France Navigation and Dutch involvement
An almost unknown story in the Netherlands is the story of the organization France Navigation. There is only one book, written in French, which is fully devoted to this organization: Les Brigades de la Mer, of Dominique Grisoni and Gilles Hertzog, Grasset, 1979.
During the Spanish Civil War, on behalf of Juan Negrin, 2500 million Francs were transferred to the French Communist Party. With this money, the maritime organization France Navigation was established on 15 April 1937. With ships, this organization transported weapons, food and other supplies to Spain. This was in fact clandestine because France endorsed the Non-Intervention Pact in which it was forbidden to deliver weapons to the Spanish Republic. These transports took place from Northwest Europe as well from the Mediterranean.
France Navigation leaders were Giulio Cerreti (pseudonym “Allard”), an Italian emigrant and member of the French Communist Party, responsible for the finances, and Georges Gosnat a communist unionist.
In this organization, some Dutch also had an important role, such as the Jewish brothers Daniel Wolf and Marcel Moses Wolf who had a business empire in Europe and were involved in arms transport. Further there was Armand Kratly, a business partner of Daniel Wolf who worked for the company SODECO. But also Jacobus Smith (“Jasja”) son-in-law of Daniel Wolf, Felix Raphael Pierot, and Elias Castricum and Adrianus Heesterman from the shipping company Ruys, operating from Marseille.
At the start of the Second World War in September 1939, an extremely tumultuous phase in France Navigation’s history breaks out, because the French government becomes hostile to the organisation.
The France-Navigation is more or less forced to go underground (all of this against the background of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact). Both Pierot, Castricum and Heesterman are arrested at the end of 1939 and are temporarily incarcerated.
Pierot and his family travel to the United States. At that moment Daniel Wolf is living in New York. The wife and children of Daniel Wolf, who stayed in the Netherlands, didn’t manage to flee and they eventually end up in the concentration camp Bergen Belsen but survive despite the war. Both Pierot and Wolf died at a relatively young age in New York.
There are different opinions about the motives of these Dutch, yet they have made an important contribution to France Navigation.
One of the sailors of France Navigation was Ahmed Ghalila from îles de Kerkennah (Tunesia). From here daughter we received some unique photos of France Navigation. Ahmed was at that time a trade unionist in Marseille and later married to a woman who had fled Spain with her family in February 1939 (La Retirada).
Special thanks to Alice Méné Ghalila who was so kind to make these photo’s available to us.