The Story of a Steamboat

By Jaro Rihák

A story of five hundred people, mostly young Jews, sailing down the Danube and across the sea on a river steamboat in 1940 in an attempt to reach Palestine. The author has drawn on the narratives of passengers on the boat. It is a true story, but one that could happen again any time.

The date is 1940. It is a long voyage to sail 1 868 kilometers from Bratislava to the mouth of the Danube on a rusty river steamboat written off as scrap. It takes even more courage to sail another 2 400 kilometers through the Black Sea from the mouth of the Danube in an attempt to cross the Mediterranean and reach Haifa. Four hundred people crowded on the fifty-meter steamboat Pentcho, set out from Bratislava’s Winter Port. A few days later it took on board a further hundred prisoners from the Dachau concentration camp who wanted to reach what was then British Palestine. It was wartime and the only route still open was a voyage along the international river, the Danube. It was one of the most daring journeys ever made in the history of sailing. An almost-forgotten story, written according to the authentic accounts of the participants.