Forgotten Heroes: The Jewish Resistance and Exodus 1947

Stand for Israel  |  August 16, 2019

Exodus 1947
Exodus 1947

Those of us who stand for Israel know many of the amazing stories behind the creation of the modern Jewish state. And many of us are also history buffs, who can retell much of recent world happenings, chief among them World War II and the Holocaust. But the point where these two fascinations join is not often discussed. That will change, however, as writing at JNS, Tsilla Hershco tells of how members of the Resistance made major contributions to the formation of Israel as we know her today:

This July and August mark the 72nd anniversary of the journey of the Exodus 1947 (originally named the SS President Warfield), perhaps the most dramatic post-World War II attempt to breach the British naval blockade and bring Holocaust survivors to Mandatory Palestine.

The ship, with more than 4,500 Holocaust survivors on board, left the French port of Sète on July 11, 1947. It was intercepted by the British, and after a determined resistance its passengers were returned to Port-de-Bouc in France on three deportation ships. The survivors refused to leave the French coast, and stayed on the ships under difficult conditions in the heavy August heat. They were ultimately led by force by the British to Hamburg, Germany—the country that had just slaughtered six million of their brethren.

The affair, which shocked the world, received extensive media coverage and has been the subject of much research and subsequent creative endeavor, including novels and films. There is much to focus on: the Briha (clandestine escape from Europe to Mandatory Palestine) movement, the clandestine immigration (Aliya Bet) movement, the survivors themselves, the emissaries from the Land of Israel, and the crew of the ship.

Much has also been written on the political circumstances surrounding the affair as well as its implications with regard to the struggle for the creation of the State of Israel.

All these efforts are entirely appropriate. It is regrettable, however—and historically unjustifiable—that the major involvement of the heroes of the French Jewish resistance is almost entirely absent from the numerous publications and commemoration ceremonies relating to the Exodus affair, as well as from the story of the broader struggle for the creation of Israel…