Exodus (ship)

"Exodus 1947" was a ship that carried Jewish emigrants, that left France on July 11, 1947, with the intent of taking its passengers to Palestine, then controlled by the British. Most of the emigrants were Holocaust survivor refugees, who had no legal immigration certificates to Palestine. Following wide media coverage, the British Royal Navy seized the ship, and deported all its passengers back to Europe.

The ship was formerly the packet steamer SS "President Warfield" for the Baltimore Steam Packet Company, carrying passengers and freight between Norfolk, Virginia, and Baltimore, Maryland, in the United States, from the ship's launch in 1928 until 1942. During World War II, it served both the Royal Navy and the United States Navy; for the latter as USS "President Warfield" (IX-169).

Early history

The ship was built in 1928 by Pusey and Jones Corp., Wilmington, Delaware, for the Baltimore Steam Packet Company. Initially named "President Warfield", for Baltimore Steam Packet Company president S. Davies Warfield (the uncle of the Duchess of Windsor), it carried passengers and freight on the Chesapeake Bay between Baltimore, Maryland and Norfolk, Virginia from 1928 until July 12 1942, when the ship was acquired by the War Shipping Administration (WSA) and converted to a transport craft for the British Ministry of War Transport [ west of Ireland on September 25, the ship evaded one torpedo, and, after the scattering of its convoy, reached Belfast, Northern Ireland. In Britain, it served as a barracks and training ship on the River Torridge at Instow.

Returned by Britain, it joined the U.S. Navy as "President Warfield" on May 21 1944. In July it served as a station and accommodations ship at Omaha Beach at Normandy. Following duty in England and on the Seine River, it arrived at Norfolk, Virginia, July 25 1945, and left active Navy service September 13. "President Warfield" was struck from the U.S. Naval Vessel Register on October 11 and returned to the War Shipping Administration on November 14.

Voyage history

On November 9 1946 the WSA sold "President Warfield" to the Potomac Shipwrecking Co. of Washington, D.C., who were acting as an agent of the Jewish political group Haganah. The ship eventually ended up with Hamossad Le'aliyah Bet—the underground Jewish organization in Palestine intent on helping underground Jewish immigrants enter Palestine. It was renamed "Exodus 1947" after the biblical Jewish exodus from Egypt to Canaan.

The ship left Baltimore February 25 1947 and headed for the Mediterranean. With Palmach (Haganah's military wing) skipper Ike Aronowicz as captain, and supervised by Haganah commissioner Yossi Harel as the operation's commander [ [http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/jun/30/israelandthepalestinians.lindagrant The real exodus] . "The Guardian", June 30, 2007] , it sailed with 4,515 passengers from the port of Sète, France, a small port outside Marseille on July 11 1947, and arrived at Palestine shores on July 18. The British Royal Navy cruiser Ajax and a convoy of destroyers trailed the ship from very early in its voyage, and finally boarded it some convert|20|nmi|km|-1|lk=on from shore. The boarding was challenged by the passengers (the ship was in international waters where the Royal Navy had no jurisdiction), and so the British soldiers used force. Three shipmates, including 1st mate William Bernstein, a U.S. sailor from San Francisco, died as a result of bludgeoning and several dozen others were injured before the ship was taken over.

Due to the high profile of the "Exodus 1947" emigration ship, it was decided by the British government that the emigrants were to be deported back to France. Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin suggested this, and the request was relayed to General Sir Alan Cunningham, High Commissioner for Palestine,"Secretary of State to High Commissioner for Palestine 14.7.47" in Alan Cunningham Collection, box 2 folder 1, Middle East Centre Archives, St. Antony's College, Oxford.] who agreed with the plan after consulting the Navy. ["High Commissioner for Palestine to Secretary of State 15.7.47" in Alan Cunningham Collection, box 2 folder 1, Middle East Centre Archives, St. Antony's College, Oxford.] Before then, intercepted would be immigrants were placed in internment camps on Cyprus, which was at the time a British colony. This new policy was meant to be a signal to both the Jewish community and the European countries which assisted immigration that whatever they sent to Palestine would be sent back to them.

Not only should it clearly establish the principle of REFOULEMENT as applies to a complete shipload of immigrants, but it will be most discouraging to the organisers of this traffic if the immigrants... end up by returning whence they came.

The damaged former "President Warfield" remained moored to a breakwater at Haifa harbour as a derelict until it burned to the waterline August 26 1952. [Brown, pp. 123–124.] Later towed to Shemen Beach, Haifa, it was raised in 1963 and scrapped by an Italian firm.

Return to France

The British sailed the commandeered ship into Haifa port, where its passengers were transferred to three more seaworthy deportation ships, Runnymede Park, Ocean Vigour and Empire Rival. The event was witnessed by members of UNSCOP. These ships left Haifa harbour on July 19 for Port-de-Bouc. Foreign Secretary Bevin insisted that the French get their ship back as well as its passengers.

When the ships arrived at Port-de-Bouc near Marseilles on August 2, the emigrants refused to disembark, and the French refused to cooperate with British attempts at forced disembarkation. Realizing that they were not bound for Cyprus, the emigrants conducted a 24-hour hunger strike, refusing to cooperate with the British authorities.

But the British government had no intention of backing down or relaxing its policy.

During this time, media coverage of the human ordeal intensified and the British became pressed to find a solution. The matter also got the attention of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) members who had been deliberating in Geneva. After three weeks, during which the prisoners on the ships held steady in difficult conditions, rejecting offers of alternative destinations, the ships were sailed to Hamburg, Germany, which was then in the British occupation zone

Operation Oasis

Documents released from the British archives show that after much soul-searching, the British concluded that the only place they could send the Jews was to the British-controlled zone of post-war Germany, where the Jews could be placed in camps and screened for extremists; decision to land the Jews in Germany had been made because it was the only suitable territory under British control that could handle so many people at short notice. The British diplomats and military officers knew perfectly well that sending Jews back to Germany and putting them in camps so soon after the Holocaust would set off a fire-storm of protest.

Britain's impossible position was later summed up by John Coulson, a diplomat at the British Embassy in Paris by a coded warning to the Foreign Office in London in August 1947 in which he said

“you will realize that an announcement of decision to send immigrants back to Germany will produce violent hostile outburst in the press” He pointed out: "The pros and cons of keeping the Exodus immigrants in camps ... there is one point that should be kept in mind. Our opponents in France, and I dare say in other countries, have made great play with the fact that these immigrants were being kept behind barbed wire, in concentration camps and guarded by Germans".

"If we decide it is convenient not to keep them in camps any longer, I suggest that we should make some play that we are releasing them from all restraint of this kind in accordance with their wishes and that they were only put in such accommodation for the preliminary necessities of screening and maintenance."

Disembarkation

On August 22 a Foreign Office cable warned diplomats that they should be ready to emphatically deny that the Jews were to be housed in former concentration camps after they were offloaded in Germany, that German guards will not be used to keep the Jews in the refugee camps and, further, added that British guards will be withdrawn once the Jews have been screened.

The “Exodus 1947” passengers were successfully taken off the vessels in Germany, although a number were injured in confrontations with British troops that involved the use of batons and fire hoses. The would-be immigrants were sent back to DP camps in Am Stau near Lübeck and Pöppendorf. Although most of the women and children disembarked voluntarily, the men had to be carried off by force.

By the time they had docked at Hamburg, many of the refugees were in defiant mood. When they first set out on their historic quest, they had believed they were days away from arriving at a Jewish homeland. The prospect of being sent to prison camps in Germany represented a pitiful failure of their original mission and for many of the Holocaust survivors, it was almost impossible to bear. The British had identified one of the ships, the Runnymede Park, as the vessel most likely to cause them trouble. A confidential report of the time noted:

"It was known that the Jews on the Runnymede Park were under the leadership of a young, capable and energetic fanatic, Morenci Miry Rosman, and throughout the operation it had been realised that this ship might give trouble."

One hundred military police and 200 Sherwood Foresters troops were ordered to board the ship and eject the Jewish immigrants.

The officer in charge of the operation, Lt-Col Gregson, later gave a very frank assessment of the success of the storming of the ship, which, according to a secret minute, left up to 33 Jews, including four women, injured in the fighting. Sixty-eight Jews were held in custody to be put on trial for unruly behaviour. Only three soldiers were hurt. But it could have been a lot worse. Gregson later admitted that he had considered using tear gas against the immigrants. He concluded:

"The Jew is liable to panic and 800-900 Jews fighting to get up a stairway to escape tear smoke could have produced a deplorable business." He added: "It is a very frightening thing to go into the hold full of yelling maniacs when outnumbered six or eight to one." Describing the assault, the officer wrote to his superiors: "After a very short pause, with a lot of yelling and female screams, every available weapon up to a biscuit and bulks of timber was hurled at the soldiers. They withstood it admirably and very stoically till the Jews assaulted and in the first rush several soldiers were downed with half a dozen Jews on top kicking and tearing ... No other troops could have done it as well and as humanely as these British ones did." He concluded: "It should be borne in mind that the guiding factor in most of the actions of the Jews is to gain the sympathy of the world press."

One of the official observers who witnessed the violence was Dr Noah Barou, secretary of the British section of the World Jewish Congress, who had 35 years experience of reporting. He gave a very different account of the fighting.

He described young soldiers beating Holocaust survivors as a "terrible mental picture".

"They went into the operation as a football match ... and it seemed evident that they had not had it explained to them that they were dealing with people who had suffered a lot and who are resisting in accordance with their convictions." He noted: "People were usually hit in the stomach and this in my opinion explains that many people who did not show any signs of injury were staggering and moving very slowly along the staircase giving the impression that they were half-starved and beaten up."

"When the people walked off the ship, many of them, especially younger people, were shouting to the troops 'Hitler commandos', 'gentleman fascists', 'sadists'."

Dr Barou was "especially impressed" by one young girl who "came to the top of the stairs and shouted to the soldiers, 'I am from Dachau'. And when they did not react she shouted 'Hitler commandos'".

While the British could find no evidence of excessive force, they conceded that in one case a Jew "was dragged down the gangway by the feet with his head bumping on the wooden slats".

Security fears seemed justified after the Jews were removed when a large, homemade bomb with a timed fuse was found on one of the three ships. It was apparently rigged to detonate after the Jews had been removed, the cables indicate.

Camp Conditions

At the camps, the treatment of the refugees caused an international outcry after it emerged that the conditions could be likened to the concentration camps where six million Jews had perished.

Dr Barou was once again on hand to witness events. He reported that conditions at Camp Poppendorf were poor and claimed that it was being run by a German camp commandant. That was denied by the British.

It turned out that Barou's reports had been only partially accurate. There was no German commandant or guards but there were German staff carrying out duties inside the camp.

But the allegations of cruel and insensitive treatment would not go away and, on 6 October, 1947, the Foreign Office sent a telegram to the British commanders in the region demanding to know whether the camps really were surrounded with barbed wire and guarded by German staff.

Final Destination

In a telegram written by Jewish leaders of the camps on 20 October 1947 makes clear the wishes and determination of the refugees to find a home in Palestine.

"Nothing will deter us from Palestine. Which jail we go to is up to you (the British). We did not ask you to reduce our rations; we did not ask you to put us in Poppendorf and Am Stau”.

The illegal would-be immigrants to Palestine were housed in Nissan Huts and tents at Poppendorf and Am Stau” (near Lübeck) but inclement weather made the tentage unsuitable. The DPs were then moved in November 1947 to Sengwarden near Wilhelmshaven and Emden. For many of the illegal immigrants this was only a transit point as the Brichah managed to smuggle most into the U.S. zone via which they reached Israel before the Israeli declaration of independence. Of the 4,500 would-be immigrants to Palestine there were only 1,800 remaining in the two “Exodus” camps by April 1948.

Within a year, over half of the original Exodus 1947 passengers had made other attempts at emigrating to Palestine and were detained without trial in prison camps on Cyprus. Britain continued to hold the detainees in Cyprus until January 1949 when it formally recognized the State of Israel and all surviving passengers made aliyah.

Historical importance

The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine also covered the events. Some of its members were even present at Haifa port when the emigrants were removed from their ship onto the deportation ships, and later commented that this strong image helped them press for an immediate solution for Jewish immigration and the question of Palestine.

The ship's ordeals were widely covered by international media, and caused the British government much public embarrassment, especially after the refugees were forced to disembark in Germany.

It is said that the events convinced the US government that the British mandate of Palestine was incapable of handling the Jewish refugees problem, and that a United Nations-brokered solution needed to be found. The US government then intensified its pressures on the British government to return its mandate to the UN, and the British in turn were willing to accept this. But this is dubious as the Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry Conference of July 31 1946, meeting in London, had already recommended a federal scheme for solving the Palestine problem known as Morrison-Grady Plan, a U.N. trusteeship over Palestine.

Further, on September 24 1946 the Counsel to the US President, Clark Clifford had written to him to warn that the Soviet Union wished to achieve complete economic, military and political domination in the Middle East. Toward this end, Clifford argued, the Soviet Union would encourage the emigration of Jews from Europe into Palestine and at the same time denounce British and American policies toward Palestine and inflame the Arabs against those policies. Also, on the eve of Yom Kippur, October 4 1946, President Truman had issued a statement indicating United States support for the creation of a "viable Jewish state.", and the British government had already announced on February 7 1947 that it would terminate its mandate for Palestine.

Cultural impact

* In 1958, the book "Exodus" by Leon Uris, based partly on the story of the ship, was published, though the ship "Exodus" in the book is not the same but a smaller one and the "real" "Exodus" has been renamed.
* In 1960, the film "Exodus" directed by Otto Preminger and starring Paul Newman, based on the above novel, was released. It was filmed mostly in Israel and increased Israel's popularity worldwide.Fact|date=May 2008
*In 1997, the documentary film, "Exodus 1947", directed by Elizabeth Rodgers and Robby Henson and narrated by Morley Safer, was broadcast nationally in the U.S. on PBS television.

See also

* "Patria" disaster
* "Struma"
* Antoinette Feuerwerker
* David Feuerwerker
* Rose Warfman

References

*

Further reading

;English language:
*
*
*
*;Other languages:
*

External links

* [http://www.exodus1947.com Exodus1947.com] PBS Documentary Film focusing on the secret American involvement, narrated by Morley Safer
* [http://www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/focus/antisemitism/voices/transcript/?content=20080117 Interview with Ruth Gruber] from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
* [http://www.exodus1947.org exodus1947.org] Hebrew website dedicated to the ship. Includes images and recordings.
* [http://college.hmco.com/history/readerscomp/ships/html/sh_033100_exodus1947.htm Ships of the World: An Historical Encyclopedia - "Exodus 1947"]
* [http://www.tzl.de/prenski/exodus/ Pöppendorf instead of Palestine] - Online Exhibition in German with an English translation on internment of the Exodus 1947 passengers in North Germany
* [http://www.presidentwarfield.com/ PresidentWarfield.com] English-language website dedicated to the President Warfield/Exodus
* [http://channels.isp.netscape.com/news/story.jsp?floc=FF-APO-1103&idq=/ff/story/0001%2F20080504%2F1905460943.htm&sc=1103] Documents show UK post-WWII dilemma over Jewish refugees AP News
* [http://www.insideout.org/documentaries/exodus47/] Public radio documentary website


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