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Friday, 29 January 2010

Britain’s mistreatment of holocaust survivors inspires WW2 book

It’s perhaps a less well known episode of the Second World War – the internment of Jews into British camps in Cyprus. Neil McKay speaks to one man about how his own involvement inspired him to write his first work of fiction.
As a 20-year-old Army sergeant he watched speechless as thousands of skeletal Jewish figures were frogmarched off ships at the point of guns and bayonets and led to internment camps – by British soldiers.

The year was 1946 and news of Nazi atrocities in camps such as Auschwitz and Belsen had not reached public consciousness. David, from Murton, County Durham, saw at first hand the effect on the survivors from those, and other concentration camps. And he unwittingly found himself taking part in an episode which still shames Britain.

Internment camps were set up by Britain on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus for Jewish immigrants who attempted to travel to Palestine in violation of immigration quotas set for Jews.
Tens of thousands of Jewish Holocaust survivors escaping to flee Europe for Palestine on transport ships were intercepted on the high seas by the Royal Navy and escorted to Cyprus.

From 1946 until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the British confined 50,000 Jewish refugees on the island. Sgt Hughes was stationed with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps on Cyprus and found himself working in the stores supplying one of the internment camps near Famagusta. But the sight of the Holocaust survivors being transferred to British camps still haunts him more than 60 years later.

“It is the sight of the hatred in the eyes of those survivors directed at us which I will never forget. I had never witnessed such hatred either before or since,” he said.

“None of us knew at that time of the horrors the survivors from the Nazi concentration camps had experienced and witnessed, but here we were putting them in another internment camp at the point of the gun and bayonet, with searchlights and barbed wire.”

David, now 84 and living in Houghton- le-Spring is a respected author and charity fundraiser.

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