HIGH SEAS: Whited Sepulcher

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From the deck of a ship entering the harbor, Willemstadt in Curaçao looks like a toy Dutch town, its well-scrubbed houses bright in the vivid tropic sunlight. To 79 men, women and children hanging over the rails of the Spanish liner Cabo de Hornos last week, Curaçao seemed very beautiful. It looked like heaven to them, for they had been on a long voyage through hell.

They were Poles, Austrians, Czechs, Belgians, Rumanians, Frenchmen, Italians, Swiss and Russians who had sailed from France last January, bound for Brazil. Because most of them were what the Nazis call Jews, Nazi Europe wanted no more of them. Still, they were luckier than others. They had had the money and the good fortune to get Brazilian visas, steamship passage and Vichy's permission to leave.

As their first ship, the Alsina, set out from Dakar, Vichy changed its mind. For four and a half months the refugees were held aboard the ship while it lay at anchor off the African port. It was worse than a concentration camp. There was no torture, only heat, hardship and the constant reminder that they had once almost been free.

Then the ship's company was taken to Casablanca in Morocco. There they debarked and were put into a concentration camp. Some of them died. A baby was born. Some were released. Finally, at summer's end, a group of 40 was released in a body, put aboard the Spanish ship the Cabo de Buena Esperanza (Cape of Good Hope), bound once more for Brazil. Their visas had been guaranteed by the Brazilian consul at Casablanca.

The Cabo de Buena Esperanza was no improvement over the Alsina. The Cabo ships are called "whited sepulchers" in South America, a reference to the smart white paint of their top sides and the filth, crowding, misery and disease inside their hulls. The whole ship stank, the food was nauseous, the ship's hospital used dirty newspapers for sheets. On the slow voyage across the Atlantic two more refugees died.

When the ship reached Rio de Janeiro, the refugees found that their visas were good for only 90 days—90 days they had spent at Dakar—and the Brazilian authorities would not let them ashore. A few days later the boat sailed again, on a forlorn chance that perhaps Argentina would admit them.

But authorities at Buenos Aires could do little more for people without visas. The most they could do was let them ashore, confine them to the rambling brownstone Hotel de Inmigrantes. The Argentine Government gave the refugees 90 days' grace. Perhaps in that time they could find a country that would let them in.

Before the 90 days were up, Acting President Ramon S. Castillo decided that the guests at the Hotel de Inmigrantes would have to leave. By this time they all had Paraguayan visas, but they were not permitted even to walk across the city to the river boat for Paraguay. Instead they were bundled aboard another of the "whited sepulchers,'' the Cabo de Hornos (Cape Horn). Before the ship sailed one of the refugees killed himself.

On the Cabo de Hornos the new passengers found friends—57 other refugees from the Alsina and the same Dakar camps. The Cabo de Hornos turned her white bows north and east again toward Rio and Hitler's Europe.

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