Fritz Julius Steinwasser was born in Wanne-Eickel on January 18th, 1924 as son of Margarete Steinwasser, née Krohner, and Walter Steinwasser, one year later his sister Ilse. Margarete and Walter Steinwasser were deported to Auschwitz and murdered on November 8th, 1943. Ilse Steinwasser was arrested in 1940 and survived the deportation and imprisonment in four different concentration camps.
Unfortunately, we have no knowledge about Fritz Julius Steinwasser's schooling and vocational training. The only fact that is known is that he worked as an agricultural trainee in 1940. We can only assume that he thus prepared himself as a Halutzim (pioneer) for a life in the kibbutz in Palestine.
The situation of Jewish fellow citizens in Nazi Germany in 1940 was cruel and hopeless. Meanwhile, no country was willing to take in larger numbers of Jewish refugees, and remaining in the country meant almost certainly deportation and death for the people. Any possibility of escaping this was a straw that was grasped in order to survive.
Fritz Julius Steinwasser was 16 years old when he was issued a passport by the District Administrator in Beeskow/Brandenburg on July 17th, 1940. We don't know through which organization he got on the ship that started at the beginning of September 1940 with destination Palestine—an excursion ship that went down the Danube to the Black Sea.
The first stopover was the Romanian Black Sea port of Tulcea. Here the refugees switched to old cargo ships. On these old and rotten ships prevailed indescribable conditions. There was hardly any drinking water; the refugees had to sleep in shifts. The sanitary facilities were miserable. A typhus epidemic broke out on the freighter SS ATLANTIC and 15 people died.
The freighter SS PACIFIC, which according to documents also carried Fritz Julius Steinwasser, was met by British warships in Haifa on November 1st, 1940, and directed to the port. The British Mandate Government made the public announcement that from now on anyone who attempted to enter Palestine illegally would be deported to a British colony and would have to remain there until the end of the war. All efforts by Jewish organisations to reverse this decision by the British remained unsuccessful.
The British then took 1,800 illegal immigrants from Nazi-occupied territories in Europe, including those from the SS PACIFIC immediately on the day of their arrival, on the 11,885-ton French-built ocean liner SS PATRIA to be deported from the British Mandate of Palestine to an internment camp in Mauritius.
Zionist organizations protested against this, but to no avail. In order to prevent the deportation, the Jewish paramilitary underground organization Haganah had attached explosives to the hull of the ship and wanted to stop it from continuing its journey. However, the explosive charges were so powerful that the SS PATRIA sank within only 15 minutes of detonation on November 25th, 1940. Despite all rescue attempts, 267 people died and 172 were injured. The surviving refugees were taken to the Atlit internment camp, south of Haifa.
Fritz Julius Steinwasser had saved his life by jumping into the water. Like the other refugees, he was taken to the Atlit internment camp. With the help of an international campaign, the surviving refugees finally received residence permits. Fritz Julius Steinwasser was finally released from the camp on 19 June 1941. In the following years he changed his name to Menachem Esched, founded a family and had a daughter who still lives in Israel today.
Menachem Esched died in Israel in 1990.