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Purity of Arms

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The Dolores  E-mail
By Dr. Alan Price

Published in ESRA Magazine, March-May 1998

The Dolores

Aboard the "Dolores" – Left to Right:  Dr. Alan Price (South Africa), Joe Woolf (South Africa) and  Yacov Salisky (Paraguay)

The "Dolores" was due to sail from the Naples harbor at 10 p.m. that evening.  It was a beautiful night, mild and starry, as southern Italian evenings can be in August.  It was hot.  The old wharf jutted out of the harbor, a faint wind blew off the sea.  People, old and young, carrying suitcases, packages, bundles tied with rope, passed along the gangway.  The old Greek steamer looked small and decrepit and unseaworthy for the throng of humanity.

Jews from all over Europe were hustled by young Haganah men onto the boat.  It was dark on the old wharf.  The sheds, the cattle trucks, the cranes standing up high and silent, seemed weird.  It was 1948.

Among the throng of refugees was our group of about 20 young South African men and women on their way to join the Israeli army in their life-and-death struggle against the five Arab armies invading the fledgling State of Israel. It was a Machal contingent; somehow we did not think of the risks of war.  Few, if any, were afraid.  We were young.

But the fear and anxiety, the tension and nervousness was evident in the faces of the crowds of Jews running out of the camps of Europe to an uncertain future. A few hours after boarding the "Dolores", the Haganah leader came over to tell me that I was to be the ship’s doctor, and that there were two women in their final days of pregnancy on board.  I was taken aback, unprepared for such an eventuality.

I scurried back to shore to look for a pharmacy, and with my own money bought some rubber gloves, antiseptic lotions, painkillers, aspirins, cough mixtures, cotton wool, bandages and a thermometer.

Suddenly, from behind me there sounded the last whistle indicating that the boat was about to sail.  A trail of black smoke was belching from the ship’s funnels, and hanging over the boat.  I hurried back, pushing my way up the gangway.  The only cabin on board was the captain’s, and the Haganah leader had arranged with him that I should use his cabin as a surgery.  An old sailor in a navy blue jersey directed me to the cabin.  It was a very small one, with a single bed, a desk, a toilet and a porthole.  We had two young South African nurses.  The "Dolores" was an old Greek coastal steamer, ready for the scrap-yards and not made to transport a few hundred people.  The Haganah had hired it from the Greek shipping company at an exorbitant price.

The sailors pushed their shoulders to the gangway.  A huge coil of rope went flying through the air, and fell with a thump on the wharf.  A bell rang, and a whistle shrilled.  The passengers were all gathered on deck, watching the dark wharf and the lights of Naples slip away from them.  Now there was a rush of water between them and the shore.  On shore there was a small group of young Haganah and Etzel men waving Shalom and God Speed.

We all slept on deck.  The nights were hot and humid.  Three nights out of Naples, at 3 o’clock in the morning I was woken up by an agitated old lady who told me I must come quickly, as one of the pregnant ladies was in labor.

I rushed to the surgery; the woman was already on the bed and the nurses were fussing around her.  There were basins of hot water.  The desk which served as a table had the baby layout all ready.  The woman was now screaming with pain, and frightened.  It was her first pregnancy, and we tried to calm her down and reassure her.  All my instructions to her had to be in Yiddish.

Slowly the head showed and soon a beautiful rosy baby was delivered, washed by the nurses and placed in the radiant mother’s arms.  The father came in and showered us with blessings. 1948 saw the birth of the State of Israel, and the birth of a new Israeli citizen took place on the waves of the Mediterranean as we approached the shores of the new State of Israel.

Fifty years have flown by.  Many tides brought many ships with bundles of humanity to the shores of Israel.  Many moons have crossed the night skies since these remnants of European Jewry spent long nights in the transit tents of the ma’abarot.  Millions of flowers cover the graves of the young men, women, and babies who grew up to give their lives for our land.  In this year, the fiftieth anniversary of the State of Israel, the question occurred to me – whatever happened to the baby born on the "Dolores" fifty years earlier?  Is he alive, or did he fall in one of the battles for our survival?  Has he raised a family and is his mother alive?

Dolores boat which reached the shores of Haifa in August 1948.
The search started.  With the help of my good friend Joe Woolf of Machal, we discovered in the Jewish Agency archives a faded copy of the passenger lists of the "Dolores," which reached the shores of Haifa in August 1948.  On the passenger list were the names of the 20 South African volunteers and also the names of all the passengers.  We searched the list for evidence of the birth of a child on board, and to our surprise found in the margin next to one family name the note:  Together with a child born on board the "Dolores." Very excited with the discovery, Joe asked the Jewish Agency to trace the family.  A week later, I received their name, address, and telephone number!

We met.  We looked at one another.  We talked.  We drank tea and ate cake.  We became friends.  Finally, I had finally met my 50-year-old baby born on the "Dolores."

Source:  ESRA magazine March-May 1998

Researcher’s Note:
During Machal’s 50th anniversary in 1998, Alan Price and I succeeded in tracing this "baby", 49 year old Meir Mederer living in Kiryat Bialik, Alan and Ellen Price and myself had a wonderful reunion meeting at the home of his parents, Martin and Freda, in  Tivon.   

Link to Alan Price's personal story