Greeks and Jews Cross Paths, Make Common Cause After WWII

NEW YORK – For most citizens of the nations on the winning side of WWII, the transition back to normal life was relatively simple, but for some Jewish Americans, the victory over nazi Germany was a call to duty and adventure.
Charles Weiss was an undergrad at Harvard University in the summer of 1945 but things were going as planned. “I was too young to go to college. I didn’t appreciate it,” he told The National Herald.
He had a typical childhood. Weiss’ father was born in Philadelphia and his mother came to America from Russia when she was six. He was their youngest child and growing up in rural Pennsylvania made him thirst for adventure.
After completing his sophomore year, a man came to speak at Harvard in Spring of 1947 “and it was an unadulterated pitch for the Haganah, the underground Israeli defense forces.”
When Weiss met with him he learned that they needed people to go to British Mandate Palestine to work for the Haganah for a year.
“I was looking for something that would get me out of my American doldrums. All the veterans who were returning to Harvard had lived, seen the word, fought the good fight against the nazis and I felt left out, so I joined.”
It turned out they wer looking for American sailors for ships carrying emigres from Europe, including holocaust survivors.
The British were only letting in tiny amounts of Jews. They were anxious to hold on to Palestine in order to protect the Suez Canal, their lifeline to a dying empire.
Weiss helped run the British blockade.
“I picked up a tiny little ship, the S.S. Trade Winds, in Baltimore.”
In Lisbon workers came aboard to install shelving in the cargo hold that would contain passengers.
“We said the shelves were for bananas from South America…we had to keep the operation secret from the British.”
18 members of the crew had to vacate their cabins and live on shacks on the deck.
“It created a very peculiar-looking ship…one of the ships docked nearby was a British Coast guard cutter,” so the danger was high he said.
“It was a fascinating operation. Cloak and dagger…We sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar with our lights out and we picke up our first people off the coast of Northern Italy…700 people were ferried aboard pontoon rafts from the beach in 20 minutes…we pulled them in with cables.
The next night they received 700 more from sailboats that tied on next to them, “then we set sail for Palestine.”
They hugged the Greek coast and stayed near the islands, but they were spotted by a British air force plane. Three British Destroyers and a cruiser approached them and warned them not to go to Palestine, but they continued, and off the coast of Lebanon they were attacked and boarded.
“With red eyes from the tear gas we surrendered.”
They were taken to Haifa and transferred to troop ships for deportation to Cyprus, where he spent six weeks in detention camps for Jews – 50,000 were there from 1946 to 1949 – that history has all but forgotten.
Weiss got there in the summer. He told TNH the Haganah had ways of getting sailors out of the camps because they controlled the list people who were allowed to go to Israel under the strict quota, and Weiss found himself in Haifa.
After a month he signed up for another mission. Aboard the Marathon, a Greek ship, he sailed to Marseille and boarded another ship which went to Romania for refitting.
By December 1947, the UN had adopted the resolution that partitioned Palestine into Jewish and Arab state and the British announced they would leave Palestine by May 1948. When the British boarded the ship they advised them to avoid the danger of trying to run the blockade and to go straight to Cyprus, which they did.
This time they were in the winter camp. Weiss found the Cypriots to be very sympathetic because they were also fighting for independence from the British, so they were seen as allies.
“Cypriots moved in and out of the camps in support capacities…there were some escapes coordinated and assisted by the Greek Cypriot population – not the Turks.”
He left in February 1948, and went back home.
The life of high adventure he has just led left him out of tune for America. “I was young and impressionable and I began to prepare to go to the new State of Israel.”
His earlier contacts got him passage on a ship with an all Greek crew who signed up in order to get to Greece to fight in the civil war. They mutinied at Marseilles, but Weiss still got to Israel, now as a legal immigrant.
He met a woman during military service and got married. They had four children, but she was killed in an automobile accident.
In Israel he worked for the Voice of America, which sent him back to the states for seven years. After spending four more years in Israel, he finally returned to the States and now resides in New York.
The story of the camps on Cyprus is the subject of an upcoming documentary. For information visit: