Film screening of Pentcho (2014) and discussion with the director Stefano Cattini.
Between the years 1932 and 1939, illegal immigration to Palestine grew in response of the increasingly oppressive measures against German and Eastern European Jewry, the restrictions imposed by the British Government through the Jewish Agency and eventually, the outbreak of the war.
One of the main groups organizing illegal ships was the Betar, Ze’ev’s Jabotisnky’s Revisionist Zionist movement that functioned through loosely interconnected units throughout Europe. Betar openly opposed the Zionist Organization’s and the Jewish Agency’s views on immigration and tended to attract among its leaders independent individuals, with a streak for adventure and improvisation as well as inclination to challenge international impositions. Over a dozen ships were organized by Betar members and reached either Palestine or were derailed to Cyprus by the British authorities. However, many more Betar groups did not manage to leave.
Among those who remained ashore because of the war, was a group from Bratislava organized by Yehoshua Citron. In May 1940, after five months of waiting, Citron managed to sail on a refurbished ship, the Pentcho, with about 500 passengers, including 100 former Buchenwald’s internees. Like most ships rented for this purpose, the Pentcho was old, malfunctioning and had undergone insufficient repairs.
Drawing on testimonies and memories, this film narrates the vicissitudes of the Pentcho and its passengers before arriving in mandate Palestine almost six years after its departure.
Stefano Cattini, has been a member of the European Film Academy since 2010. He is the author of several documentaries focusing on personal stories.