70th anniversary of 'Exodus' Jewish immigration voyage to Israel

This week in history: Commemorating "the ship that launched a nation."

July 12, 2017 09:30
1 minute read.

Jewish volunteers sending supplies to the ‘Exodus’ in 1947.. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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This week commemorates the 70th anniversary of the voyage of the Exodus, a ship carrying over 4,500 Jewish immigrants from France to Israel following World War II.

The ship left the southern French port of Sete on July 11, 1947. A majority of the ship's passengers were Holocaust survivors who possessed no legal travel documents for their arrival in then-Mandatory Palestine. Upon nearing its arrival at Haifa's port, British soldiers boarded the ship, attempting to turn the vessel back. The British had already announced that the passengers would be deported back to France, although they were first held in internment camps in Cyprus.

While the ship returned to France, the immigrants on board refused to get off, braving a heat wave and food shortages. Though the British eventually headed the ship to Hamburg, where they forced the passengers to disembark.

Many of the ship's passengers reportedly settled in Israel later on. Among them was Noah Klieger, the French-born president of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team. Klieger, who survived Auschwitz, went on to become a well-known journalist and writer in Israel, covering a range of topics from various Nazi trials - including that of Adolf Eichmann - to sports.

The story of "the ship that launched a nation" has been told time and again. The 1960 film 'Exodus' featuring Jewish-American star Paul Newman was based on the ship's story, as was Leon Uris' 1958 novel of the same name.

The Exodus' would-be immigrants were part of 'Aliya bet', or the second wave of immigration. Thanks to a declaration by the British in the 1939 MacDonald White Paper, Jewish immigration to the mandate was curbed at 75,000 over a five-year period in the wake of World War II. While over 100,000 Jews attempted to immigrate during this time, only about half were successful. The British turned many ships away, sending the passengers to their fate in Europe. Others were kept in internment or detention camps, including Atlit, which has since been turned into a museum.

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