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Aliyah Bet & Machal Virtual Museum



Twelve Ships Acquired in North America

Although the full-scale oppression of European Jews was known and understood prior to and during World War II, few countries were willing to admit significant number of Jews attempting to escape the impending Holocaust. England essentially closed the gates to Palestine, in the face of Arab objections, admitting only a small quota of Jewish immigrants each year.

Palestinian Jews organized Aliyah Bet, the clandestine immigration activity, in an attempt to rescue European Jews. Some 66 ships made 88 voyages up until December 1944, but few evaded the British naval blockade of Palestine. The small ships carried a total of 40,355 persons (an average of only 450 persons per ship), not all of whom made it to Palestinian waters.

Following World War II, several hundred thousand surviving Jews huddled in Displaced Persons Camps throughout Europe. Their former neighbors did not want them back. Nations outside Europe would admit only limited quotas. The British continued their naval blockade of Palestine.

David Ben-Gurion realized that the small ships that Aliyah Bet could acquire in Europe would not be able to bring significant numbers of Jews to Palestine. He came to America and appealed to philanthropists to purchase large ships for this purpose. In the face of U.S. State Department opposition, they did just that, at considerable risk to their own finances and reputations. One company, F. & B. Shipping Company, purchased five of the ships. (It was later learned that “F. & B.” stood for “F_ _ _ the British”.) Young Jews, some with U.S. Navy or Merchant Marine experience, were recruited to crew the ships, along with some professional non-Jewish seamen.

This accompanying graphic shows silhouettes of the 12 American-owned ships to give a better understanding of their relative size. All the ships were partially re-fitted in the U.S to make them seaworthy. Most were then re-fitted again in European ports to accommodate huge numbers of passengers.

There were 66 Aliyah Bet ships attempting to rescue Holocaust survivors between 1945 and May 15,1948. The 10 American "big ships" that ran the British blockade rescued 43% of them.

Beauharnois/Josiah Wedgwood

Built 1944; former Canadian navy corvette HMCS Beauharnois
Departed New York City; took on 1,257 refugees in Sicily
Intercepted by Royal Navy June 27, 1946
Refugees and crew interned in Athlit, Palestine
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Norsyd/Haganah (Defense)

Built 1943; former Canadian navy corvette HMCS Norsyd
Departed New York City; took on 2,678 refugees in Yugoslavia
Intercepted by Royal Navy and towed to Haifa July 29, 1946
Refugees and crew interned in Athlit, Palestine
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Ulua/Haim Arlosoroff

Built 1912; former US Revenue cutter USCGC Unalga
Departed Baltimore; took on 1,378 refugees in Sweden and Italy
Beached February 27, 1947, at Bat Galim, south of Haifa
Refugees and crew interned in Cyprus
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Abril/Ben Hecht

Built 1931; former private yacht Abril
Departed New York City; took on 600 refugees in France
Intercepted by Royal Navy March 8, 1947
Refugees interned in Cyprus; crew jailed in Acre Prison, Palestine
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Tradewinds/Hatikva (Hope)

Built 1896; former US Revenue cutter USCGC Gresham
Departed Miami; took on 1,414 refugees in Italy
Rammed by Royal Navy destroyer May 17, 1947
Refugees and crew interned in Cyprus
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President Warfield/Exodus 1947

Built 1928; former Chesapeake Bay excursion boat
Departed Philadelphia; took on 4,530 refugees in France
Rammed by two destroyers, 3 persons killed, July 18, 1947
Crew deported to US; most refugees sent to Germany
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Paducah/Geula (Redemption)

Built 1904; former icebreaker and US Navy patrol gunboat
Departed Miami; took on 1,388 refugees in Bulgaria
Intercepted by Royal Navy October 2, 1947
Refugees and crew interned in Cyprus
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Northland/Medinat Hayehudim (Jewish State)

Built 1927; former Coast Guard cutter USCGC Northland Departed Baltimore; took on 2,664 refugees in Bulgaria Intercepted by Royal Navy October 2, 1947 Refugees and crew interned in Cyprus
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Pan York/Kibbutz Galuyot (Ingathering of Exiles)

Built 1901; former Central American banana boat
Refitted in Yugoslavia; took on 7,557 refugees in Bulgaria
Escorted to Cyprus by Royal Navy January 1, 1948
Crew and refugees interned in Cyprus
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Pan Crescent/Atzmaut (Independence)

Built 1901; former Central American banana boat
Refitted in Venice, Italy; took on 7,612 refugees in Bulgaria
Escorted to Cyprus by Royal Navy January 1, 1948
Crew and refugees interned in Cyprus
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*Altalena

Built 1944; former US Navy LST-138
Departed Fort Lauderdale; loaded munitions, 940 passengers in France
Arrived in Israel on June 22, 1948
Ran aground and burned on Tel Aviv beach after being fired
upon by Israeli army in dispute over division of arms
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*Mala/Calanit

Built 1898; former US presidential yacht USS Mayflower
Departed New York City; loaded 1,200 refugees in France
Landed in Israel July 11, 1948
Refugees became immediate citizens of new state of Israel
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*Both the Altalena and the Mala arrived in Israel after the declaration of statehood on May 15, 1948, so did not face the Royal Navy blockade.

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