​​The protagonist of my novel, The Swimmer, is a boy who survives the Nazi gas chambers and the sinking of boat in the Black Sea. How? Well, Moshe Gittelman is a champion swimmer. After months of practice for a district finals competition, he develops the stamina to hold his breath for over three minutes. Luckily for the young Jewish boy, this is just long enough to make it through the lethal gassing that kills his fellow concentration camp prisoners. Once free, he must use his ability to traverse to a 300 foot-wide river closely guarded by Nazis without raising his head above water. Yet, the truest test of the dynamic freestyle technique he's honed will come when he must drag himself and a little girl over a mile to safety after the the Struma, the ill-fated refugee ship he's sailing on, is torpedoed by the Russians.

                                                      The Story of Moshe Peer


ST. LAURENT - As an 11 year-old boy held captive at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during World War II, Moshe Peer was sent to the gas chamber at least six times. Each time he survived, watching with horror as many of the women and children gassed with him collapsed and died. To this day, Peer doesn't know how he was able to survive. "Maybe children resist better, I don't know," he said in an interview last week.

Now 60, Peer has spent the last 19 years writing a first-person account of the horror he witnessed at Bergen Belsen. On Sunday, he spoke to about 300 young adults at the Petah Tikva Sephardic Congregation in St. Laurent about his book and his experience as a Holocaust survivor.

The gathering was part of the synagogue's Shabbaton 93, which brought together young adults from across North America for a cultural and social experience.
Called Inoubliable Bergen-Belsen (Unforgettable Bergen-Belsen), Peer wrote the book to make the reader feel like a witness at the scene. But he admits he can never recreate for anyone the living hell he experienced. "The conditions in the camp is indescribable," Peer said. "You can't bring home the horror."

In 1942, at age 9, Peer and his younger brother and sister were arrested by police in their homeland of France. His mother was sent to Auschwitz and never returned.

Peer and his siblings were sent to Bergen-Belsen two years later. He recalls the separation from his parents as excruciating. But surviving the horrors of the camp quickly became a priority.

"There were pieces of corpses lying around and there were bodies lying there, some alive and some dead," Peer recalled.
"Bergen-Belsen was worse than Auschwitz because there people were gassed right away so they didn't suffer a long time."

Peer said Russian prisoners were kept in an open-air camp "like stallions" and were given no food or water. "Some people went mad with hunger and turned to cannibalism," Peer said.

Peer's day began with a roll call of the numbered prisoners. This could last as long as five hours, while their captors calculated how many prisoners had died. Anyone who fell over during the roll call was beaten on the spot.

After roll call, the prisoners returned to their barracks, where they were given a tiny piece of bread and some coloured water.

Peer and his siblings - who all survived - were cared for at the camp by two women, whom Peer has unsuccessful tried to find.

Children being children, they did play, sometimes chasing each other around the barracks. But there would always be some who were too sick or weak to get up.
After the war, Peer was reunited with his father in Paris and the family moved to Israel. Peer's four children were born in Israel, but after serving in the Israeli army in a number of wars, Peer moved to Montreal in 1974.

Even 49 years later, Peer is still haunted by his concentration-camp experience and still finds his memories keep him awake at night.

But what he is most bitter about is the way the rest of world stood by and let it happen.

"No one told the Germans not to do it. They had the permission of world," he said.


                                                The Struma Disaster


There were over 700 passengers who had paid large fees to board the Struma. The exact number is not certain, but a collation of six separate lists produced a total of 791 passengers and 10 crew. Passengers were told they would be sailing on a renovated boat with a short stop in Istanbul to collect their Palestinian immigration visas. Ion Antonescu's Romanian government approved of the voyage.

Each refugee was allowed to take 20 kilograms (44 lb) of luggage. Romanian customs officers took many of the refugees' valuables and other possessions, along with food that they had brought with them. The passengers were not permitted to see the vessel before the day of the voyage. They found that she was a wreck with only two lifeboats. Below decks, Struma had dormitories with bunks for 40 to 120 people in each. The berths were bunks on which passengers were to sleep four abreast, with 60 centimetres (2 ft) width for each person.

On the day of her sailing Struma's engine failed so a tug towed her out of the port of Constanţa. The waters off Constanţa were mined, so a Romanian vessel escorted her clear of the minefield. She then drifted overnight while her crew tried vainly to start her engine. She transmitted distress signals and on 13 December the Romanian tug returned. The tug's crew said they would not repair Struma's engine unless they were paid. The refugees had no money after buying their tickets and leaving Romania, so they gave all their wedding rings to the tugboatmen, who then repaired the engine.Struma then got under way but by 15 December her engine had failed again so she was towed into Istanbul in Turkey.

There she remained at anchor while British diplomats and Turkish officials negotiated over the fate of the passengers. Because of Arab and Zionist unrest in Palestine, Britain was determined to apply the terms of the White Paper of 1939 to minimise Jewish immigration to Palestine. British diplomats urged the Turkish government of Refik Saydam to prevent Struma from continuing her voyage. Turkey refused to allow the passengers to disembark. While detained in Istanbul, Struma ran short of food. Soup was cooked twice a week and supper was typically an orange and some peanuts for each person. At night each child was issued a serving of oranges and nuts.

After weeks of negotiation, the British agreed to honour the expired Palestinian visas possessed by a few passengers, who were allowed to continue to Palestine overland. With the help of influential friends, a few others also managed to escape. One woman, Madeea Solomonovici, was admitted to an Istanbul hospital after miscarrying. On 12 February British officials agreed that children aged 11 to 16 on the ship would be given Palestinian visas, but a dispute occurred over their transportation to Palestine. The United Kingdom declined to send a ship, while Turkey refused to allow them to travel overland.[citation needed] According to some researchers, a total of 9 passengers disembarked while the remaining 782 and 10 crew stayed on the ship.Others believe that there had only been 782 passengers initially, only Madeea Solomonovici being allowed to leave the ship.
Towing to sea and sinking in Istanbul harbour, and where she was torpedoed and sank in the Black Sea. Negotiations between Turkey and Britain seemed to reach an impasse. On 23 February 1942 a small party of Turkish police tried to board the ship but the refugees would not let them aboard. Then a larger force of about 80 police came, surrounded Struma with motor boats, and after about half an hour of resistance got aboard the ship.[14] The police detached Struma's anchor and attached her to a tug, which towed her through the Bosphorus and out into the Black Sea. As she was towed along the Bosphorus, many passengers hung signs over the sides that read "SAVE US" in English and Hebrew, visible to those who lived on the banks of the strait. Despite weeks of work by Turkish engineers, the engine would not start. The Turkish authorities abandoned the ship in the Black Sea, about 10 miles north of the Bosphorus, where she drifted helplessly.

On the morning of 24 February there was a huge explosion and the ship sank. Many years later it was revealed that the ship had been torpedoed by the Shchuka-class Soviet submarine Shch-213, that had also sunk the Turkish vessel Çankaya the evening before.

Struma sank quickly and many people were trapped below decks and drowned. Many others aboard survived the sinking and clung to pieces of wreckage, but for hours no rescue came and all but one of them died from drowning or hypothermia. Of the estimated 791 people killed, more than 100 were children. Struma's First Officer Lazar Dikof and the 19-year-old refugee David Stoliar clung to a cabin door that was floating in the sea. The First Officer died overnight but Turks in a rowing boat rescued Stoliar the next day. He was the only survivor. Turkey held Stoliar in custody for many weeks. Simon Brod (1893-1962), a Jewish businessman from Istanbul, who during World War II helped to rescue an untold number of Jewish refugees who reached Turkey, arranged for Stoliar's meals during his two-month incarceration. Upon his release, Brod brought Stoliar home. He provided him with clothes and a suitcase, and a train ticket to Allepo USHMM after Britain gave him papers to go to Palestine.

                                                     Destruction of The Patria 

Zionist fanaticism had little regard for human lives, including that of Jews, when it came to the establishment of Israel. Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, made the following statement when German Jewry was threatened by Hitler.

If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Yisrael, then I would opt for the second alternative. For we must weigh not only the life of these children, but also the history of the People of Israel. 

If Israel’s first prime minister’s regard for Jewish life was such that he would rather see half the Jewish children of Germany die than be transported to England instead of Israel, how much value could one expect him to place on the life of a Palestinian child? How would we react to a Nazi who would say that he would rather see half the Jewish children die rather than simply go to another country?

Another classic example of a low regard for human life, even Jewish life, can be seen in a 1940 terrorist act by Ben-Gurion and the founders of the Zionist state. The Haganah, led by Ben-Gurion, blew up a ship of Jewish refugees from Hitler. The British had been taking them to Mauritius rather than allowing them to disembark in Haifa, Israel. To arouse indignation against the British, the Zionists blew up the ship on Christmas day, 1940, causing the death of 252 Jews as well as the ship’s English crewmen. If Nazis had blown up a ship of refugees in the waters of Israel, the Mossad would have hunted the perpetrators to the ends of the Earth if need be, so that they could be brought before the Israeli “war crimes” courts. There would be well-publicized, annual remembrances of the terrible act of terrorism. Instead, Israel chose the murderer as its first prime minister...