The case of the Exodus
Les Actualités Françaises
First broadcast date
Episode of the famous voyage of the Exodus, a ship that was carrying Jews emigrating illegally from Europe to Palestine, in 1947.
These refugees, often survivors of Holocaust, turned back by British authorities at the entrance of the territorial waters of Palestine (where Jewish immigration was controlled), were reembarked on three ships.
On July 29,the ships stopped before Port-de-Bouc, but,after the refusal of prisoners to disembark and as the Franco-British talks were going on, they remained there until August 23. The French Government informed the immigrants of Exodus 47 that, if they consented, they would be given asylum on French soil where they would enjoy all freedoms.
75 exhausted passengers accepted the French proposal, but others refused categorically.
The case of Exodus 47 upset the world opinion and many emigrants have finally joined Israel, after the establishment of the State.
This case will have considerable weight in the partition of Palestine in 1947.
The French News (LAF) - Own production
- Contemporary historical challenges 19th-20th c.
- France - South East - Port de Bouc
The case of the Exodus
Jean Marie Guillon
It's now more than a week that three British liberty ships, transformed into prison ships, have been lying off Port-de-Bouc with 4,493 Jews on board. All of them want to go to Palestine, but they have been sent back by the British, who have a mandate over the territory. An international crisis which filled the town with journalists from all over the world. The sanitary conditions, in the heat of July, are terrible for the passengers, who incude 1,732 women and 955 children. More than half suffer from dysentery and a measle epidemic broke out on one of the ships. On July 30th the communist weekly Rouge Midi ran the headline "A Floating Auschwitz".
A two-fold trial of strength. The first pits the Zionist movement which organised the departure of these Jews from Eastern Europe, often survivors of the Nazi camps, and who want to impose the right of Jews to immigrate freely into Palestine, and the British authorities who control the Palestine Mandate who do not want a solution which goes against their Arab policies. The second trial of strength is between the British government and the French, led by the Socialist Ramadier, who, despite his Foreign Secretary Georges Bidault, supports the Jews who want to settle in Palestine. The Mossad, secret branch of the Haganah (the Jewish army), which organised the operation, plays the card of intransigence, dramatising the situation by refusing to let the ill and elderly go ashore. They hit hard, knowing that this would mediatise an affair which moved international opinion.
The operation began in November 1946 when Mossad purchased a packet steamer, the President Warfield, re-named the following year Exodus 1947. The operation was to transfer Jews from Germany to Palestine. On April 21st, after a debate and despite British objections, the French government decided to let their transfer and then embarkation take place from eight transit camps on the Mediterranean coast. Sete was chosen as the embarkation port on which 170 lorries had converged -- Sete was the political fief of Jules Moch, one of the ministers who had supported the transfer (as had interior minister Edouard Depreux). Leaving on July 10th, the Exodus arrived off the coast of Palestine on the 18th. Refusing to obey a Royal Navy order to stop, the Exodus was fired upon, killing 3 passnegers and wounding 200 others. Boarded, the ship was escorted to Haifa where the passengers were transferred on to three prison ships which took them back to France. Once they had arrived off Port-de-Bouc Mossad refused the French offer of welcome. They waited four weeks. Finally 135 elderly or sick people disembarked, thuogh Mossad's spokesperson had stated that "no one will disembark: neither women, nor the ill, nor children. We shall only take off the dead. Tell France that we thanks her ten times for her generous hospitality...we shall get off alive only in Palestine. Long live France!"
On August 21st the United Kingdom issued an ultimatum demanding disembarkation either in France or in Germany. The following day the Mossad organisers chose the latter. The ships left for Hamburg on the 22nd. The Exodus affair thus ended in a failure for everyone in the short term, but by attracting the attention of the world's press it was a step towards the recognition of state of Israel, which finally took place at the United Nations on May 14th 1948.
Jacques Derogy, Histoire de l'Exodus, Paris, Fayard, 1987.