In August 1948, 545 passengers boarded an overcrowded, clapped-out vessel in Marseilles to face an uncertain future in Australia and New Zealand.
They came from displaced persons camps in Germany, death camps in Poland, labour camps in Hungary, gulags in Siberia and stony Aegean islands. There were those who had been hunted by the Nazis and those who had welcomed them; those who had followed the Communists and those who had fled from them.
The epic voyage lasted almost three months and was marked by conflict and controversy until it seemed as though this hellship had absorbed the traumas of its passengers. As the conditions on board deteriorated, tension and violence simmered above and below decks. But romances and seductions also flourished, and lifelong bonds were formed.
Diane Armstrong set sail on the Derna with her parents when she was nine years old. Like a detective searching for clues, she has located over a hundred of the passengers. Through their recollections and memorabilia, as well as archival documents, she has recreated the voyage and traced what became of their hopes and dreams. The result is the unique portrayal of a migrant ship and its passengers.
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