By Chris Elliott……..
A friend of mine in the past said “You like writing so what do you know about Cyprus and 1948?” My answer was that I didn’t know and I decided to find out what the mystery was all about although it leads to the darker side of Cyprus history which then links to ongoing conflict today outside Cyprus.
Way back following the end of WW2, illegal immigration (Aliya Bet) was increasing with European refugees from the horrors of the death camps trying to reach Palestine. The British Authorities who controlled Palestine at that time had published a white paper in 1938 which restricted the number of immigrants who could enter Palestine and in the ensuing years many ships full of immigrants tried to reach their destination some with disastrous results.
Some readers may be aware of the ship Exodus which sailed from the port of Marseille in July 1947 with 4,515 immigrants including children. British destroyers accompanied this vessel and on July 18th 1947 they forced it to stop in international waters and boarded the ship on which two immigrants and a crew member were killed and 10 or more people were injured. The ship was then taken into the port of Haifa in Palestine where the immigrants were forced onto more ships and sent back to Europe to displaced persons camps at Am Staunear nr Lubeck and Pöppendorf in Germany. These events of course differ somewhat from those depicted in the film “Exodus”.
The events were covered by the media and world opinion condemned the British policy which was then changed and, following this, newly detained illegal immigrants were sent direct to detention camps in Cyprus and this is where the mystery begins.
Arriving refugees that numbered up to 50,000 were sent to nine camps located in the Dhekelia and Famagusta areas during the period 1946 to 1949. Of the Xylotymbou camps in the Dhekelia area no trace can be found today. Caraolos camp north of Famagusta was said to have been a prisoner of war camp built by the British to hold Turkish prisoners of war during the period 1916 to 1923. Today it is believed the location of this camp is in a Turkish Cypriot Military controlled area and therefore cannot be verified.
Reports say that the tented camps proved to be unsatisfactory and German POW’s were brought over from North Africa to help refurbish the camps which were then the cause of conflict with the Holocaust survivors held there. A number of people were killed and injured during trouble between these groups.
This subject still remains a veiled mystery as whilst research has shown differing opinions as to places and events, the biggest myth is the events described in the novel “Exodus” which were filmed in part here in Cyprus and also in Israel.
Reports indicate that some detainees did in fact tunnel out of the Caraolos camp and a number of small fishing boats were stolen but detainees were recaptured. The tale of the ship Exodus being hijacked in Famagusta harbour is just that, a story based loosely around a number of historical events.
Another recent interesting turn of events is that we have established contact with a group of people who, as small children, were attending a school provided for servicemen’s children at a later period of the Caraolos camp history and they like so many others have been trying to learn more of the disappearing past.
For those students of history who wish to carry out their own research on these camps there is some interesting film footage on British Pathe. .http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=58318 of arrival and departure of people from these camps.
Detainees started leaving the camps and Cyprus after the State of Israel was founded on May 14th 1948 and as we all know the people of the State of Palestine are now confined to 2 areas surrounded by the State of Israel. This is a strange situation where the State of Palestine has been recognised and friction continues with the State of Israel.
Here in Cyprus we have two states The Republic of Cyprus and The Turkish Republic of North Cyprus but only one state is recognised by the world but at least we have had peace if not harmony for the past 40 years.
We hope by publishing this article it will capture the interest of other people and that we can start to discover more of the history of Cyprus during those past years before it disappears forever..
For those who would like to learn more of the Exodus the following video trailer tells more of the events in those days long gone by.