Aliyah Bet & Machal Virtual Museum

 

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Augustine L. (Duke) Labaczewski

Duke Labaczewski

Augustine L. (Duke) Labaczewski, 89, the cook aboard the American Aliyah Bet ship Tradewinds (later named “Hatikvah” – Hope), died in Williamstown, New Jersey, on June 29, 2017.   His daughter, Mrs. Theresa Forbes, said the cause of death was lung cancer, contracted during his 40-year career as a cook, able-bodied seaman and boatswain aboard American commercial ships. He was buried on July 5 in Manahath Cemetery, Glassboro, NJ, next to his wife, Myra. He is survived by his daughter, his son William Labaczewski, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Duke was born April 21, 1928 in Camden, NJ.  He was Roman Catholic, yet fluent in Yiddish,  learned from Jewish neighbors. At 19 he was one of the youngest Jews or non-Jews to participate in Israel’s War of Independence.   The Tradewinds, a former U.S. Revenue cutter, was refitted on the Miami River in 1946 and 1947.  It departed Miami in 1947, sailed to Baltimore and crossed the Atlantic taking aboard 1,414 Jewish refugees in La Spezia, Italy.   It was intercepted and rammed by a Royal Navy Destroyer on May 17, 1947.   The crew, including Duke, and the refugees fought the British boarding party, but were overwhelmed.  They were transferred to a British Prison ship and interned in Cyprus.  Duke was later freed and returned to the U.S. in December, 1947.

When asked what impelled him to join the Israeli cause, Duke said, he had returned from sea [in 1947] and his friend Mike Perlstein said, “Duke, we need sailors to help bring my people to Israel.”  “I was always for a Jewish state,” Duke recalled, and responded to Mike, “I’m your man.” He joined Mike as a crew member on the “Hatikvah” and on many occasions later stated that it had been “the right thing to do”.

Duke participated in almost every reunion of Aliyah Bet and Machal.   He was once asked what benefit he derived personally from his experience with Aliyah Bet.  He responded, “I believe we brought over the people needed to fight for a free state and freedom from all the persecutions around the world.  It makes me feel very proud that I had a part in it, no matter how small.”

We will miss our friend and comrade-in-arms, Duke.

Zichrono Livracha (May his memory be for a blessing)

Duke Labaczewski
Duke Labaczewski
Duke Labaczewski and Marcel Berkowitz at the 2016 Mickey Marcus Memorial
Duke Labaczewski and Paul Kaye
2016 Mickey Marcus Memorial Group Photo

American Veterans of Israel Legacy Corp

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