Day: The captain yelled out, "Abandon ship!"
article from "The
Senior Times" - by Irwin
November 11, we remember those who served our country, but for Harry
Hurwitz the day he can’t forget is April 29, 1944.
was the day Hurwitz and other victims of a German torpedo attack on
his Canadian ship ended up in the English Channel, struggling to
92, and a resident of the B’Nai Brith House in Côte St. Luc,
Hurwitz recalled his remarkable story in preparation for Remembrance
Day ceremonies. He is to lay a wreath at the cenotaph in Montreal
Lachine-born son of trucker Chaim and Bella, with seven brothers and
five sisters, enlisted in 1939 at age 18. He switched from the army
to the navy and in 1942 shipped out to Greenock, just west of
an able-bodied seaman, Hurwitz was assigned to H.M.C.S. Athabaskan
and in August 1943, while patrolling the channel, the ship was
attacked by six Messerschmitt fighter-bombers.
opened fire, we drove five away, but one came out of the sky and
dropped a bomb right near me. I was one of the lucky ones. The guy
next to me was killed instantly and seven others died as well.”
later sailed to Murmansk, Russia, as part of a convoy of 57 ships
delivering materials and supplies to assist the Soviet Union in
resisting and counter-attacking the German assault.
about 20 made it. The rest were torpedoed and sunk. I was up in the
masthead when it was 40 below zero, watching for enemy ships. They
gave me a cup of coffee every 10 minutes, it was so cold.”
its base in Plymouth, U.K., the Athabaskan continued to patrol the
English Channel where the Allies were expected to launch the
long-awaited second front by invading France.
April 29, the ship left Plymouth at 6 pm and after three hours was
at the French coast not far from Brest.
some reason, we went a little too close to the French coast. I’m
on my gun at our action station, and all of a sudden a torpedo hit
our ship near the stern. It was cut off completely, about 2,000
shells exploded and everyone was killed instantly.
got the order from Commander John Stubbs—who gave the order to man
the hoses—to see if we could put out the fire. Guys were dying,
they were screaming. Me and four other guys grabbed the hose, and
just then a second torpedo hit. There was no pressure, everything
was dead, the whole ship was ablaze. I got a piece of shrapnel right
above my nose.
the captain yelled out, ‘Abandon ship!’ Me and my friend Raymond
Meloche (who lives at Ste. Anne’s veterans’ hospital) jumped. I
threw off my big rubber boots and my heavy coat. We sunk at 4:28 am.
How do I know? My mother bought me a cheap watch on my bar mitzvah
and I had it all these years. She paid $4 for it!
were in the water for six or seven hours.
I was holding on to the masthead, with Meloche. I couldn’t see.
was covered with oil from head to toe. Then I held on to an empty
guy had his leg blown off and he kept yelling, ‘I don’t want to
die.’ Another had a big hole in his stomach and the salt water was
getting in and he was yelling. We couldn’t do anything. They all
died in the water.”
lifeboat floated nearby, probably released by Allied ships to help
survivors. “About 15 or 16 of us got into the lifeboat. We had no
oars, so we drifted, like a bunch of dummies.”
German battleship appeared and prepared to take the men prisoner.
had my Magen David (Jewish star) and I ripped it off my neck and
tossed it into the water. I also tossed a wallet, with Jewish things
and about $40 I won the day before rolling the dice with the money
show that 129 of the crew, including Captain John Stubbs, died.
Hurwitz was among 83 men taken prisoner while another 44 were
rescued by H.M.C.S. Haida. The war was coming to an end and the
German captors “were very good to us.”
arrived in France and we saw two girls completely naked, dead drunk,
and they cheered, ‘A way, les bons Canadiens,’ while the Germans
commander yelled, ‘schnell’.”
was interrogated at a convent and gave his name as Hurwit – “I
took off the zed, to sound less Jewish.”
interrogator, an officer about 75, turned out to be “a really nice
man. I told him I was from Lachine and he told me he had worked for
General Electric in Lachine for about 20 years! I lived on 10th Ave.
and LaSalle St., and General Electric was on 1st Ave. and LaSalle
German had immigrated to Canada to work as an engineer, but in 1936
went back to Germany to help his country, Hurwitz recalled.
pounded the table, denounced the Jews, but Hurwitz said he replied
he had worked for Jews and never had any problems.
14 days in Brest, the POWs were taken to a camp outside Hamburg. “Every
night at exactly midnight, R.A.F. bombers attacked the oil
installations there, and at Kiel, Bremen and Hanover. We would sit
on top of our shack and had a beautiful view.”
and a fellow prisoner bribed a guard with 25 cigarettes, worth “$500
on the black market,” and got wire cutters to escape. But when he
asked a German woman in his Yiddish-style German in a nearby farm
for a glass of water, she called the police and they were
senior British officer among the prisoners at the camp warned the
Germans to “release the men immediately” because “the British
were only 400 miles away and I will hold you personally responsible
if anything happens to them.” They were returned to the general
were told to march to Lubek, and the column was accidentally
attacked by an R.A.F. fighter—four men were killed by friendly
fire. They returned to the prison camp.
was liberated on April 29, 1945—a year to the day he was captured.
Two of his three daughters were born after war’s end—on April
he lays the wreath, Hurwitz says he’ll be thinking of that day in
1944, and “the guys in the water dying, shouting: ‘Save me, save