December 1946. None of the 785 passengers of the ship with the code name "Rafiah" sailing in the waters of the Aegean could imagine that instead of their destination, Palestine, where they would set up their new homeland, they would end up on an almost uninhabited rock island, Syrna near Astypalaia.

Nor how 77 years later a broken part of bronze binoculars, a comb, a toothbrush and two glass bottles that they had in their luggage, would rise from the bottom and take a place in the showcase of a museum on the other side of the Atlantic to tell not only the unknown story of the ship with the double name - "Athena/Rafiah" - and its passengers, but also a chapter of the History of 20 XNUMXth century: that of the immigration of the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.

These five everyday objects, however, are the ones that brought back to the news the case of the wreck of the "Athena", the ship that sank twice in its more than half a century of life. And which has not only contributed to the writing of a chapter of the creation of Israel, but also of Greek shipbuilding, as when it was launched in Syros in 1893 it was the first iron steamship built in Greece. For 46 years he traveled in the waters of the Saronic and the Eastern Aegean until he sank in Piraeus.

However, it took on a powerful role in history after its recovery and repair and its purchase – after the end of the Second World War – by the Haganah Jewish organization whose goal was to transport Holocaust survivors to the region of Palestine. The "Athena" was chosen as an old ship that would not attract the attention of the British, who were opposed to the movement of Jews to Palestine, and was given the code name "Rafiah".
She sailed from Piraeus with a crew of eight and arrived at Bakar, former Yugoslavia, to take on board Jewish refugees from Poland, Hungary and other Eastern European countries. After several deceptive passages in the Aegean, the crew was ordered to follow the original instruction and change crew at Sirna, despite the heavy seas, resulting in the ship smashing on the rocks.

Most of those on board survived with the exception of eight. They were then taken to a camp in British-occupied Cyprus, but eventually managed to reach, later, their original destination.

Descendants of the passengers returned in the 1950s to retrieve the bones of the eight dead who had been buried in Sirna.

Borrowing in the USA

Exactly 73 years after the shipwreck, in December 2019, the divers of the Ephorate of Marine Antiquities dived and at a depth of 20 m. they encountered the stern of the ship, while its bow is at a depth of 38 m. lockout of the USA" in Washington for five years, in order to enrich its permanent collection which is in the phase of re-exhibition, and has received from 1993 until today about 35 million visitors.

The objects to be loaned will be returned to Greece when the Museum of Marine Antiquities opens in the old Silo of the PPA, as they are included in the museological study, unless more important objects have been picked up in the meantime, in which case the loan of the specific ones in the USA will be extended.

Source: website, 22.7.2023