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July 11: Exodus 1947

Lawrence Bush
July 11, 2010

exodusMore than 4,500 passengers, most of them Holocaust survivors, left France on the SS Exodus on this date in 1947 with the intention of reaching Palestine. The ship was owned by Hamossad Le’aliyah Bet (Institute for Immigration), an underground organization dedicated to bringing Jews to Palestine in defiance of British restrictions, and was captained by Ike Aronowicz, a Palmach commander, and commanded by Yossi Harel, a Haganah leader. Twenty miles off the coast of Gaza, the British Royal Navy rammed the ship and used force to board it. Everyone on board was deported back to France (instead of to Cyprus, where most illegal emigrants to Palestine were interned in detention camps) on three ships. They offered mass resistance against disembarkation once they reached France, however; ultimately they were transported to Hamburg, Germany and violently ejected from the ships. (“Every available weapon up to a biscuit and bulks of timber was hurled at the soldiers,” reported British Lt. Colonel Gregson.) They were interred once again in camps — in some cases staffed by Germans — but the majority were smuggled into the U.S. Zone of Occupation and were able to reach Cyprus or Palestine before the State of Israel was established in May, 1948. Captain Aronowicz died in Israel in 2009 at age 86, Yossi Harel in 2008 at age 90.
“I was furious that the British were killing people. I jumped on a marine. I pulled his helmet back. His chin strap was fastened under his neck, choking him. Two refugees and I threw him into the sea.” —Nat Adler, SS Exodus electrician

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.