Previous: Marseille, Madrid, Lisbon. See previous chapters at bottom left.
After an idyllic week at Colégio da Bafureira we were awakened around 2 am on Sept 8, 1941 to prepare for boarding the Serpa Pinto. It seemed we always were awakened around midnight to immediately move to a new environment. The roads were empty and within 30 minutes we arrived at the dock and saw our new home for the first time. The boat was awe inspiring. I was truly excited at the thought I would soon be on that ship on the open ocean. I already had a love for boats and water ways.
Almost all the passengers were Jews escaping from the Holocaust. It took hours for everyone to board. All passenger’s papers had to be verified. We finally boarded late in the evening. We were led to our quarters which were in a converted steerage section near the bow of the boat. Bunks were stacked 4 high with straw mattresses. Each bunk had a child’s lifejacket. Our handlers instructed us to wear the jackets 24/7. I lay on my assigned bunk and fell asleep instantly. Late on the morning of Sep 9, 1941 I awoke to a swaying motion as the ship began to leave the dock. I rushed up on deck not wanting to miss the moment when we left the port. Less than an hour later we all felt the curse of seasickness. By the mid afternoon I felt much better. I got no further seasickness for the rest of the voyage. Later that day we were taken to one of the lifeboats. We had to remember it’s position. Every day thereafter the captain would drill the entire ship to stand next to our assigned lifeboat.
Our trip was scheduled for 8 days. However it took 16 days from Sept 9, 1941 to Sep 24,1941
The type of German U-Boat that stopped us
On the second day in the open ocean we received our first delay. It became my costum to stand at the side of the rail near the bow where I could look down and see the bow splitting the water around our ship. In the morning of the second day I was at my station looking around at the distant horizon.
Suddenly with a great rush of water a Nazi submarine thrust it’s snout in the air and minutes later was floating not far from our boat. The U-Boat’s guns were trained our way each with a group of sailors behind them. A loudspeaker on the U- Boat instructed the captain to stop our ship and send a boat to the u-Boat. The small boat returned with the u-Boat’s captain or high ranking officer. Our captain was instructed to sail to Casablanca immediately and dock there. The u-boat followed us to make sure we did not stray. At that time we were not far from Casablanca and arrived there not long after. Several German officers and armed guards set up a table on the deck. They had come to make sure no wanted persons were on board. One by one the passengers had to appear at the table and present their papers. Children of our age were excluded. It took 3 days for the 600+ passengers to filter past the table.
While this was going on Wolfgang and I and several more kids got some rolls from the galley. We stood at the railing facing the dock and threw the rolls over to the starving kids ashore. The rolls were not able to fly all the way to the dock. The kids did not care and dove to recover each roll as we threw them. They were so hungry they swallowed the rolls in just a couple of bites.
On the eve of the third day we set out to sea again. The boat was slow and had to zigzag across the ocean to try to stay hidden from the numerous U-Boats. Early on the 5th day after our detour to Casablanca, we were awakened by a canon explosion. We ran on deck to find a British destroyer had shot a missile across our bow to bring us to a halt. As before with the U-Boat event, the British captain ordered us to follow him to Hamilton, Bermuda. We were held in Bermuda for 2 days and just like the Germans in Casablanca, the passengers were questioned to see if any were German espionage agents.
The first night in the port in Bermuda a small storm engulfed us. We were so fascinated looking at cars passing on a highway and other new technologies we hardly noticed the rain.
Most spectacular for Wolfgang and I were the fluorescent signs on the stores. They blinked on and off. They came in all shapes and colors. As the rain and fog increased or decreased the colors blended presenting us with a hypnotizing psychedelic display that kept us glued to the railing for hours.
It was our first encounter with the modern facilities of the new world were we were heading. The rain distorted the colorful signs and added to their mystique. As before in Casablanca we were not permitted to leave the ship. That in no way diminished our wonder at these magnificent light displays.
Because we had already added many days to our scheduled 8 day voyage our food supply was dangerously low. Thanks to the sympathetic Bermuda officials they replenished our supply for the 2 day trip to NY.
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