Tall, Dark, and Mysterious


March 1934

File under: Home And Native Land. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 4:36 pm.

In March of 1934, the steamship Adriatic made its final voyage, from Liverpool to Halifax, Nova Scotia. On the boat were over five hundred immigrants, mostly Poles, who stepped off the ship to make Canada their home. Few had money; presumably fewer still spoke English. The Adriatic sailed back to Liverpool, remained there for a few months, and then left for Japan, where it sat for half a year before being scrapped.

My grandfather, Szmul Raby, was aboard the Adriatic on this last trip, along with his parents and his younger brother. They left because taxes were rising to the point that my great-grandfather could no longer make a living off his farm. His brother paid for their tickets on the boats, and my family boarded the ship with $10 in their pockets and the name of a relative in Montreal. They spoke only Yiddish and Polish, no English or French.

My family did not know that their ship would be scrapped less than a year later. They did not know that after their voyage, the number of Polish immigrants to Canada would drop to double-digits; few of those immigrants, I would guess, arrived with $10 to their names. Four of only thirty-six Jews aboard their ship - and with country of citizenship abbreviated as “HEB” and not “POL” on their immigration form - they had no inkling of the horror that was to befall the rest of their Jewish family back in Poland, including the relative who had funded them. They had no idea that a fifth of Poland’s population, including nearly all of the Jews, would be slaughtered at the hands of the Nazis over the next decade. They had no idea that Prime Minister Mackenzie King would close Canada’s borders to Jews fleeing the Holocaust.

There but for the grace of God, go I.