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April 01, 1988 - Image 128

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-04-01

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Bon Bons





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For A Beautiful Shiva Tray

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You'll t
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Cystic Fibrosis

This space contributed as a public service.




A Thoughtful Expression...
With a
Cookie or Candy Tray

The Jews' Secret Fleet'
Tells Exciting Freedom Story



Special to The Jewish News

aifa — If there is one
thing that should be
• on the conscience of
American Jews it is that dur-
ing the Holocaust in Europe
and the refugee period im-
mediately following, there is
nothing that they really did
to meet the situation. They
went to mass meetings, they
protested, they gave money —
but what did they do, in the
sense of actual, physical deeds
which the circumstances call-
ed for?
If the collective reputation
of American Jewry can be
rescued at all, it is through
the personal contributions
made by several hundred
North American volunteers
who manned the ships which
between 1946 and 1948
transported over 30,000 "il-
legal" immigrants to
Palestine and smashed the
British blockade.
The hitherto untold story of
these dramatic episodes is
now revealed in an exciting
new volume, The Jews' Secret
Fleet, written by Joseph, M.
Hochstein and Murray
Greenfield, and published by
Gefen Books. Martin Gilbert
sets the historical
background in his
The purchase and equipp-
ing of the ships, the enlist-
ment of the volunteers to man
them, the loading of the
refugees from European
ports, and the confrontations
with the British fleet in the
Mediterranean all make a
dramatic story, only snatches
of which have been told
The book contains scores of
anecdotes which transform
this into a thrilling human
document. The most famous
of the vessels was the Exodus,
that took 4,500 refugees on
the first stage of an odyssey
which. turned out to be a
public relations fiasco for the
British, but there were others
as well — the Ben Hecht, the
Hatikvah, the Pan York and
Pan Crescent among them,
each with its own tale of
heroism, adventure and
The hundreds of American
boys who offered their ser-
vices did not all have naval
experience, and some of them
had long bouts with
seasickness before they got
their sea-legs. But as Paul
Shulman puts it in his
foreword: They "were not



World Zion ist Pres

YOU CARE . . .

The Theodor Herzl, an "illegal" immigrant ship captured by the British,
is brought into Haifa port in April 1947.

satisfied with the mere giving
of money. They saw the futili-
ty of the printed word and of
well turned speeches. They
believed direct action and per-
sonal involvement were
morally imperative, and they
did what was necessary for
the success of the Aliyah Bet
cause. They gave their time
and their will; their strength
and their determination.
They worked without pay,
without fanfare, without
reward or praise, and were
undeterred by the risks to
their lives."
A few of the anecdotes will
serve to illustrate the vitali-
ty of this chapter in recent
Once the ships had been
bought in the U.S., they were
sailed to Europe and prepared
for their human cargoes, all
under the cloak of secrecy.
When carpenters put long
rows of wooden bunks in the
hold, curious investigators
were told — and were satisfied
— that these were bins for the
shipping of bananas, unaware
that bananas are always ship-
ped in clusters, hung up.
Nothing went smoothly,
and if things could go wrong,
they usually did, but eventua-
ly ended up well. Thus, it has
been told that Danny Schind,
the organizational genius
from the Haganah in
Palestine, was put in charge
of the whole project by acci-
dent. The mission in New
York telephoned a request to
Palestine to send an expert on
ships. The request was
spoken with an accent, and
the word came out as
"sheeps." Schind, who had a
reputation for dealing with

sheep at his kibbutz, was
assigned — and did a superb
job, though at the outset he
knew nothing whatsoever
about ships.
Dummy companies were set
up for each ship. One was call-
ed the F.B. Shipping Com-
pany, and there was apparent-
ly truth to the report that the
name stood for F--- the
British, or F--- Bevin. But
when asked by one ship
owner what the name stood
for, the representative of the
"company" quickly answered:
"Far Better."
As the Pan Crescent was
preparing to sail from Venice,
Shulman noticed in his hotel
an American naval officer
whom he had once tangled
with when the two were in
the U.S. Navy, and Shulman
had ejected the other from a
"lb avoid being spotted,"
the book tells, "Shulman
hired a prostitute and in-
structed her to go to the
American captain and say
she was a present from an old
friend." When the American
captain walked off with the
girl, Shulman and his
Haganah associates left
without being seen.
Every one of the ten vessels
had its own exciting confron-
tation with British warships,
and each case had its own
tales of courage and
resourcefulness. What hap-
pened to all the principals?
About 25 percent of the
volunteers have made their
homes permanently in Israel.
And the ships? Some were
junked for scrap,
Some became the first ships
of Israel's merchant marine,

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