No! I do not mean the motley crew of terrorist enablers, terrorists and assorted curs and knaves that is taking to the briny to defame Israel and bring “humanitarian” aid to the denizen of Gaza. Never mind those immoral misfits who forgot how the residents of Gaza trashed and looted and destroyed the farms, greenhouses, state of the art farming tools and implements, organic fertilizers and even seeds in the lush gardens of Gush Katif which provided 70% of Israel’s produce and $120,000,000 in exports of foods and flowers.
I speak of a real Palestine freedom flotilla….that fleet of ancient and ramshackle ships and the valiant volunteer crews that transported the wretched survivors of the Holocaust to Palestine in defiance of the perverse British blockade between 1946 and 1948.
Britain’s notorious White Paper of 1939 which effectively cut off Jewish immigration to Palestine on the eve of the Holocaust was a death sentence for millions of European Jews trapped in Europe. After World War 11, British perfidy persisted and the 1939 White Paper remained the basis of British policy. Its cruel provisions kept wretched survivors of the Holocaust trapped and homeless in displaced persons’ camps in hostile European nations or behind barbed wire in detention camps in Cyprus.
There were more than 140 voyages by about 70 ships. Over half were stopped by British navy patrols and sent to internment camps is Cyprus, or Atlit detention camp and some to Mauritius. A wonderful book by the author Natacha Appanah titled “The Last Brother” details the travails of the refugees in Mauritius.
One of the groups of rescue ships was named “Alya Bet.” Its earlier history is marred by tragedy. In the 1930s a group calling themselves by the same name attempted to rescue Jews from Europe but their efforts were hopeless. However, after the war the goal of taking survivors to Palestine became urgent and the movement for transferring refugees coalesced.
With breathtaking speed, Christians, Jews and philanthropists working together purchased ten ships which were fitted and manned by American and Canadian volunteer seamen. Many demobilized servicemen and merchant marine officers and oilers including many Christians volunteered, and many had no naval experience, but their mission was to rescue all Europe’s Jewish refugees who wanted to go to blockaded Palestine.
All but two of the ships were almost decrepit…four from pro World War 1, but among them they carried 60,000 refugees.
The ships from Canada and the United States were the following:
- The Josiah Wedgewood (originally the Beauhamois), a Canadian corvette.
- The Hagana (originally the Norsyd), also a Canadian corvette.
- The Haim Arlosoroff (originally the Ulua), a coast guard cutter from the 1920s.
- The Ben Hecht (originally the Abril) had been a private yacht, a smuggler’s boat and a coast guard vessel.
- The Hatikva (originally the Tradewinds 1908) a coast guard cutter.
- The Exodus 1947 (originally the President Warfield), a Chesapeake Bay excursion ferry.
- The Geula (originally the Paducah, )a coast guard training vessel.
- The Jewish State (originally the Northland), a coast guard icebreaker.
- The Kibbutz Galuyot (originally the Pan York), a cargo vessel.
- The Atzmaut (originally the Pan Crescent), also a cargo vessel.
When these ships reached the Palestine coast they were apprehended, boarded, and often rammed by the Royal Navy. Passengers were herded and transported to squalid prison camps on Cyprus formerly used to house German prisoners of war! The 4,530 passengers of the Exodus were threatened with return to Germany. An American volunteer William Bernstein was clubbed to death on the Exodus 1947 by the British boarding party.
Each ship had a heroic tale of its own. The USS Cythera (Pk31) was purchased from the United States Coast Guard, anchored in Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal where Yitzhak Ben- Ami managed refurbishing and repair and became the S.S. Ben Hecht. Ben Ami was my friend and a hero and leader of the American League for a Free Palestine. His wicked son is Jeremy Ben Ami the treasonous brat who runs J Street.
Yitzhak Ben Ami was also involved in the purchase of the Altalena as he detailed in his memoir “Years of Wrath, Years of Glory.” The controversial history of the Altalena and its destruction by Issraeli forces is best told by Professor Jerold Auerbach in his new book Brothers at War: Israel and the Tragedy of the Altalena.
The Chaim Arlossorof’s passengers put up heavy resistance but the ship was rammed and intercepted and beached with dozens wounded.
These were not the only ships that rescued Jewish refugees. There were many more. The Dalin (August 1945), the Hanna Szenes (December 1945) and the Shabbetai Lozinski (March 1947) went aground near Ashdod and on shore groups gathered and rescued all the passengers.
The Latrun captured by the HMS Chivalrous.(October 1946), the Knesset Yisrael Captured by 4 destroyers & others. Much resistance, 2 killed. All passengers taken to camps. (November 1946), Theodor Herzl (April 1947) Captured after several casualties and 2 killed.
The Rafiah — Athina S. left Yugoslavia in November of 1946 but was wrecked and sank on December 1946. Eight refugees including three children perished. Survivors were transferred to a British minesweeper and taken to Cyprus.
Amiram Shochet — Ile de la Rose from Naples arrived undetected in August 1946 and discharged 183 fortunate passengers.
In March 1946 the British Army prevailed on the Italian authorities to prevent the departure from La Spezia harbor of the 1,014 refugees on board the Dov Hos and the Eliyahu Golomb; the immigrants reacted by declaring a hunger strike which aroused world public opinion and compelled Britain to permit the boats to reach Palestine.
One of the last clandestine immigration operations was a convoy of two large ships named “The Pans”, the Pan York and Pan Crescent, transporting more than 15,000 Jews, the majority from Romania, which left Bulgaria at the end of 1947 despite British and U.S. attempts to prevent their setting sail. The passengers were interned in the Cyprus detention camps.
These are only a handful of the ships involved in the Palestine Freedom Flotilla. The crews and passengers encountered mechanical difficulties, breakdowns, gales, turbulence, illness, cruel and humiliating treatment by the British government and incarceration in nearly unbearable circumstances. They persevered, and when Israel’s independence from England was declared the jails of Cyprus and Mauritius were opened and they sailed as free men, women and children to their home in Israel.
Ships continued to bring refugees to Israel, but the operations were no longer clandestine or met with violence and gunfire.
Honorable and gallant men embarked on an epic rescue for a noble cause. Their memory is a blessing.
The Gaza flotilla is a grotesque charade.
The best site with the most information and photos and details on the ships and their passengers during this heroic chapter is Paul Silverstone of the Alyah Bet Project : http://www.paulsilverstone.com/immigration/Primary/Aliyah/shiplist2.php
Also the list of voluteers for Israel in the Alyah Bet Movement appears at: http://israelvets.com/roster_aliyahbet_crews_ship.html.
Ruth King – June 28, 2011 –