Aliyah Bet

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 British Mandate of Palestine in violation of British restrictions against such immigration.

It was distinguished from "Aliyah Aleph" ("Aliyah 'A'") (Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet): the limited Jewish immigration British authorities did allow during the mandatory period.


In modern day Israel it has also been called the HaHa'apala ( _he. ההעפלה), which is also a Hebrew term used for the immigration by Jews to Palestine in violation of British restrictions against such immigration. 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, in an effort to rescue European Jews from the Holocaust; and then from 1945 to 1948 to find homes for displaced Jewish survivors (Sh'erit ha-Pletah) who were languishing in DP Camps. 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, commissioned the ships.


Post-World War II, Ha'apala journeys would typically start in the DP camps and move through one of two collection points in the American sector: Bad Reichenhall and Leipheim. From there, the refugees, including men, women, and children, would find their way by concealed trucks, foot, train, and other means to Mediterranean ports, where ships would seek to bring them to Palestine. More than 70,000 Jews arrived in Palestine using more than 100 boats.cite book|author=Reich, Bernard|title=A Brief History of Israel|pages=39-40|isbn=0-8160-5793-1]

American sector camps imposed no restrictions on the movements out of the camps, and American, French, and Italian officials would often turn a blind eye to the movements. Several UNRRA officials (in particular Elizabeth Robertson in Leipheim) would act as facilitators of the emigration. The British vehemently opposed the movement, placing restrictions on movements in and out of their camps and imposing an armed naval blockade to prevent immigrants from landing in Palestine.


Over 100,000 people attempted to illegally enter Mandatory Palestine in the course of 142 sailings by 120 ships. Over half were stopped by the blockade and sent to internment camps on Cyprus (Karaolos near Famagusta, Nicosia, Dhekelia, and Xylotumbou), Palestine (the Atlit detention camp), and Mauritius. The British held as many as 50,000 prisoners in these camps (see Jews in British camps on Cyprus). Over 1,600 drowned at sea and a few thousand managed to enter the British Mandate of Palestine.

The pivotal event in the Ha'apala program was the incident of the "Exodus 5707 (1947)", when British methods for stopping immigration got the public eye. The ship was intercepted, attacked, and boarded by British navy forces. It was diverted back to Europe, and after significant resistance from its passengers, the refugees were once again in Germany.


On October 3, 1939, a large group of immigrants sailed from Vienna on the river boat "Uranus" They were stopped at the Romanian border and forced to disembark at the old fortress town of Kladovo. About 1,100 refugees were stranded there , and 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 Bratislava down the Danube, with 514 passengers, mostly Betar members. On October 9, her boiler stopped working, and the ship was wrecked off Mytilene. The Italians managed to rescue all aboard, and transferred them to Rhodes. All, but two, were interned at Ferramonti di Tarsia Internment Camp in southern Italy, where they were when 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 Haifa on November 1st, followed by the "Milos". The British transferred the illegal immigrants to the French liner "Patria", for internment on the island of Mauritius. The Haganah smuggled a bomb on board to prevent the sailing. The explosive 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 Bulgarian schooner formerly named "Tsar Krum", left Burgas with 327 refugees. On December 12th the boat was wrecked in a violent storm in the Sea of Marmora, near Istanbul. 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). [http://www.erezlauferfilms] .

On December 11, 1941 the "Struma" sailed from Constanta, flying the Panamanian flag. The boat was torpedoed by the Russian 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 Bosporus.

On August 3, 1944 the "Mafkura" (or "Mefkure") sailed from Constanta with 350 persons on board. The boat travelled with the "Morino" and "Bulbul". The convoy encountered a storm, and the "Mefkure" was sunk by gunfire or torpedo from a German submarine. Of the 350 persons being transported, only five survived. They were picked up by the "Bulbul".


The Tiger Hill, (Aliyah Bet), formerly the was a 1,499 ton ship, built in 1887, sailed from Constanta on August 3 1939, with about 750 refugees aboard. She took on board the passengers from the Frossoula, another illegal immigrant ship that was marooned in Lebanon. On September 1, the first day of the war, she ran up on the beach at Tel Aviv after being fired upon by British gunboats. Hans Schneider, a Jewish refugee on the Tiger Hill, was the first victim of the conflict.


The success rate of the Aliyah Bet programme 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).


* [ Aliyah Bet and Machal Virtual Museum]
* [ "Aliyah During World War II and its Aftermath"] , "Jewish Virtual Library"
* United States Holocaust Memorial Museum - [ Aliyah Bet]
* [ Aliyah Bet Voyages Aliyah Bet Project] Aliyah Bet Voyages includes pictures and details of the boats of Aliyah Bet, ports of origin, dates of sailing, dates of arrival in Palestine and the number of immigrants on board.
* [] PBS Documentary Film focusing on the secret American involvement in Aliyah Bet, narrated by Morley Safer

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