The Sink­ing of the Patria

Judith Wein­shall Liberman
  • Review
By – May 29, 2018

Rachel’s father works long hours, and her moth­er is ill and needs fre­quent time alone. The fam­i­ly lives in Haifa at the top of Mount Carmel in the year 1940. They recent­ly moved to the area, and are far from Rachel’s friends and her warm, lov­ing nan­ny. Her new nan­ny, Mrs. Naiman, seems sullen and qui­et until the day Rachel is final­ly able to engage her in con­ver­sa­tion. It is then that she learns about Mrs. Naiman’s con­nec­tion to a ship called Patria.

The Patria was docked in the port of Haifa, filled with Jews try­ing to escape from Europe to Pales­tine. The British, refus­ing to issue entry visas, attempt­ed to divert the ship to the island of Mau­ri­tius. To pre­vent this, the Haganah placed a bomb aboard the Patria, hop­ing that it would cause dam­age and delay the ship long enough to get the Jew­ish refugees into Pales­tine. But the ship’s poor infra­struc­ture caused exten­sive dam­age, killing 267 peo­ple and injur­ing 172.

The end­ing of the sto­ry is so abrupt that the read­er must go back and see whether some­thing has been over­looked. Aware­ness of his­tor­i­cal events like the British effort to keep Jew­ish refugees flee­ing Hitler from mak­ing land­fall, and the British Man­date in Pales­tine, is nec­es­sary to under­stand the book’s con­text. Addi­tion­al back­ground infor­ma­tion would be useful.

The beau­ti­ful, soft­ly col­ored illus­tra­tions vivid­ly depict the main char­ac­ter, her nan­ny, and the explo­sion of the ship in the port. The Patria’s sto­ry is not wide­ly known and the book makes a valu­able con­tri­bu­tion to col­lec­tive mem­o­ry in telling its tale.

Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 10 to 12.

Marge Kaplan is a retired Eng­lish as a Sec­ond Lan­guage teacher. She is a con­sul­tant for the children’s lit­er­a­ture group for the Roseville, MN school sys­tem and is a sto­ry­teller of Jew­ish tales.

Discussion Questions