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The Exodus-1947 Story

.Exodus 1947  -  As remembered by Yochanan and Rivka Levy (Hans and Regine Loewy) and additional sources

Halamish: ‘Exodus – The Real Story

(Hebrew edition) Tel Aviv University; Am Oved, Tel Aviv, 1990

Jacques Derogy:  ‘La Loi du Retour’, (French edition) Fayard, 1969.

Anita Shapira, editor: ‘Haapala’, (Hebrew) Studies in the History of Illegal Immigration into Palestine 1934-1948; Aviva Halamish:’ The Exodus sea battle on the shores of Israel’, pp. 302-333. Tel Aviv University; Am Oved, Tel Aviv, 1990.

Hans (20) and Regine (19) Loewy

‘Illegal Immigration’   -  Aliya B’[1].

The offices of the Federation of Jewish Societies in France[2]  (FSJF) and ‘Hehalutz’  worked from the same building in Marseilles where I lived with my parents in 1940-1941.  The Hehalutz Group organized for the incoming holocaust refugees eleven reception camps[3] from Bandol, East of Marseilles, to Salon on the river Rhone.  The total capacity of these camps was about 1,650 persons.  At the disposal of the Hehalutz Group were also two large former French army camps at Grand Arenas with a capacity of 10,000 persons.  All these camps were equipped by the American Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC - ‘Joint’).


Preparations for the ‘Exodus 1947’ sailing

Arrival of Holocaust survivors scheduled to sail.

On June 30, 1947 the first group of holocaust survivors arrived by rail at Le Canet freight depot near Marseilles harbor. A total of 6,000 refugees arrived by five trains. Forty ‘Overland’ trucks, each  to transport 30 refugees, brought the refugees from the trains to different camps in the Marseilles region.  These refugees, from the camps in Germany,  were clad in a kind of yellow-brown ‘uniform’.  The origin of these hand sewn uniforms was US Army blankets, handed out in the camps.    5,000 refugees, scheduled to board the next boat were in the camps by July 7, 1947.


The organization of transportation.

172 trucks were hired for bringing people from the camps to the harbor; of them 20 on standby, in case of hitches on the 200 km trip.  A reconnaissance fleet of 20 taxicabs was also recruited, for the use of personnel from Alyia B’ to cruise along the convoys for control and emergency repairs  in case of need.


In these very days French Trade Unions declared a transportation strike. Hehalutz made the Drivers Union a gift of one million francs, ostensibly  a  ‘cash contribution’. In exchange the Trade Unions bestowed upon Hehalutz transit passes to allow moving through strikers’ roadblocks.


Moving the crowd

On Wednesday night, between July 9 and 10, 1947, the starting signal was given.  Refugees and local Jews  -  among them Rivka and I – were to board the trucks between 22:00 and 03:00 hours.  A total of 12 convoys, of 12 to 13 trucks each, started from the camps at intervals of 50 km between them, and by different  roads.


The first trucks were programmed to reach Sete harbor, at a distance of approximately 200 km from the different camps, at  about 03:00 hours.  Control and regulation points were established in Arles and Salon.  Five hours on the road necessitated, of course, to take into consideration rest  stops for the comfort of the travelers.  The consequence was that here and there a vehicle left the convoy, and it was necessary for all the trucks in the convoy to wait for it to resume its place in the convoy.  The last point of rendezvous was at about ten km from Sete harbor.


Escorting the convoys

Rivka and I were ordered to join the convoy trucks at Caillol-A’ camp..  Our function, as French speakers, was to represent the immigrants at road blocks with the police and strikers.  Our duty was also to make the drivers respect the time tables for arrival at check points on the road.  The escort sat beside the driver; he or she  was given sealed envelops with directions for the  roads to be taken and the time table for the arrival at check points. 


An additional problem in these days was to find supply points of wood for the gasogene burners that had to be  replenished every ten to fifteen km. The time taken to replenish the burners was taken into consideration in the marching orders.


The initial time table became distorted when stretches of the road were closed and opened alternately, because of the 1947 Tour de France race between Montpellier and Carcassonne.  Newspaper photographers and cameramen from MGM and other services -  CNN did not exist then - were stationed all along the road and also ‘perpetuated’ by the same token the passage of some of our convoys.  These photographs  represented excellent evidence for British Intelligence.  As a consequence of all these delays, our convoy reached Sete only at 05:00 hours.


‘SS President Warfield’

Our truck entered Sete harbor in the early hours of the morning.  There were lines upon lines of trucks with refugees on board that came in before us.  We, the escorts, had to wait for a long time before we reached our objective: the gangway of the American river boat, lying low in the water, SS President Warfield

[1]  The Institute for Illegal Immigration –  in Hebrew: Hamossad le-Alyia B’.

[2]  Organizations who acted in direct concert with ‘Hehalutz’ (Pioneers) and the ‘Aliya B’ Institution,    24, Rue des Convalescents, Marseille

[3]  La Madrague de Montredon in Marseille, La Ciotat, Le Bec d’Aigle, Bandol, Billa Barry; the logistic centers were in Saint Jerôme, Villa les Tilleuls.


The cruises in the Mediterranean of the Exodus-1947 Ma'apilim
Interactive map
Move the mouse over the bubbles on the map

Exodus route from the port of Set to Haifa ---> ---
A sailing route of the 3 exile ships from the port of Haifa to Port de Bock and Gibraltar ---> ---

Friday, July 11

The President Warfield started its engine and left the quay at 03:30 o'clock on Friday, July 11, 1947 without a pilot. One of the ropes fell into the water and became entangled in the Propeller of the ship. A sailor had to dive under the ship in order to untangle it. A short while later the ship became stuck on the sandy bottom of the shallow harbor and also collided with the pier. Hard work had to be done until the " President " succeeded to leave Sète harbor on Friday morning at 06:30 AM.

As soon as the ‘President’ reached the open sea she was spotted by the British Navy; this came as no surprise since it was impossible to completely hide her outfitting. The destroyer ‘HMS Mermaid’ began to escort the ‘President’ from the moment she reached the Mediterranean.

Saturday, July 12

Another warship closes in on us. Two aircraft from her deck fly about 20 meters above us and photograph our boat continuously. Our progress is intentionally slow - about 12 to 13 knots - in order not reveal the maximum speed our boat is able to develop. At midnight we advance our watches one hour. The sea is calm.

In the afternoon hours the boat sails by Pantelleria island in the Sicily straights. The sea is getting higher. During the night a baby is born – one more passenger on board.

Sunday, July 13

An American freighter closes in to salute us. A British destroyer makes a courtesy visit on her board. Another baby is born. At noon the boat sails near Malta. During the night two more British vessels come to escort us: destroyer R36 and cruiser ‘Ajax’.

Monday, July 14

Loudspeakers play the French hymn, ‘La Marseillaise’, in honor of the French Independence Day. The ship stops in her tracks because of engine trouble. It is a hot day and there is no breeze. Sewage pipes are blocked. Daily water ration is down to half a liter per person.

Tuesday, July 15

The ship’s new name is announced on loudspeakers: “Exodus 1947”. Passengers prepare placards 9 and national flags. The young mother who gave birth on Monday passes away. The ship stops its engine at 18:00 hours while her young body is lowered into the waves. The baby is given to a young mother suckling a child.

Wednesday, July 16

The British Navy escorts the Exodus with five destroyers under the command of the light cruiser ‘Ajax’. Along the Libyan shores two more vessels, minesweepers, come to escort us. Our commander and our captain feel the moment of combat is nearing. Since 01:00 AM the ship sails along the Egyptian shores. At 02:00 AM begins the destruction of documents and passports.

Friday, July 18th   The Battle

At 01:52 the British destroyers are ordered to "take battle positions."

At 02:42 the captain of the Exodus reports to the headquarters the location of the ship. 20 miles west of Gaza beach. At the same time, the British destroyers received orders to board the Marines on the Exodus.

At 5:15 the battle was over.

Friday the 18th July

Entry to Haifa Port.

The Exodus moved on its own at 13 knots, accompanied by British naval units. The entrance to the port was around 16:00 On board the Exodus spontaneously the immigrants brake out in the ‘Hatikwa’ hymn. Finally it was connected to the pier at 16:30.

Saturday 20th July

The 3 deportation ships leave the port of Haifa. ‘Empire Rival’, ‘Ocean Vigor ‘ and ‘Runnymede Park’ . The transfer by force to the prison ships is completed by 05:30. The ships leave the port between 06:00 and 06:30 and sail west.

Saturday 26th July

The deportation ships pass through the island of Pantalria.

Monday 28th July

The ships have already been sailing for 10 days, since the immigrants boarded them in Haifa for a "short 18-hour cruise".

Friday 22th August

At 18:00 the 3 deportation ships leave Port de Bouc towards Gibraltar and Hamburg harbor in Germany.  Twenty-five tons of food were loaded on the three deportation ships.

Outside the bay, at sea, a storm is taking place.

Saturday 29th July

The deportation-prison ships enter French territorial waters through the narrow Port-de-Bouc channel. The ships are supposed to drop anchor in the harbor by 04:00 hours but reach it only at 07:00 hours. The British units are not allowed to approach the French coast and remain outside the four miles limit.

Tuesday 26 August

The deportation ships anchored in the port of Gibraltar before the passage of the Besskaya and the arrival at the port of Hamburg in Germany.

The ships are loading coal. At night the harbor is illuminated by powerful searchlights and in the vicinity of the ships are dropping depth bombs, preventing a possible approach by Israeli commandos to sabotage the ships.

Friday, August 29th

Between 07:00 and 09:00, the three deportation ships are sailing from the port of Gibraltar. The sky was clouded and the ships swinging in the stormy sea. The immigrants do not stop throwing up.

The journey of the Exodus-1947's Ma'apilim from the port of Sete to Haifa and back to Port-de-Bouc and  Hamburg,

as Hans Loewy sketched in his copybook, when he arrived at the Poeppendorf's DP camp

More videos that tell the historical story

A collection of photographs that tell the historical story

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