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Harrowing" flight to Israel in 1948

Aliya – August 1948

As remembered by Sydney Lossin  (nee Brunow/Yudelman)

A Machal flight to Israel

One evening in August 1948 a group of about 20 young people met in a Johannesburg living room.   It was the final briefing before our departure for Israel and we were given to understand it was all top secret.   You are students on an organized tour to Italy and France, we were told, (and had obtained the relevant visas)  please dress accordingly, and don’t hang about in large groups whenever you land, but split up into couples or foursomes.

Six of us were members of  Habonim hachshara at Northcliffe, another group were from Hashomer HaZair, and yet another group were individual volunteers coming to the aid of the new State of Israel.  I myself and my then husband Berl (Ghost) Yudelman ז”ל were members of  the Habonim group together with Rosie (Shluzny) ז”ל and Hymie Goldin and I think also  Simon Roberts and Sara (?).   To my surprise, amongst the volunteers in the third group were Gerry Shaper, a next door neighbour from Muizenberg where I had grown up, and Mishy Fine the brother of a friend from school also from Muizenberg. And finally Dr. Issy Schweppe,  also a member of Habonim from Cape Town.

The following day we met at the airport and boarded an unconverted (army) Dakota  - plane with metal benches running the length of the plane and all our suitcases stacked in the central aisle.

Thus we started out on our three day journey across  Africa.  The plane was capable of flying about three hours at a time, so we bounced up Africa stopping at every "friendly" airport on the way as well as some that were just called airports.   We landed at Bulawayo,  Salisbury, or maybe Livingstone, then   Lusaka I  think, and a rather longer stretch to  Entebbe/Kampala, on the shores of Lake Victoria, where we slept over in wooden shacks under mosquito netting.  I might have the airports out of order, as I was busy throwing up at every landing and take-off  *.

It was hard to comprehend that we were standing on the shores of Lake Victoria,  under a very starry sky,  there were so many new experiences.

At one of the latter stops we were served white bread and cucumber sandwiches (shades of Agatha Christie) which I think made a strong impression as in South Africa we had still  been eating brown bread customary during WW II,  which had ended some years before.

Finally on the second day we landed at Juba.   How many people in those days had heard of Juba or knew where it was.?  Nor did we, but it is just north of the Uganda border, west  of Ethiopia and today capital city of South Sudan.

But I had worked on a project at School of Architecture where we were asked to plan a restaurant and rest house facilities at the airport of Juba.   Imagine my amusement when the "airport" turned out to be one tiny brick toilet  marked ladies and gents.   And absolutely nothing else. I suppose there were fuel supplies somewhere, but we did not see them and were left standing around the toilets while the plane moved off to refuel.!

The second night we stopped at Khartoum  and were taken to a large hotel on the banks  of the mighty Nile, where the Blue and White Nile converge,   wider than any river we had ever seen or imagined in South Africa.   We were allocated enormous high ceilinged rooms  with ceiling fans and cold drinking water in thermos flasks.   Here we encountered our first (imagined) adventure.

A large number of Jordanian - or whatever- soldiers were thronging the hotel lobby and we were convinced they were out to "get" us.   So when a lady approached Rosie and asked if we were the "halutzim  from SA on our way to Israel" we were quite upset and were sure she was spying for the soldiers.  Rosie answered her rudely and we split up.   Remember we had been told at our briefing not to mention where we were going  and not to hang around in large groups.

Many years later, it came to Rosy's knowledge that the lady in question had been a member of the local Jewish community and had come to offer us their hospitality and show us around Khartoum.!!!

Another memory of Khartoum was an attempt to buy a pair of sandals at a small shop where the shopkeeper, like all the others was taking a midday siesta on a campbed on the pavement (sidewalk).   Siesta was also a new concept for us in those days, before we turned into bona fide Israelis!   When we tried to bargain with the shopkeeper, we were answered in  an impeccable British accent, I am sorry madam but that is the fixed price.

The next day it was on to Wadi Halfa on the Egyptian border.    Here we were rather nervous as a previous plane of "Machalniks"  had force landed in Egypt and General Smuts himself had been instrumental in releasing the prisoners.  Or so we had heard.   But continued   across the Mediterranan to Rome.  Flying over the Mediterranean we were not too delighted to see flames coming out of the one airplane wing.      

Finally landing at Rome, tried to tidy up and look like " touring students" as instructed, and not heaven forbid "Halutzim" when the doors opened and in came a guy  in an  open necked shirt,  rolled up  shirt-sleeves, saying "Shalom  chevra,  bruchim habaim,  this is where you get off."

So much for secrecy.

After an all too brief sojourn in the eternal city,  where we had to report back to the hotel every 4 hours approximately,  we managed only a minimum of sight seeing.  We managed to visit the Museum and gardens of the Villa Borghese, and oh  oh South Africans who had never been beyond anything like a border, we gaped in amazement at the gilded ceilings, magnificent works of art, and sculpture at every turn.  Glorious Rome where new buildings built since the war blended in happily with the older structures, statues  lining the streets and bridges, and finally the Vatican too.   I fell in love with Rome but have never had the opportunity to return,  so these memories are pretty worn out by now.

At last after 24 or 36 hours,   we boarded a "real" tourist Dakota with upholstered seats, such luxury,  for the final leg of our journey to Israel. In those days few of us had ever flown before in any kind of plane,  so  this was also a new experience.

During the flight we were told that UN forces were interning all military aged people who arrived in Haifa, so the plane was diverted to Tel Aviv – Sde Dov?   There  we landed, the VIP's on our flight were whisked away in taxis, and we were left with our suitcases standing in the middle of   the deserted who-knows-where for half the night.   Eventually  a truck arrived and drove us off to  maybe Tel Litvinsky army camp or it may have been Tzrifin, I have never been able to decide exactly where it was.     On the outskirts of TelAviv with lots of eucalyptus trees.  Here to our dismay we were separated  from our husbands as it was chaverot this side of the road, and chaverim on the other side,  the dismay being due to the fact that our tooth brushes and other toiletries  were all in one suitcase!!

The next day we were inducted into the army, but thanks mainly to Rosy's excellent command of Hebrew, which had us all quite awestruck, we were finally discharged and allowed to go to Tel Aviv to find the offices of the SA Federation in Achad Ha-am Street.   Here we asked them to get us sent to Maayan Baruch (the Habonim group) which, being a border kibbutz, was in the same category as serving in the army.

What does one remember of Tel Aviv of those days – very shabby peeling plaster buildings, many pockmarked with bullet holes, sandbags piled up around every apartment entrance, and soldiers stopping everyone for identity cards and looking for army deserters.  (Jewish deserters!!!).  Girls and women walked the streets dressed in khaki shorts and shirts, and the men ditto.  It was the uniform of the whole country at that time, civilians and army alike.

After spending the night in the sleaziest of TA hotels,  near the beachfront, sharing a room with 6 other people, we finally reached the bus which was to take us to the Galil Elyon  (Upper Galilee).

The journey took us the whole day as we drove over back roads (not that the main roads were much different), narrow and winding passing Petach Tikva,  Hadera,  Afula, Tiberias, Rosh Pina and  and finally depositing us at Kfar Giladi.   Here we were taken into the cheder ochel and told with pride that it had once been a cow shed (not too hard to believe),

We were served tea and bread and jam, the latter so watered down that it ran off the bread quicker than it could be spread.

We  spent the night at the kibbutz as it was dangerous to travel to Mayan Baruch after dark.  Next morning we set out for Mayan Baruch in an open command car and finally    after a good hour or more  across dirt tracks and wadis,  reached our destination  - today a 10 minutes drive

On arrival at kibbutz Maayan Baruch, our story faded into insignificance  when all our chevra, who had arrived by much more daring paths, told us of their adventures.

A few years ago, we visited Kfar Giladi while I was coordinating courses for groups of international students, (thru the ARO and Mashav), and we were taken to see their newly renovated clubroom.   I walked in to the long, high ceilinged,  whitewashed building with wooden shutters, and remembered clearly the converted cow shed/ communal dining hall,  of  nearly 50 years earlier.

Finally ,it is time to get it written down "for the record. "I do  not know how many of our group are still alive, and the above are my personal memories.  Is there anyone out there who might want to correct me ? please get in touch. 

P.S.  The ex- Hashomer Hatzair group joined kibbutz Bet Keshet, temporarily,  but we did not remain in touch.

PPS.  Have recently discovered a number of fellow travelers from the group on our flight.  It seems my list of landings across  Africa is not entirely accurate,  tho the places we slept over or visited, certainly are.  These are all living abroad today, retired of course. 

I quote Gerard Siedner below, but still beg to differ from his explanation of our landings thru Africa.   I am ready to cut out my list of landing in Rhodesian  towns and cities,  but seem to remember uniformed British presence (or Rhodesian) at some stopovers.  Also have absolutely no recollection of Elisabethville as he claims or of any Lake Victoria Hotel other than the wooden bungalows I mentioned.

Gerard wrote  "The Dakota DC3 we flew in was well known to a friend, a flight commander during WWII,  who helped me put together the most likely itinerary for the Joburg to Rome flight, based on  the known range and cruising speed of the DC3, to include those refueling stops I remember, as well as the long one for engine repairs  in Khartoum.  Gerard remembers seeing black oil flowing  from one of the engines  between Entebbe and Juba and alerting the pilot.  I remember seeing flames coming out of a wing as we flew over the Mediterranean. !

*Correction -   I am told by Gerard Seidner, today retired in France, that we did not land at the main cities in Rhodesia, as I have written,  but rather at out of the way airports where there was less chance of the British authorities raising objections to our rather suspicious looking flight. 

Gerard also writes that his group were not happy about being sent to Bet Keshet, and after the war  most of the group left and he eventually joined Maagan Michael which is where they had hoped to be.  Today he is retired and lives in France.  Another member of that group is Marge Clouts living in England 

When we stayed at the hotel in Khartoum, we were served dinner by enormously tall Sudanese waiters dressed as I remember, in flowing white robes.

About 6 waiters per table of six diners. 

Even tho we had at least 2 over-6 footers in our group – Berl Yudelman and Gerry Shaper, these waiters were amazing and even slightly intimidating.

And the only thing showing was/were the very very pitch black faces!!!!!


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