After the end of the war, thousands of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust were left homeless and without families, with nowhere to go. Now they were refugees, survivors of a pitiless extermination policy, heading for the place which meant hope and a future.
A burning, bitter, all-consuming hatred drove the Jews of Eastern Europe. They hated the Germans who had destroyed their corporate life; they hated the Poles and Czechs, the Hungarians and Rumanians, the Austrians and the Balts who had helped the Germans; they hated the British and the Americans, the Russians and the Christians who had left them, so it seemed to them, to their fate. They hated Europe, they held its precious laws in contempt, they owed nothing to its peoples. They wanted to get out.
And so again Palestine seemed the obvious destination. But British policy had not changed. In fact it was enforced more forcefully than ever. Transports were organized by the Mossad l’Aliyah Bet, an arm of the Haganah. Jewish survivors were in Displaced Persons Camps in Germany, others were in Poland, Romania and other countries. Anti-semitic incidents in Poland occurred, culminating in the pogrom in Kielce in July 1946. Spontaneously thousands of Jews decided to leave and go west. This was the B’richah (Escape) at first disorganized and then organized by the Haganah. These were the people who became the passengers of the Aliyah Bet ships of the postwar period.
In America, many young men, veterans, were recruited and ships were purchased surreptitiously for use in this traffic. Ten ships came from America manned by American volunteers, of which the most famous was the Exodus. The continuation of shiploads of Holocaust survivors arriving in Palestine under the guns of the Royal Navy eventually broke down British resistance, leading Britain in 1947 to give up her mandate in Palestine. On May 15, 1948, it ended and the creation of the State of Israel was announced.
Aliyah Bet was a potent weapon in the fight for Jewish statehood. It was one of the main areas where the Jews could fight the British. The image of Britain’s proud warships fighting impoverished Holocaust survivors could have only one ending. Thousands of people were saved before and during the war, and thousands more rescued from hopelessness afterwards.