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Purity of Arms

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Harry Bank – Danish Vessel Bennyskou  E-mail

A small group of South African volunteers were ready to sail to Palestine in the 6000 ton Danish vessel, "Bennyskou" chartered by the South African Jewish community with a special cargo of food and clothing for the embattled state.

Among the South Africans was Harry Bank, in the 1970s head of a Department at the Tel Hashomer's Sheba Hospital, and Professor of Medicine at Tel Aviv University's Medical School, then a 24 year old graduate doctor of Cape Town University. He had volunteered to go, if necessary as a soldier, not a doctor.  With him was his Cape Town bride, Myra, formerly Schweppe.  The "Presidential Suite" of the Bennyskou was allotted to the honeymoon couple, this by courtesy of the sympathetic ship's Captain Kjeldsen, who had vacated his own suite for them.  Myra, had been preceded by a month to Israel  by her doctor brother, Issy who had majored in Hebrew at Cape Town University at the newly instituted Hebrew Department.

Harry Bank became Medical Officer of the 72nd Infantry Battalion, and Myra a teacher of  English in the Medical Corps Occupational Therapy Department.  Her brother, Issy, was already a Medical Officer in the Carmeli Brigade.

Cabin space being limited, three other volunteers worked their passage, Boris Rachailowitz, who during WW11 had once tended mules and horses on a ship sailing from Cape Town to India, Alec Singer and Robert Isaacson, both of the South African Navy.  

The Bennyskou's cargo, assembled by voluntary committees of the South African Zionist Federation whose path had been smoothed by government departments in several ways, included several thousand cases of potatoes, donated by Jewish farmers of the Transvaal highveld.  The potatoes had been dehydrated in a plant specially organized for the vast order.  Other items were 11,500 cases of dehydrated carrots, cabbages and tomatoes; soup mix; thousands of tons of grain, beans, wheat products, canned fish, jams and canned fruit.

There was a special contribution for the Displaced Persons who had reached Israel without adequate clothing, personal belongings, domestic appliances or facilities for maintaining the ordinary comforts of life.  To be distributed among them were 35,000 blankets, thousands of pairs of boots, 11,000,000 cigarettes, used clothing, 2,000 pairs of slippers, thousands of pairs of shorts, 250,000 pairs of socks, 10,000 tooth brushes and 6,000 shaving brushes.

Other items were 20,000 sleeping bags, 21,000 hand-made garments – the work of women Zionists – and toys for children, the first in their lives.

The medical supplies included 28,000 bandages and urgently required medicines and ointments.  There was equipment also for vocational schools to which thousands of DPs would later flock to become productive people again.