The Unfinished Journey – The Kladovo-Ŝabac Transport
In November 1939, after the beginning of the Second World War, about a thousand Viennese Jews embarked on a journey toward Palestine. They were joined by other Maapilim (Jewish illegal immigrants) – youth, adults and families – from Berlin and other Central European locations. All in all they were about 1200 people.
Their plan was to ride by train to Bratislava and from there sail with the Danube river, which has been designated as an international route, to the Black Sea. There, at the Solina port in Romania, they were supposed to board a ship to the promised land.
Already in Bratislava things took a bad turn and they were held back from boarding the river-bound vessels for no apparent reason. But the real problem arose a month later, in the end of December 1939, when they arrived at the “Danube’s Gate” on the border of Romania. Despite the Danube’s designation as an international route, the Romanians blocked the ships and prevented them from reaching the Black Sea.
The three ships turned back and returned to Kladovo - a small fishermen village in Yugoslavia (today Serbia). The official claim was that the river had frozen. Yet, when spring came, and while other vessels passed them on their way east, the stranded passengers remained in Kladovo.
Many years later we learned that the Romanians prevented the ships from entering their territory because no sea-bound ship awaited them at the Solina port. The Maapilim were taken out of Vienna in a hurry, due to Eichmann’s threat that anyone who remained would be sent to Poland, before a ship had been secured for them.
Yet, even when an appropriate ship, named Darian, had been bought, they never got to it. In order to help the British in their war effort, the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine sold them the boat, to be drowned in the Danube, thus becoming an obstacle to prevent Hitler from using the Danube for military transportation. Later, the ship was rebought and still, for various reasons, the people for whom it was bought were never brought to it.
After nine month of hardship, on river boats and in tents along the Danube, the Maapilim arrived on board of a coal ship to Ŝabac, a town on the Sava (a stream of the Danube). Life in Ŝabac were easier – the families were relocated to houses and rented rooms and the youngsters who were part of “Aliyat Hano’ar” (the youth organization of Jewish immigrants to Palestine) were housed in an old windmill turned guesthouse.
During their collective stay, the Maapilim have engaged in rich and lively activities. They established a school and organized leisure activities and cultural events.
The Aliyat Hano’ar participants received their 250 certificates about a year after they had left from Vienna. Still, they could not depart for Palestine, due to the difficult winter and the war creeping toward the Balkans. Only in March 1941, did Aliyat Hano’ar embark on their journey by trains. They had to go 50 at a time, since Greece would not allow bigger groups. Only after one group departed from Greece were the next 50 allowed in. That way only 200 certificate holders were able to leave. When the fourth group reached Istanbul, the Germans have already declared war on Yugoslavia and the border was closed.
When the Germans arrived there were about 1050 Maapilim left in Ŝabac. As they did everywhere they went, the Germans concentrated the Jews. In October 1941 the men were all shot in graves they had dug. The women, and probably the children, were transported to the Sajmište concentration camp near Belgrade. From March to May 1942 the women were murdered in groups by a gas truck and buried in the nearby forest. After the war their remains have been transferred to a communal grave in a Belgrade graveyard.
The story of this transport has been buried. Even though the Kladovo-Ŝabac Maapilim group is the biggest to perish in transport, it has never been mentioned for many years. Only decades later Hannah Weiner and Dalia Ofer conducted an historical research which has revealed the horrifying failure bringing the deatch of about a thousand Jews, who had managed to escape the Nazis only to be recaptured by them.