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U.S. sailors who brought survivors
to pre-state Palestine share stories.
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September 25 • 2008
ne by one, until they num-
bered more than a thousand,
they clambered up the bob-
bing rope and twine that God-fearing
sailors centuries ago dubbed Jacob's
It was Italy, May 1947. A bottomless
sea lay below, a dark night sky above.
The Jewish refugees finally were
leaving Europe and the ashes of the
Holocaust. They only had the bags on
their backs and the will to climb, rung
"Don't lose your footing! Don't get
They climbed higher and higher.
Out of the darkness came pairs
of hands and shouts of "Kumarof!"
— "Come on!" in Yiddish. Jewish sail-
ors from America — "Imagine, Jewish
sailors from America!" the refugees
marveled — were reaching down and
pulling them up over the sides of a
ship called "Hope," Hatikvah.
"It was like a miracle',' said Irit
Avriel, one of those refugees, her
face lighting up with the memory six
decades later. "For us, they were not
just sailors; they were angels."
More than 32,000 Jewish refugees
from Europe, just over half of the
total 60,000 who came to pre-state
Palestine, were brought over by North
American sailors — most of them
young Jewish men who served at sea
during World War II. They were part
of a clandestine operation known as
Aliyah Bet, which included the famed
At a gathering last year for pas-
sengers of Hatikvah hosted by one of
those Jewish sailors, the young people
who had climbed the rope ladder to
freedom so many years ago were full
of questions for the two former sailors
who came to share their stories.
"How were you recruited? Why did
you leave America to do this? When did
you know about the camps?" they asked.
The Jewish ex-sailors spoke about
their own European relatives and the
obligation they felt to help after the
A new documentary film about
North American Jewish sailors from
the Aliyah Bet operation, Waves of
Freedom, which was shown at the
Jerusalem Film Festival this summer,
is scheduled to come soon to Jewish
film festivals in the United States.
In late 1946, word had gone out in
the streets of U.S. cities that young
Jewish men with sailing experi-
ence were needed to help smuggle
Holocaust survivors across the
Mediterranean to Palestine. The mis-
Blockade on page A62