Refugee ship 'Exodus' captain dies

Ike Aranne, the captain of the iconic 1947 refugee ship Exodus, has died in Israel, aged 86.

Tributes have flowed in for the man born Yitzchak Aronovitz in Danzig, Poland. He came to pre-state Israel in 1933, aged 10.

The Exodus set sail at Aranne's initiative and Israel's president, Shimon Peres, described him as not only the ship's captain, but "its spirit, who gave the voyage a special character."

It was Aranne's first captaincy, on the basis of a whole eight months of sailing experience. The voyage began on July 11, 1947, when the ship set sail from France with a crew of Hagana members transporting more than 4,500 Jewish refugees, most of them Holocaust survivors, to Palestine.

The British had declared Jewish immigration illegal, and were intercepting all refugee ships en route and returned them to their ports of origin. As soon as the ship Exodus, once known as SS President Warfield, left France, British naval boats began to follow it.

A week later, as it neared the coast of Israel, the British rammed and boarded it. Aranne, in defiance of the orders from commander Yossi Harel, who died last year, mounted a resistance to the British.

Aranne's daughter, Ella, told the AP news agency that the experience remained a pivotal part of his life for years afterward.

"It was one of the most important things of his life. He wasn't a big storyteller, but he'd happily tell schoolchildren about it," she said.

"The Exodus influenced him and his friends deeply. Those were the days that defined them and as far as they were concerned defined the character of this country."

From 1993 until his death, Aranne lived in Hadera, in northern Israel, in a house built like a ship, with rooms in a row and a fake mast and huge windows providing a view of the Mediterranean.

He is survived by two daughters, seven grandchildren, and a two-year-old great-grandson.

Last updated: 11:21am, December 29 2009