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(photo credit: Courtesy )
Of all the illegal immigrant ships carrying Holocaust survivors to the Promised Land, the best known – thanks to author Leon Uris and actor Paul Newman – is the Exodus.
The book was a best-seller and the movie was a box office hit.
The S.S. Exodus was purchased and manned by American volunteers.
On July 18, 1947, the ship, which was unarmed, tried to reach Haifa, but was rammed by two British destroyers, which threatened to sink it.
British sailors boarded the ship, captured it and killed three people in the process.
The ship was taken to Haifa where the refugees were transferred to prison ships and returned to displaced persons camps in Germany.
Monuments to the S.S. Exodus exist in Germany, France, Italy and the United States.
Until this week no such monument existed in Israel.
That lacuna was amended by the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation whose president Jerry Klinger spearheaded the creation of a monument that was dedicated at Haifa Port on Tuesday.
Sculptor Sam Philipe created an anchor, on the base of which is an outline of the map of Israel.
Among the hundreds of people present on Tuesday – many of them Holocaust survivors – were some 150 who had first come to Haifa on the Exodus.
One of them was Fruma Gallant, mother of Construction Minister Yoav Gallant. She had been one of 655 children on the ship.
Yoav Gallant made the point that only five years after the brave but doomed Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the fledgling Israel Defense Forces that included many Holocaust survivors defeated five armies in the War of Independence.
Michael Snowden, political counselor at the US Embassy, said that while most of the passengers on the Exodus were Europeans, the crew members were Americans.
“The drama of the Exodus is an integral part of the founding of the State of Israel,” he said. After independence, the US was the first country to recognize the State of Israel, said Snowden, “and we’ve been proud to stand with Israel ever since.” He was hopeful that the memorial would instruct and inspire future generations and make them aware of “the contributions Americans made and continue to make to the State of Israel.”
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said that at the end of the 1960s, Russian Jews began to explore their heritage, studying in clandestine groups from books provided by Jewish tourists and sympathetic diplomats. As liaison between Russian Jewry and the Diaspora, Sharansky sent a note to a contact in New York asking for 100 paperback copies of Exodus. The books were read by families who passed them on after everyone in each family finished reading. “We had just begun to relate to the Bible, but we instinctively identified with Exodus.”
Throughout the years, he said, the Jewish Agency, which had been involved in illegal immigration during the British Mandate era, has brought 3.5 million Jews to Israel and it continues to bring more.
Klinger first came to Israel nearly 50 years ago as a lone soldier without close family in the country to help him and has been back many times since. When he learned there were Exodus memorials in other countries but not in Israel, he decided to do something about it, even if it meant paying for it himself.