution images of archival materials are available by order; there is a fee for this service.
Collection created 14.i.2014 by AB-E