When thinking of the reestablishment of the nation of Israel most people usually think of the Holocaust. (And although that atrocity did bring a worldwide focus on the need of a State for the Jewish people, it was not the predominant factor in its reestablishment. The regathering of the Jewish people back to their homeland had begun over 50 years earlier, in the latter part of the nineteenth century.) For those who know some of the history, stories of the British refusing Jews entry into Palestine also come to mind. But one story which stands out — and many people tend to forget — is the account of the Jewish refugee ship known as Exodus 1947.
The true story of the Exodus is largely unknown, forgotten for the most part. It's not the story told by Leon Uris in his 1958 best-selling book, Exodus, nor is it the 1960 movie produced and directed by Otto Preminger, nor is it the movie's theme music by Ernest Gold. It is a story of drama, courage, determination, tragedy, and resolution in the face of cold-hearted anti-Jewish brutality. It's the story of David (the Jewish people) and Goliath (the British, Arab and other nations).
The "Exodus 1947" Jewish refugee ship
After its capture, the British transferred the passengers from the Exodus 1947 onto three navy transports which then returned to Europe. The ships first landed at Toulon, France where the passengers were ordered to disembark. When the French authorities refused to use force to remove the refugees from the ship, British authorities, fearing adverse public opinion, sought to wait until the passengers disembarked of their own accord. When the passengers, which included many orphaned children, forced the issue by declaring a hunger strike, the British returned them to Hamburg in the British-occupied zone of Germany. Amid worldwide public outrage, the British authorities compelled the passengers to disembark; some were forcibly removed from the ship. They were then taken by prisoner trains with barred windows to the Poppendorf and Amstau DP camps. This outrageous move by the British played a significant role in the diplomatic swing of sympathy toward the Jews and the eventual recognition of a Jewish state in 1948.
Websites About the History and Events of the Exodus 1947 and Its Crew and Jewish Refugees
- In Search of the Exodus
- An excellent article by Jerry Klinger, President of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, detailing the history of the Exodus 1947 and corresponding events.
- The Haganah Ship Exodus 1947
- In addition to information about the Exodus 1947, this website of the University of Hamburg gives the history of the Jews in Germany immediately after the war and their treatment by the British government after the refugees were forcibly removed from the ship.
- Exodus 1947
- This is a one hour documentary narrated by Morley Safer with a score by Ilan Rechtman about the ship and its voyage. The film is a richly layered program, constructed with first person accounts to recall events that shaped world history. A production of Cicada Films in association with Maryland Public Television. A list of screenings is available, as well as instructions for purchasing a DVD of the event.
- Voices on Antisemitism — Ruth Gruber
- This is a podcast with Ruth Gruber, a photojournalist, who provided the New York Herald Tribune and the New York Post with photos and reports of the events concerning the Exodus 1947. She spent several months following the Jewish refugees from port to port around the Mediterranean. Her detailed book about the affair, Exodus 1947: The Ship That Launched a Nation, is listed below.
- Photo Archives from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
- 159 photos of the Exodus 1947 and many of the Jewish refugees and crew onboard. This archive also includes pictures from the daily life of the crew and passengers as the ship sailed towards Palestine as well photos taken during the forced return trip by the British government.
- More Photographs of the Exodus Refugee Ship
- 28 photos from the Jewish Virtual Library of events of the Exodus 1947 on its way to Palestine and the aftermath of the attack by the British marines.
- President Warfield US Naval Historical Center
- History and details of the ship from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Department of the Nave, Naval History & Heritage Command.
- SS Exodus
- This is the Wikipedia entry for the Exodus 1947 Jewish refugee ship. It includes links to other sites for additional information. (Although I do not generally use Wikipedia links, this one provides additional information on this particular subject.)
Books About the History and Events of the Exodus 1947 and Its Crew and Jewish Refugees
Disclosure: Note that if you make a purchase using a link on this page, I may earn a commission (which is not added to your cost). These commissions help to support this site. This does not in any way, however, affect my choices for inclusion here. Thank you for your consideration.
Exodus 1947 passengers survey the damage the morning
after the battle with the British boarding party
- Commander of the Exodus
- This is the biography of Yossi Harel, commander of the Exodus. This book recounts the story of Harel, a modern-day Moses who defied the blockade of the British Mandate to deliver more than 24,000 displaced Holocaust survivors to Palestine while the rest of the world closed its doors. Of the four expeditions commanded by Harel between 1946 and 1948, the voyage of the Exodus quickly became a beacon for Zionism and a symbol to all the world that neither guns, cannons, nor warships could stand in the way of the re-establishment of the Jewish homeland. Author Yoram Kaniuk does an excellent job of showing the human face of history, paying homage to the young Israeli who was not motivated by politics or personal glory but by the pleading eyes of the orphaned children languishing on the shores of Europe. Commander of the Exodus is both an unforgettable tribute to the heroism of the dispossessed and a rich imagery of the vision and daring of a man who took it upon himself to advance the course of history.
- The Exodus Affair: Holocaust Survivors and the Struggle for Palestine
- This book by author Aviva Halamish examines what happened to the immigrants after they were denied admission to Palestine: the weeks spent on the three ships ("floating concentration camps"), their brutal removal from the ships by British soldiers in Hamburg, and their forced settlement in two hellish camps in northern Germany. Drawing on an impressive array of research materials, Halamish presents a stunning portrait of courage and heroism in the face of anguish and adversity. (Translated from Hebrew by Ora Cummings)
- Exodus 1947: The Ship That Launched a Nation
- On July 18, 1947, US journalist Ruth Gruber stood on a wharf in Haifa as the Exodus 1947 limped into harbor. Gruber rushed to the scene and began witnessing the events as they unfolded, ultimately spending the next several months pursuing the exiles from port to port on the Mediterranean. Gruber's quest produced riveting dispatches and vivid photographs which were published in the New York Herald Tribune and the New York Post and shaped worldwide perception of the plight of the DPs and arguably influenced the United Nations to reestablish the State of Israel. This gripping book contains Gruber's moving images and text plus additional reporting on the wretched camps in Europe where the refugees lived before boarding the Exodus 1947, as well as details of many passengers' eventual fates. In this edition marking the sixtieth anniversary of the voyage, Gruber's masterpiece remains as stirring and unforgettable as ever.
- The Jews' Secret Fleet: The Untold Story of North American Volunteers who Smashed the British Blockade
- This is the only authentic book that covers the full participation of 240 volunteers from North America that participated in operation Aliyah Bet, the illegal immigration of Jews to Palestine. These men sailed from the USA to Europe on 10 ships, bringing some 35,000 survivors of the Holocaust to British-Mandate Palestine. The book describes their incredible journeys.