Exodus 1947 Ship Sails from France to Israel with 4,500 Holocaust survivors
On This Day in Jewish History: July 11, 1947
On this day 4,500 Jewish Refugees sail on board the SS Exodus. The ship that made the world stand still, as British forces refused to allow her passengers, all Displaced Persons who were Holocaust survivors, to emigrate to the British Mandate of Palestine. The Haganah crew and all the ship’s passengers held a 24 day long hunger strike which forced the world to pay attention to the plight of the Jewish people.
Originally named the SS President Warfield, she was built in the United States in 1928 and cruised the Chesapeake Bay between Maryland and Virginia for nearly 10 years before she was used to transfer personnel on D-Day and the invasion of Normandy in June of 1944, during the height of World War II. After the war the ship was returned to the US, but fate had yet another role for her to play on the world stage when the Warfield was purchased by the Haganah (Jewish Resistance in the British Mandate of Palestine). Their goal was to “illegally”transport thousands of Jews, all of whom were Holocaust survivors with little to no families or homes to return to in Europe into the Land of Israel.
In July of 1947, the ship was renamed the Exodus 1947, and carried over 4,500 Jewish refugees, men, women and children, setting out from Sete, France and making way towards the port of Haifa. But before they could reach the Holy Land, British Naval Forces captured the ship on July 18th, surrounding it and engaging both crew and passengers in a fire fight which claimed the life of one Jewish crew member and two passengers. They towed the ship into the port of Haifa, where passengers were forcibly removed and transferred to three British transport ships, which took the refugees back to Europe.
Once back in France, the British ordered the passengers to disembark, the passengers, many of them orphans, refused to do so and declared a hunger strike. Both French and British Forces were afraid of international public opinion, so they decided to wait it out. The ships sat in the Port de Bouc, France for 24 days, in the intense summer heat and the passengers still holding onto their hunger strike. The British Navy then towed the ships to Hamburg, Germany where the Holocaust survivors were forcibly removed and interned in camps once more.
The British decision to put Jewish Holocaust survivors in camps in Germany once again was met with outrage and mass protests all over the world. There were hunger strikes and calls of sympathy for the Jews from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Their plight and that of the entire Jewish People became the spark that lit the flame which eventually led to the Independence of Israel in May of 1948. Zionism now gained the attention of the whole world, the struggle of the Jewish People to return to their indigenous homeland and declare their right to self determination.
There were many ships and incidents like that of the Exodus 1947, when Jews looked for refuge all over the world, but no nation was willing to take them in. They had nowhere to go, so they decided to fight, however they could, to reclaim their ancient homeland. Now more than ever, the vision of Theodore Herzl and other early Zionist leaders was no longer just a reality, it was a necessity. So the Jews would no longer be “lambs led to the slaughter”, but would become lions and wolves fighting with all of their might for their right to live, their right to exist, and the Hope to live in freedom in the land of Zion and Jerusalem.