Hard Work in Israel

After being released by American troops, Ben Abraham spent nearly two years recovering in American hospitals in Germany. When the war was over, he weighed sixty-two pounds and was suffering from tuberculosis in both lungs. He was also treated for scurvy and dysentery.

To Palestine. (Pastel).

During his recovery, he had contact with Jewish agents who worked in Germany and enrolled those interested in going to the land of Israel in clandestine trips. At that time Great Britain had ordered the blockade of the immigration of Jews, as it still held its mandate over Palestine. Those agents also found the address of Ben Abraham’s aunt who was married and living in Tel Aviv, having moved there before the war. Her name was Topka and she had two small children.

The clandestine trip to Eretz Israel would be one of the greatest adventures in Ben Abraham’s  life. The “ship” he was going  aboard was actually an old fishing vessel which sailed from the coast of France – more precisely from Marseille. The trip from Germany to France, which was organized by the Jewish agents, had to be was done in cargo cars of a very old train.

He and the 126 others in the group that had been selected for the trip – 127 people – were taken to a small farm in the outskirts of Marseille, where they were supposed to wait for departure. Two weeks after, two (very old) trucks came to pick them up at night. The trucks cut through the woods and brought them to the beach.

They embarked on the Marie Annik on the 22nd of November, 1947. The Marie Annik was an old, 1927 fishing vessel with capacity to carry fifty people. When he saw the “ship,” Ben Abraham asked himself how so many people could possibly go aboard.

In the ship’s lower deck, there were five-tiered bunk beds. Ben Abraham got his place in a bunk bed closer to the entrance to the lower deck, so that he could breathe fresher air. The food offered to passengers consisted of a loaf of bread and two bowls of soup per day. The soup was made with sea water. As the debris from the ship was thrown into the sea, some people, especially the women, did not want to take the soup.

The day after they set sail from France, the ship welcomed aboard another fifty Jewish refugees from Algiers. Another vessel was waiting at sea for the Marie Annik to take on these passengers, so the Marie Annik would continue her trip with more people sleeping on the same bunk beds.

The Marie Annik was renamed as Haportzim, meaning “Blockade Runners” in Hebrew. The threat of jets and ships that patrolled the Mediterranean searching for clandestine vessels was constant for the immigrants. Therefore, the ship was painted several times by the crews during the two-week trip.

Another strategy was also employed in order to camouflage the ship, especially when a plane would show up on the horizon: all the passengers went downstairs below deck, while the crews threw two barrels of old fish on the deck, to make the ship look simply like a fishing vessel. This was done at least three times during the trip.

Within two weeks, the Haportzim stopped by the coast of of Israel, in front of Gaza. From there, they sent a coded message to the base in Tel Aviv to inform them they were already close. They arrived at Tel Aviv, near the River Yarkon, on the morning of December 4, 1947. There were several boats waiting to bring them to land quickly, and also many other Jews on the beach to give cover to the immigrants, in case British authorities showed up.

Just after landing, the immigrants were taken to an area of residential buildings close to the beach. The group that received them would knock at the door of those apartments and tell the resident that he or she – who in most cases had just awakened– needed to give shelter to six immigrants. Half an hour later, a photographer came by and began to visit each of those apartments to take a picture of their newcomers. When the photographer arrived at the apartment where Ben Abraham was, he set three armchairs side by side and took a single photograph of the 6 refugees that were there – 3 people standing and the other 3 sitting on the armchairs.

Around half an hour later, the photographer came back bringing the new ID cards of the refugees, each one with the name, the photograph and a signature – perfect counterfeits of the official IDs issued by the British.


Ben Abraham went to live with his father’s sister. With the aid of the immigration organization, he got his first job in Israel as a mechanic in the Dan bus company in Tel Aviv.

When Israel’s War of Independence broke out in May of 1948, Ben Abraham witnessed the Egyptian aerial attack on the central bus station in Tel Aviv, where hundreds of civilians were killed. He was inside his garage in the station so he was not hurt in the bombing.  He witnessed one of the bombs hit a bus full of passengers. All of them died in the attack.

The following day, Ben Abraham escaped death once more: again when an Egyptian spitfire plane flew over the street where he was walking. One of the bullets tore the shoulder pad of his right sleeve; and that was all.

He was determined to fight in the war, but due to his health conditions he was not admitted as a soldier. So he bought an old truck that had belonged to the British military reserve and worked in the Israeli army as a driver.

After the war, he worked for the pioneer Israeli water company, in the desalinization process of sea water. The three machines they worked which produced only three buckets of tap water per day.

One time, Ben Abraham almost suffocated at a salt processing plant. He was hurriedly taken out of the place and received immediate medical assistance. He survived the accident, but decided to find another job.

Ben Abraham also worked in oil drilling in an area close to the desert, but all they managed to find was water, which was very precious in Israel in those times.

In 1955 Ben Abraham heard that the Brazilian Consulate had announced vacancies for emigration to Brazil. As he went to the Consulate to apply, he was disappointed when he saw the long line of applicants. After returning to the Consulate to get his documents, he was surprised to find that his application had been accepted and that he would be able to travel to Brazil and remain there with an immigrant visa. After two years living in the country, he would have the option to request the Brazilian citizenship.

When Ben Abraham came to Brazil, he thought he planned to stay only for a while to tour the country and then go back to Israel. But as soon as he arrived, he was recruited to serve as a collaborator with the Mossad, the Israeli secret service, which he kept he he continued until the mid-1990s.


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