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Aliyah Bet (Hebrew: 'עלייה ב), meaning "Aliyah 'B'" (bet being the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet) was the code name given to illegal immigration by Jews to the Palestine in violation of Britishmarker restrictions, in the years 1934-1948. In modern day Israel it has also been called by the Hebrew term Ha'apala ( ).

It was distinguished from Aliyah Aleph ("Aliyah 'A'") (Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet): the limited Jewish immigration permitted by British authorities in the same period.


During Ha'apala, several Jewish organizations worked together to facilitate immigration beyond the established quotas. As persecution of Jews intensified in Europe during the Nazi era, the urgency driving the immigration also became more acute. Those who participated in the immigration efforts consistently refused to term it "illegal", instead calling it "clandestine."

Ha'apala occurred in two phases. First, from 1934 to 1942, it was an effort to enable European Jews to escape Nazi persecution and murder. Then, from 1945 to 1948, it was an effort to find homes for Jewish survivors of the Nazi crimes (Sh'erit ha-Pletah) who were among the millions of displaced persons ("DPs") languishing in refugee camps in occupied Germanymarker. During the first phase, several organizations (including Revisionists) led the effort; after World War II, the Mossad Le'aliyah Bet ("the Institute for Aliyah B"), an arm of the Haganah, took charge.


The journey of Aliyah Bet Group 14
Post-World War II, Ha'apala journeys typically started in the DP camps and moved through one of two collection points in the Americamarker occupation sector, Bad Reichenhallmarker and Leipheimmarker. From there, the refugees travelled in disguised trucks, on foot, or by train to ports on the Mediterranean Seamarker, where ships brought them to Palestine. More than 70,000 Jews arrived in Palestine using more than 100 ships.

American sector camps imposed no restrictions on the movements out of the camps, and American, French, and Italian officials often turned a blind eye to the movements. Several UNRRA officials (in particular Elizabeth Robertson in Leipheim) acted as facilitators of the emigration. The British government vehemently opposed the movement, and restricted movement in and out of their camps. Britain also set up armed naval patrols to prevent immigrants from landing in Palestine.


Over 100,000 people attempted to illegally enter Palestine. There were 142 voyages by 120 ships. Over half were stopped by the British patrols. Most of the intercepted immigrants were sent to internment camps in Cyprusmarker: (Karaolos near Famagustamarker, Nicosiamarker, Dhekeliamarker, and Xylotumbou). Some were sent to the Atlit detention campmarker in Palestine, and some to Mauritiusmarker. The British held as many as 50,000 people in these camps (see Jews in British camps on Cyprus). Over 1,600 drowned at sea. Only a few thousand actually entered Palestine.

The pivotal event in the Ha'apala program was the incident of the SS Exodus in 1947. The Exodus was intercepted, attacked, and boarded by the British patrol. Despite significant resistance from its passengers, Exodus was forcibly returned to Europe. Its passengers were eventually sent back to Germany. This was publicized, to the great embarrassment of the British government.

A particularly "brilliant" account of Aliyah Bet is given by journalist I. F. Stone in his 1946 book Underground to Palestine, an first-person account of traveling with European displaced persons attempting ot reach the Jewish homeland.


The Tiger Hill, a 1,499 ton ship, built in 1887, sailed from Constanta on August 3, 1939, with about 750 immigrants on board. She took on board the passengers from the Frossoula, another illegal immigrant ship that was marooned in Lebanonmarker. On September 1, the first day of World War II, the Tiger Hill was intercepted and fired on by British gunboats off Tel Avivmarker, and was beached. Hans Schneider, a Jewish refugee on the Tiger Hill, was killed. He may have been the first fatal casualty of World War II.


On October 3, 1939, a large group of immigrants sailed from Viennamarker on the river boat Uranus, down the Danube. At the Romanianmarker border, the Uranus was stopped and the immigrants were forced to disembark at the old fortress town of Kladovo in Yugoslavia. About 1,100 refugees were stranded there. In May, 1941, they were still in Yugoslavia, where 915 of them were caught and eventually killed by the invading Nazis.

On May 18, 1940, the old Italian paddle steamer Pencho sailed from Bratislavamarker, with 514 passengers, mostly Betar members. The Pencho sailed down the Danube to the Black Seamarker and into the Aegean Seamarker. On October 9, her engines stopped working, and she was wrecked off Mytilenemarker, in the Italian-ruled Dodecanese Islands. The Italians rescued the passengers and took them to Rhodesmarker. All but two were then placed in an internment camp at Ferramonti di Tarsia in southern Italy. They were held there until Allied forces liberated the area in September 1943. The story of the Pencho was published as Odyssey, by John Bierman.

In October 1940, a large group of refugees was allowed to leave Vienna. The exodus was organized by Berthold Storfer, a Jewish businessman who worked under Adolph Eichmann. They took four river boats, Uranus, Schönbrunn, Helios, and Melk, down the Danube to Romania, where the Uranus passengers, approximately 1,000, boarded the Pacific, and sailed on October 11, 1940. They arrived at Haifamarker on November 1, followed by the Milos. The British transferred all the immigrants to the Frenchmarker liner Patria, intending to take them for internment to Mauritius. To stop the Patria from sailing, the Haganah smuggled a bomb on board. The explosion blew a hole in the side of the ship, which capsized, killing 267 persons. The British, by order of Winston Churchill, allowed the survivors to remain in Palestine.

In December 1940 the Salvador, a small Bulgarianmarker schooner formerly named Tsar Krum, left Burgasmarker with 327 refugees. On December 12 the Salvador was wrecked in a violent storm in the Sea of Marmoramarker, near Istanbulmarker. 223 persons, including 66 children, lost their lives. The survivors were taken to Istanbul. 125 survivors were deported back to Bulgaria, and the remaining 70 left on the Darien (No. 66). [87594].

On December 11, 1941 the Struma sailed from Constantamarker, flying the Panamanianmarker flag. The Struma was torpedoed and sunk by the Sovietmarker submarine SC-213 on February 24, 1942. 770 lives were lost. There was one survivor.

On September 20, 1942 the Europa sailed from Romania, with twenty-one passengers. The boat was wrecked in the Bosporusmarker.

On August 5, 1944, the Mefkura (or Mefkure) sailed from Constanta with 350 persons on board. The ship travelled with the Morino and Bulbul. During the night the Mefkura was sunk by gunfire/torpedo from by the Sovietmarker submarine SC-215. Of the 350 persons being transported, only five survived. They were picked up by the Bulbul.


The success of Aliyah Bet was modest when measured in terms of the numbers who succeeded in entering Palestine. But it proved to be a unifying force both for the Jewish community in Palestine (the Yishuv) and for the Holocaust-survivor refugees in Europe (Sh'erit ha-Pletah).


  1. The first draft of Israeli history: The great radical journalist I.F. Stone journeyed to Europe and Palestine in 1946 to report on the plight of Jewish DPs,John R. MacArthur, Nextbook, May. 25, 2009 [1]

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