Thursday, May 1, 2008

Let not the world forget the name William Bernstein

A few nights ago I went our Temple and watched a screening of the 1997 documentary; "Exodus 1947" which told the story of the ship of the same name and how its' ill fated voyage from the East Coast of America to Europe with a final destination of Palestine turned the tide of world opinion and helped to create the Jewish state of Israel. Something I did not know was that William Bernstein (Pictured) an American Jew that was part of the ship's crew lost his life when he refused to give of the wheel of the Exodus 1947. English marines pumbled him with clubs into a coma which he never awoke from. He is buried, wrapped in an American flag, in Martyr's Row in Haifa cemetery. 20,000 mourners attended his Memorial service in Madison Square Park on 25th July 1947

Exodus 1947 was a ship carrying Jewish emigrants, that left France on July 11, 1947, with the intent of taking its passengers to Palestine, then controlled by the British. Most of the emigrants were Holocaust survivor refugees, who had no legal immigration certificates to Palestine. Following wide media coverage, the British Royal Navy seized the ship, and deported all its passengers back to Europe.
Early history
The ship was built in 1928 by Pussey and Jones Corp., Wilmington, Delaware, for the Baltimore Steam Packet Co.. Initially named President Warfield, it was intended to carry freight and passengers. On 12 June 1942 the ship was acquired by the War Shipping Administration, converted to transport and on 21 September transferred to the United Kingdom. After return to the US, it was commissioned by the US Navy as USS President Warfield (IX-169) on 21 May 1944. On 11 October 1945 President Warfield was removed from the Naval Vessel Register and on 14 November returned to the War Shipping Administration.[1]
Voyage history
On 9 November 1946 the ship was purchased from the War Shipping Administration by Potomac Shipwrecking Co. of Washington, D.C., eventually ending up with Hamossad Le'aliyah Bet — the underground Jewish organization in Palestine intent on helping underground Jewish immigrants enter Palestine. It was renamed Exodus 1947 after the biblical Jewish exodus from Egypt to Canaan.
The ship, with Yossi Harel (Hamburger) in command, sailed with 4,515 passengers from a small port outside Marseille on July 11, 1947, and arrived at Palestine shores on July 18. The British Royal Navy trailed the ship from very early in its voyage, and finally boarded it some 20 nautical miles (40 km) from shore. The boarding was challenged by the passengers (the ship was in international waters where the Royal Navy had no jurisdiction), and so the British soldiers used force. Three shipmates, including 1st mate William Bernstein, a U.S. sailor from San Francisco, died as a result of bludgeoning and several dozen others were injured before the ship was taken over.
Due to the high profile of the Exodus 1947 emigration ship, it was decided by the British government that the emigrants were to be deported back to France. Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin suggested this, and the request was relayed to General Sir Alan Cunningham, High Commissioner for Palestine,[2] who agreed with the plan after consulting the Navy.[3] Before then, captured immigrants were placed in internment camps on Cyprus. This new policy was meant to be a signal to both the Jewish community and the European countries which assisted immigration that whatever they sent to Palestine would be sent back to them.
Not only should it clearly establish the principle of REFOULEMENT as applies to a complete shipload of immigrants, but it will be most discouraging to the organisers of this traffic if the immigrants... end up by returning whence they came.[2]
The British sailed the commandeered ship into Haifa port, where its passengers were transferred to three more seaworthy deportation ships. The event was witnessed by members of UNSCOP. These ships, and the President Warfield, left Haifa harbour on July 19 for Port-de-Bouc. Foreign Secretary Bevin insisted that the French get their ship back as well as its passengers.[2]
When the deportation ships arrived at Port-de-Bouc near Marseilles on August 2, the emigrants refused to disembark, and the French refused to cooperate with British attempts at forced disembarkation. Realizing that they were not bound for Cyprus, the emigrants conducted a 24-hour hunger strike, refusing to cooperate with the British authorities.
While this was going on two British sergeants were hanged by the Irgun in retaliation for the British execution by hanging of a number of Irgun activists. The executed Irgun members were minor activists with no crimminal record with the exception of Dov Gruner.[4] That night an anti-Jewish riot broke out in Liverpool in which Jewish-owned shops were smashed and there were random attacks on Jews. Over the next few evenings attacks spread from Liverpool to Manchester and London with the authorities forced to place police guards in Jewish areas across Britain. Within a few days The Times reported that attacks on Jews were now taking place in daylight as well as at night. The Mayor of Liverpool appealed for calm, claiming that "not only property owned by Jews is being damaged...".[5]
During this time, media coverage of the human ordeal intensified and the British became pressed to find a solution. The matter also got the attention of the UNSCOP members who had been deliberating in Geneva. After three weeks, during which the prisoners on the ships held steady in difficult conditions rejecting offers of alternative destinations, the ships were sailed to Hamburg, Germany, which was then in the British occupation zone and where the emigrants could be forced off the ships and back to DP camps in Lübeck-Pöppendorf. Although most of the women and children disembarked voluntarily, the men had to be carried off by force.
Within a year, over half of the original Exodus 1947 passengers had made another attempt at emigrating to Palestine and were detained without trial in prison camps on Cyprus. Britain continued to hold the prisoners in Cyprus until January 1949 when it formally recognized the State of Israel and all surviving passengers made aliyah.
Historical importance
The ship's ordeals were widely covered by international media, and caused the British government much public embarrassment, especially after the refugees were forced to disembark in Germany. It is said that the events convinced the US government that the British mandate of Palestine was incapable of handling the Jewish refugees problem, and that a United Nations-brokered solution needed to be found. The US government then intensified its pressures on the British government to return its mandate to the UN, and the British in turn were willing to accept this.
The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) also covered the events. Some of its members were even present at Haifa port when the emigrants were removed from their ship onto the deportation ships, and later commented that this strong image helped them press for an immediate solution for Jewish immigration and the question of Palestine.
Cultural impact
In 1958, the book Exodus by Leon Uris, based partly on the story of the ship, was published, though the ship Exodus in the book is not the same but a smaller one and the "real" Exodus has been renamed.
In 1960, the film Exodus directed by Otto Preminger and starring Paul Newman, based on the above novel, was screened. It was filmed mostly in Israel and increased Israel's popularity worldwide.
In 1997, the documentary film, Exodus 1947, directed by Elizabeth Rodgers and Robby Henson and narrated by Morley Safer, was broadcast nationally in the USA on PBS television.

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