66 years ago, in 1944, Moshe Yanai sights for the first time the silhouette of Haifa, then part of Palestinian protectorate of the United Kingdom. The end of a journey that lasted several days aboard the Nyassa, a Portuguese vessel that was the first to cross the Mediterranean without an escort from the start of the Second World War. Its port of origin was already far behind. And also a land, a city, a language, a life and identity: his own. Until then, Moshe Yanai had been Mauricio Palomo, a child whose life has passed in the first floor of the Marques de Campo Sagrado, 28 in the Catalan capital, the city where he was born. The only reason why he arrived in Haifa in 1944 is because: Mauricio Palomo (Moshe Yanai) is Jewish.
Yanai, which today is 79 years old, has devoted much of his life to work as translator and journalist in Israel. But he has never forgotten his birth place in Catalonia, nor the mystery of his departure from Spain. The last summer new information allowed him to shed light on its own existence. What happened to him, his family and the group of Jews who left Spain in January of 1944 was, that they were officially expelled.
The nightmare of the family of Moshe Yanai, son of two Turks that immigrated to Spain, began on December 20th 1940. "Two secret agents knocked at the door of our apartment - he recalls -, and asked my father to escort him to the police station to answer him some questions, but he was taken into the Modelo prison. There were no questions, not even a charge against him". Then, Josep Palomo, a man who had arrived in Catalonia two decades before, where he had established as a trader and had a family, changed from being a citizen without a passport but free to become a prisoner who was immediately transferred to a concentration camp located in Miranda de Ebro (in the province of Burgos). "He was Jewish and stateless; in other words, "persona non grata," says with bitterness Moshe Yanai, who recalls how his father maintained the hope to be back to the city: "During the early years of our stay in Palestine, my father longed that the allies tumbled Franco’s regime and he could return. After so many years in Spain, and being able to speak both the Spanish and the Catalan languages, he considered himself as a son of that land where he had been received, so he really had a deep affection".
Franco and the Jews
The only luck for the family Yanai/Palomo was that the arrest of father did not involve the rest of the family. “Franco’s regime was cruel, but it behaved in a different way than the Nazis” explains Moshe Yanai-. The families of the Jewish prisoners were not touched". Without a prosecution against Jews, but attentive to the allegations that could be received, Yanai does not yet have an explanation why his father was arrested, and no other Jews of his family. The only reason he can think about is that he got a denouncement from another trader who knew the religion of his father and wanted to “expand market" in a time of shortage: "we assume that he was arrested by a complaint from someone who my father would have threatened commercially". The history and the archives offer answers to some of the questions that have accompanied Yanai along his life. Unfortunately, the historical memory cannot respond to all of them. Perhaps the complaint that marked the exodus of the Palomo family still exists somewhere in a pile of forgotten papers, may be the time has destroyed it. But that document, an apparent paperwork, broke the life of a family for the crime of being Jewish.
While the child Maucio Palomo and his mother tried to survive in the Spain of post-war, his father, Jose Palomo, was languishing in a concentration camp in Miranda de Ebro. The first time that Moshe went to visit him, he was shaken: "I had never seen a detention prison -he remembers-. The blackened walls crowned with barbed wire were as threatening as the faces of the guardians". The family meeting, the only one in all the years of imprisonment of Jose Palomo, was dramatic, although the father of Moshe talked with sense of humour about his condition in prison trying to prevent the suffering of their loved ones: "he explained us some anecdotes, pretending that everything was part of a joke. But there was nothing funny in what was happening". Paradoxically, the fact that Jose spoke Catalan allowed him to obtain the favour of one of his guardians: "the officers who came from Catalonia loved to talk to him in the excellent Catalan he knew. Of course, with much discretion".
Meanwhile, without being conscience if his father would ever leave the prison or with the fear that he could die there, Moshe and his mother continued with their life. As part of the Jewish community in the town, Yanai estimated that would be "some four or five thousand" before the Spanish Civil War- continuing with their Jewish rites. "If I remember properly, the synagogue in Barcelona was near or in the Parallel, and consisted of a Sephardic prayer room and another Ashkenazi ". Despite all - the imprisonment of his father, a discrete observation of religion - Moshe and her mother were able to continue practicing their religion without being recriminated. "Fortunately, I did not know what it was the anti-Semitism. That is why, despite everything, I maintain that very positive attitude to the country where I was born. But due the war and all its shocks, he did not get to obtain any religious education. The only thing that my mother did when I turned 13 years was to conduct the ceremony of the Bar Mitzvah".
He did not imagine then that shortly after the ceremony; his life was going to give 180 degrees turn.
A month and a half later after the rite of Bar Mitzvah,Moshe Yanai was walking in Cadiz hand in hand with his father, released, and his mother. In just 45 days the life of this Jewish Catalan child had a big change: the family returned to be united, but were forced to leave Spain, without an explanation. In Cadiz, housed in the Hotel Playa, more than 500 Jews of different nationalities were waiting to board the Portuguese vessel Nyassa, with destination to Haifa. They knew where they were and where they were going, although no idea what was awaiting them. They didn’t know why they were in there and why they were oblige to leave.