Aliyah Bet & Machal Virtual Museum

 

Exodus 1947: The Ship that Launched a Nation

Exodus Ship

The S.S. Exodus was an American Aliyah Bet ship crewed by American volunteers together with Haganah operatives from pre-state Israel. Her mission was to rescue Holocaust survivors trapped in Europe after the murder of 6 million Jews, bringing them to British Mandatory Palestine. Despite the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the British prevented Jewish immigration to Palestine through a naval blockade. 

July 18, 1947, the unarmed Exodus, carrying 4,515 Holocaust survivors, tried to breech the British blockade. In international waters, two British destroyers rammed the ship, threatening to sink the Exodus. British Marines boarded, killed three, including an American Mahal crewman- Bill Bernstein. 147 refugees were injured. The Jews resisted bravely. 

Captured, the Exodus was taken to Haifa port where the brutalized refugees were transferred to British prison ships and forcibly returned to camps in Germany. World news captured the pathos in Haifa, garnering international sympathy to the Jewish plight. 

In Jerusalem, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine was deliberating the Palestine question. They declined to consider Holocaust refugee testimony. An eyewitness aboard the Exodus was American Methodist Minister Reverend John Stanley Grauel. The Haganah smuggled Grauel to Jerusalem to tell the Committee the story of the Exodus. The Committee agreed to go to Germany and consider Survivor testimonies. That testimony changed the Com-mittee’s recommendation to the United Nations from against to in favor of Partition. 

November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to end British control of Palestine, setting the stage for the rebirth of a Jewish State and a new Arab State. American journalist Ruth Gruber named the Exodus, "The Ship that Launched a Nation.” 

August 1952, the Exodus was scuttled near Haifa harbor after a disastrous fire. She lies there to this day. 

 

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