Re­vealed: how the Ex­o­dus Jews hit back

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY BERNARD JOSEPHS

HOLO­CAUST SUR­VIVORS whose ef­forts to reach Pales­tine af­ter the war were halted by the Royal Navy were sent in 1947 to grim camps in Ger­many and Aus­tria sur­rounded by barbed wire and watch­tow­ers.

But they did not go with­out a fight, ac­cord­ing to se­cret doc­u­ments re­leased this week by the Na­tional Ar­chive.

The strug­gle be­tween well-equipped troops and the refugees brought deep em­bar­rass­ment and in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism for the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment.

The “il­le­gal im­mi­grants” from the ship Ex­o­dus — cap­tained by Yossi Harel, who died last month — were sent to in­tern­ment in Ger­many as a re­sult of a gov­ern­ment de­ci­sion to get tough with Jews at­tempt­ing to break the Royal Navy’s block­ade of Pales­tine.

Se­cret Cabi­net min­utes show min­is­ters would not coun­te­nance “in any cir­cum­stances that [the refugees] be re­turned to Cyprus or Pales­tine”. In­stead, they would be sent back to Europe in three Bri­tish prison ships, in a move co­de­named Op­er­a­tion Oa­sis.

“It will be most dis­cour­ag­ing to the or­gan­is­ers of this traf­fic if they end up by re­turn­ing from whence they came,” said For­eign Sec­re­tary Ernest Bevin.

First port of call was Port-de-Bouc near Mar­seilles, but the French au­thor­i­ties would not aid Bri­tish at­tempts to force the refugees to dis­em­bark. A de­ci­sion was taken that the ships should pro­ceed to Ham­burg, in the Bri­tish zone of Ger­many, de­spite warn­ings from diplo­mats that “an an­nounce­ment of a de­ci­sion to send im­mi­grants back to Ger­many will pro­duce vi­o­lent, hos­tile out­burst in the press”.

In an at­tempt to de­flect crit­i­cism, the For­eign Of­fice is­sued a state­ment blam­ing “Zion­ist threats and pro­pa­ganda” for dis­suad­ing the refugees from dis­em­bark­ing in France. Yet the army re­ceived a se­cret White­hall memo or­der­ing that “dis­em­barka­tion will be car­ried out with the as­sis­tance of troops, and phys­i­cal force if nec­es­sary”.

There was recog­ni­tion that Bri­tish troops faced an un­pleas­ant task, and so they were sup­plied with fresh uni­forms and pro­vi­sions “in­clud­ing beer and cig­a­rettes”. Mean­while, “the Jews are thinly clad and sup­plies are short”.

A graphic de­scrip­tion of the bat­tle as dis­em­barka­tion be­gan was writ­ten by com­mand­ing of­fi­cer Lt Col Greg­son, who had served in Pales­tine and was placed in charge of the op­er­a­tion.

He re­ported that on the big­gest ship, the Em­pire Ri­val, the refugees dis­em­barked quickly, “stim­u­lated” by a home-made bomb they had hid­den.

On the Run­nymede Park, the of­fi­cer said he con­sid­ered us­ing tear gas against the refugees, but “if tear smoke is used there is al­ways a risk of a panic and in­juries. The Jew is li­able to panic.”

Para­troop­ers and mil­i­tary po­lice at­tempted to re­move the refugees from the holds of the ship, but “the Jews were fight­ing madly all the way”, wrote Lt Col Greg­son. “In sev­eral cases the re­sis­tance, even by chil­dren, was fa­nat­i­cal.”

Troops came un­der fire from refugees throw­ing “ev­ery avail­able weapon, from bis­cuit tins to bulks of tim­ber”. One sol­dier “was downed with half a dozen Jews on top kick­ing and tear­ing at him. About 90 per cent of the Jews had to be dragged up the stairs from the holds.”

A dif­fer­ent view was given by Noah Barou from the World Jewish Congress. “The dis­em­barka­tion was a very painful, heart­break­ing pic­ture. I con­sider the op­er­a­tion was, from the mil­i­tary point of view, very bad.

“The sol­diers were very young and I am told some were sta­tioned be­fore in Pales­tine. They went into the op­er­a­tion like a foot­ball team and did not un­der­stand the lan­guages of the refugees.”

Dr Barou said he had also wit­nessed vi­o­lence at one of the de­ten­tion camps, Pop­pen­dorf, in Aus­tria, where de­tainees had burnt an ef­figy of Bevin.

“I counted out 68 peo­ple be­ing car­ried out by sol­diers, four to eight sol­diers to each one. Over 20 were cov­ered in blood and car­ried on stretch­ers with their heads cov­ered. Many were shout­ing at the troops ‘Hitler com­man­dos’ and ‘gen­tle­men fas­cists’.”

Jewish MP Sid­ney Sil­ver­man vis­ited Pop­pen­dorf. He told the Cabi­net that the “en­tire place is sur­rounded with barbed wire... If the pol­icy of re­turn­ing th­ese peo­ple to Ger­many in th­ese con­di­tions is pre­sented to the whole world, it will be seen as wan­ton re­tal­i­a­tion.” Bernard Josephs has been given a life­time award by the Next Cen­tury Foun­da­tion


Jewish refugees are dragged off a prison ship de­ployed by the Bri­tish, 1947

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