Bricks Without Straw

A Lesson In Tenacity


An article about the ‘Exodus Camps’ by Simon Bloomberg of the Jewish Relief Unit (The Jewish Echo, 6 February 1948)


Relief work is a strain upon the emotions. So much so, that the most harrowing scenes have little effect upon the case hardened Relief Worker, who, like the punch-drunk boxer, fails to feel the blows. Occasionally, however, some extraordinary experience finds a vulnerable spot and the Relief Worker reacts like a normal individual.

It was such an experience that I encountered after I climbed up the three flights of stone steps into the attic of one of the Sengwarden Barracks where the ‘Exodus Jews’ are incarcerated. Perhaps incarcerated is not the correct word to use because they are free to come and go, but to people without status or papers, freedom to move around is illusory. The checks and restrictions imposed by the Germans and the British Military Police are as effective as the barbed wire of a prison camp.

The attic running the whole length of the barrack room below was partitioned into little rooms, either by improvised wallboards or old blankets and each room used as a classroom with children receiving instruction in semi-darkness from teachers working without textbooks and until recently without blackboard or chalk.

Outside a blizzard was blowing and the dismal light seeping through the fanlight windows made the scene more miserable than ever. To make things worse, the central heating was as bad as the light. Only the pen of a Dickens could do justice to such a scene, but despite all these drawbacks, the classes go on and the children are glad to learn.

The teachers are Jews themselves supervised by a teacher of the Jewish Agency, performing prodigious tasks under the most difficult conditions. The few wooden benches are overcrowded, school desks simply do not exist and teachers have to rely on their memories.

The school population numbers five hundred, so one can imagine the immensity of the task. Jews have throughout history oft times been condemned to making bricks without straw and they have somehow succeeded. Here they are again making foundation stones, creating the material and training young Jews to help build the new Home in Palestine. Only the strongest can work under such conditions of adversity and still carry on.

Why do these conditions exist and why can’t they be altered immediately? The reasons are that the wheels of Government grind exceedingly slowly and in the case of the Jews in Germany, their support has fallen on the Jewish Voluntary Agencies of the British Zone. It may be indifference or ineptitude on the official side that fails to provide the necessities for the education of these young children. If only they were to receive similar facilities to those provided for German children, but unfortunately that is not the case. So we go on in our fight against official complacency and at the same time send in everything we have to help these gallant teachers in their uphill struggle.