The saga of the illegal Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel reached its peak in the months of July to August, 1947. The American ship, previously named President Warfield, which had been purchased by the Mossad, set sail for Europe and was given a new name, Exodus 47. The name was symbolic of the modern Exodus, not from Egypt, but from Europe. It was the biggest ship ever used to carry illegal immigrants and there were 4500 people aboard it. Immediately after it sailed from a port in southern France, it was joined by British warships that followed it to the coast of the Land of Israel. Even before it entered the territorial waters of the Land of Israel, British forces tried to overtake the ship, using battleships to ram the ship. The immigrants resisted with all their strength, but the British were far stronger and the struggle cost the lives of two immigrants and one Jewish American sailor and many immigrants were injured.
Back to Europe
The ship was towed to the Haifa Port and the degrading violent ceremony of forcefully transferring the immigrants to deportation ships began. This time, three ships were needed and they started to sail westward. However, instead of heading towards Cyprus, as they had done in the past, they sailed to France. The Jewish world was furious and protested. It soon became clear that the British had decided to stop the illegal immigration by sending the illegal immigrants back to where they had come from. Having coordinated with the French government, the thousands of men, women and children were told to disembark. The immigrants refused. They announced collectively that they would not be moved. They demanded that they be returned to the Land of Israel. They remained in the ship’s holds for three weeks while three deportation ships were anchored in Port-de-Bouc in southern France. It was a war of nerves that was conducted between the powerful empire that had lost its head and the thousands of immigrants, Holocaust survivors, who had nothing left to lose. As the days passed, the situation of the immigrants worsened. The world was shocked by what it was witnessing – the immigrants challenging the mighty British. The world was openly sympathetic to the plight of the Jews and thus, to the Jewish Yishuv’s struggle for free immigration and for the right to establish an independent state that could absorb hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors.
The Pressure Mounts
Those were days of discussions at the United Nations as to what to do about the problem of the Land of Israel. A special committee was sent there to examine the issue from every angle. Some members of the committee were at the Haifa port and they observed the violent deportation of the people aboard the Exodus. Afterwards, the committee visited the Jewish refugee camps in Germany in order to sense the mood. The refugees, like the illegal immigrants aboard the Exodus, said, “We want to go to the Land of Israel.” It is not surprising that when the committee submitted its conclusions on the night of August 31, at the height of the struggle for the immigrants aboard the Exodus, it gave great importance to the need to solve the problem of the Jewish refugees who aspired to reach the Land of Israel. The committee decided to recommend establishing a Jewish state, saying that Jewish immigration is the main problem of the Land of Israel at present… The establishment of a Jewish state according to the Partition Plan is the only way to remove this issue from the area of conflict.
Expulsion to Germany
The British were not particularly impressed by the committee’s report and continued to take a hard line. When they realized that the illegal immigrants did not intend to disembark in France, the three deportation ships set sail for Germany. At the port in Hamburg, the same terrible scenes repeated themselves. Hundreds of journalists and photographers recorded the disgraceful behavior of the British, as they hit and dragged the Jews who refused to disembark on German soil. A short time later, the Jews of the Exodus once again set off for the Land of Israel, some of them with certificates and others who would arrive as illegal immigrants.