'Voyage of Damned' note found after 64 years

Danielle Demetriou
Tuesday 11 November 2003 01:00 GMT
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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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As Richard Dresel penned an impassioned plea to the President of Cuba, sealed it in a bottle and tossed it into the Caribbean sea, it was unlikely he held out much hope for its survival. In German, he had written: "Please help me President Bru or we will be lost. Richard Dresel."

It was a last desperate measure after his ship, which carried hundreds of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, was refused entry to Cuba.

Yesterday, more than 64 years later, it emerged that the note has been discovered, without the bottle, between the pages of a £1 book in a car boot sale in Bath.

The letter was discovered by John Moore, a 67-year-old writer, between the pages of the book Voyage of the Damned by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts, which he found at a car boot sale for £1. "It's an extraordinary story," he said. "I saw the note and realised it was genuine, but I wanted to check it out."

In a strange twist of fate, it was also in England that Dresel and his family settled in 1939, following their distressing 40-day journey, which was dramatised in the film Voyage of the Damned.

For his daughter Zilla Coorsh, 65, who was six-months-old at the time, it was an emotional discovery to learn that the letter had survived her parents. "I am amazed," said Mrs Coorsh, from Gosforth, Newcastle. "How does a letter in a bottle at sea near Havana turn up in a pile of old books in Bath?"

The family's journey began on 13 May 1939 when they boarded the St Louis at Hamburg Harbour with hundreds of fellow Jews, in the hope of a starting a new life working on an industrial estate in Cuba.

But as the ship approached Havana two weeks later, the Cuban authorities refused it permission to enter their waters and Dresel composed his last ditch missive. Two weeks later, after being refused entry into the United States, the family was finally allowed to settle in England, where they set up home in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, and started a chain of clothes shops.

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