On this day: Departure of the Exodus

July 11 1947: Defiance on board

By Jennifer Lipman, July 11, 2011

Perhaps the most famous ship in Israel's history, the Exodus was by no means the only refugee ship that attempted to take European Jews to Palestine, but it was perhaps the most iconic.

The ship, part of the Aliyah Bet operation, departed from France, with more than 4,500 passengers. The majority of them were Holocaust survivors and among them were 655 children.

The British government was determined to prevent what it viewed as illegal immigration, and the Royal Navy boarded the ship before it was able to dock.

The clashes that followed led to the deaths of three people – two immigrants and a member of the crew - with some 30 injured.

Most of the passengers were then forced to prison ships with the intention of them being sent back to France, but on return to Europe the passengers refused to disembark and conducted a 24-day hunger strike.

It took until August 22 for the British to take action, this time by diverting the boat to Germany where the passengers were forcibly removed and sent to displaced persons camps.

The incident was a turning point, as photographs and news reports of the clash and the hunger strike were seen around the world. The story was immortalised by writer Leon Uris in 1958, and later became a successful film starring Paul Newman.

What the JC said: [She] described the gaping hole in the side of the refugee ship as she streamed into Haifa harbour, flying the Zionist flag, and under the control of her own crew…she said that when the first party succeeded in landing on the bridge of the ship, they took control for a few moments…The ship has been shadowed from the time of its departure from Europe. The only person aboard the Exodus who had arms was the captain, who was obliged to carry firearms. The tear-gas bombs that had been hurled at the naval vessels were bombs that had been thrown by the naval boarding parties from the destroyers in the Exodus, and had then been thrown back.

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Last updated: 9:24am, July 11 2011