February 5, 2007
UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM LAUNCHES SEARCH FOR PASSENGERS OF THE REFUGEE SHIP EXODUS 1947
First Project to Identify All Exodus Passengers Undertaken By Museum’s Registry of Holocaust Survivors In Conjunction With Central Zionist Archives, the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Registry of Holocaust survivors, in conjunction with the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem, is searching for information on passengers of the refugee ship Exodus 1947. Professor Meier Schwarz, head of the Exodus Survivors Convention Committee, has located 1,800 of the approximately 4,500 original passengers. Now, the Museum is working with him to locate other passengers currently or formerly living in Europe, Israel, South America, the United States, and Canada. This effort aims to create the first complete manifest of this historic voyage.
The Museum is searching for information, testimony, artifacts, film, and photographs from the voyage undertaken 60 years ago this summer. Passenger names will be added to the Museum’s Benjamin and Vladka Meed Registry of Holocaust Survivors.
Anyone with information about an Exodus passenger should contact U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum curator Genya Markon at 202-488-6108 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Exodus 1947
Following World War II, many Holocaust survivors were unable or unwilling to return to their native countries and were living in displaced persons camps scattered throughout Europe. Many wanted to immigrate to Palestine, then under British rule, but British policies prohibited virtually all Jewish immigration. Jewish organizations aimed to draw international attention to the refugees’ plight by staging a mass illegal immigration to Palestine in July 1947 when delegates of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine would be on a fact finding visit to the region.
The Mosad L’Aliya Bet (The Agency for Illegal Immigration), based in Palestine and France, oversaw the purchase and outfitting of the U.S. ship, the President Warfield in Baltimore harbor. The ship was used by the British in World War II under the Lend-Lease Act—it participated in the Normandy landing—and upon return to the U.S. served as a Chesapeake Bay pleasure steamer. The President Warfield sailed for the port of Sete, France, where in July 1947 it took on board more than 4,500 Jewish refugees. The refugees had clandestinely traveled to France from Germany to take part in the mission. They were joined by Methodist minister John Stanley Grauel, who served as official observer for the American Christian Palestine Committee. Once seaborne and within a few days of reaching Palestine, the ship was renamed the Exodus 1947.
When several days later, the ship reached the coast of Palestine, the British navy refused to let the vessel dock. An ensuing struggle left two passengers and one Jewish crew member dead. Many others suffered bullet wounds and other injuries. The British eventually transferred the passengers to three British warships and sailed for France. Upon arrival in France, the passengers refused to disembark, nor would the French authorities forcibly remove them. For nearly two months they lived on ship in deplorable conditions, later described by British seamen as resembling “a floating Auschwitz” and launched a hunger strike to protest their treatment. Finally the ship was sent to Hamburg, Germany, where the passengers were removed, by force if necessary, and sent to the Poppendorf and Amstau displaced persons camps in the British zone of occupation. By the time of the founding of the State of Israel more than a year later in May 1948, most had found their way, illegally, to the shores of Palestine.
The Exodus incident played an important role in fostering public awareness and support for the creation of the State of Israel. International outrage at the refugees’ treatment at the hands of the British resulted in an outpouring of sympathy for the refugees.
The Benjamin and Vladka Meed Survivor’s Registry is a voluntary database used to document the lives of survivors who came to the United States and other countries after World War II. It was created to document the experiences of survivors and help survivors search for relatives and friends. The Registry now includes over 195,000 records related to survivors and their families from all over the world. Created in 1981 by the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, the Registry has been developed and maintained by the Museum since 1993.
Situated among our national monuments to freedom, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is both a memorial to the past and a living reminder of the moral obligations of individuals and societies. The Museum fulfills its mission through a public/private partnership in which federal support guarantees the institution’s permanence and hundreds of thousands of donors nationwide make possible its educational activities and global outreach. More than 24 million people – including more than 8 million schoolchildren – have visited the Museum since it opened in 1993, and through its Web site, traveling exhibitions and educational programs, the Museum reaches millions more every year. For more information, visit www.ushmm.org.