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About Ike Aranne, Captain of the 'Exodus' who died on December 23, 2009 at 86 years of age from the Jerusalem Post Internet Edition  E-mail
'Exodus' captain Ike Aranne dies at 86
Dec. 23, 2009

Ike Aranne, the captain of the famed refugee ship Exodus 1947, died in Hadera on Wednesday at the age of 86 after a long illness.

President Shimon Peres described Aranne as not only the ship's captain, but "its spirit" who "gave the voyage a special character."

Peres said the Exodus captain was a rare breed of pioneer, a unique, matchless individual with extraordinary courage and a great love for his people. Peres noted that the Exodus set sail at Aranne's initiative.

"He was tenacious, and he had tremendous leadership capacity. Ike wasn't keen on taking a path paved by someone else," Peres said in a statement released by Beit Hanassi. "He wanted to pave his own path, even at the risk of being a loner."

Aranne (formerly Yitzhak Aronowicz) was born in Danzig, Poland, and came to the country at the age of 10. Aranne later worked with ships and always loved the sea, his daughter, Ella said.

In an interview in The Jerusalem Post last year he said that he first became a seaman by bribing a "guy named Perlman a whole month's salary to arrange it." After sailing on various ships, Aranne took an officers course in London - for third, then second and then first officer.

In 1942, when he returned to Palestine, he heard about the Palmah, the strike force of the Hagana, which evolved into the IDF.

He found that they had established a naval branch called the Palyam, and wanted to join, so Aranne got his friend - the co-founder of the Palmah as well as its first commander - Yitzhak Sadeh, to help him.

At that time, the Palmah had no professional sailors at all. Since he already had eight months' experience at sea, he was considered practically an expert.

The Exodus was his first captaincy.

The story of the Exodus was turned into a popular novel by the legendary author Leon Uris in 1958, which in turn was the basis for the acclaimed movie starring Paul Newman in 1960. There was also a 1997 documentary about the Exodus narrated by CBS newsman Morley Safer.

In the Post interview, Aranne said of the book and movie that the story they presented "had nothing to do with reality - not because of my own story, but because of the situation as a whole."

Aranne's captaincy of the Exodus began on July 11, 1947, when the ship set sail from France with a crew of Hagana members transporting more than 4,500 Jewish refugees, most of them Holocaust survivors, to Palestine.

The British had declared Jewish immigration illegal to appease the Arabs. They intercepted all refugee ships en route and returned them to their ports of origin. As soon as the ship - originally called the SS President Warfield, left the port near Marseille, British naval boats began to follow it.

A week later, as it neared the coast of Eretz Yisrael, the British rammed and boarded it.

David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish community in Palestine, had given an order to surrender to the British, but Aranne and his crew disobeyed. He said that he felt that surrender had brought about the decision by the United Nations to divide Palestine.

Resistance by the crew and the passengers led to clashes that left three dead and dozens wounded.

The British then towed the ship to the Haifa and forced the passengers to board boats that would return them to France.

When they arrived in France, however, the passengers refused to disembark. French authorities also refused to cooperate with the British in forcing them to do so.

Under terrible conditions, due to overcrowding and a shortage of food - in an August heat wave, to boot - the passengers remained steadfast for nearly a month, until the British ordered the boats to head for Hamburg in Germany.

There, the exhausted, hungry and despondent refugees were taken to detention camps near Lübeck.

So soon after the Shoah, there was great international sympathy for the stateless Jews and Britain was pressured to change its policy. From then on, instead of sending "illegal" immigrants back to Europe, they would be sent to detention camps in Cyprus.

The UK continued to hold the detainees in Cyprus until January 1949 when it formally recognized the State of Israel.

Aranne's daughter, Ella, told the AP that the experience remained a pivotal part of his life for years afterward.

"It was one of the most important things of his life. He wasn't a big storyteller, but he'd happily tell schoolchildren about it," she said.

"The Exodus influenced him and his friends deeply. Those were the days that defined them and as far as they were concerned defined the character of this country."

From 1993 until his death, he lived in a house built like a ship, with rooms in a row and a faux mast and huge windows providing a view of the Mediterranean.

He lived in the house alone since the death of his wife, Irene, in 2001.

Aranne's funeral is scheduled for Friday in northern Israel. He is survived by two daughters, seven grandchildren, and a 2-year-old great-grandson.

Greer Fay Cashman, Jerusalem Post staff and AP contributed to this report.

Leon Uris 'Exodus' novel had nothing to do with reality, skipper said

Dec. 26, 2009
Ruthie Blum Leibowitz , THE JERUSALEM POST

Ike Aranne (formerly Yitzhak Aronowicz), the captain of the Exodus who died last week, told The Jerusalem Post's Ruthie Blum Leibowitz in an interview in his Zichron Ya'acov home in November 2008 that neither the Leon Uris's novel, Exodus, nor the film with Paul Newman bears any resemblance to the cold, hard facts.

Here is an extract from the interview:

What made you want to become a seaman?

That happened completely by accident. When I was 17, I wanted to fight Hitler. But I didn't want to join the [Jewish Brigade] of the British army, because they gave us lousy jobs. So I decided to go to Odessa and enlist in the Red Army. To do this, I stowed away on a [Histadrut-owned construction company] Solel Boneh ship. But I was caught on the way and returned home. When I got back, everybody told me I was all talk, and that I was just trying to show off and impress people. I was so embarrassed by this that I boarded a Palestinian ship that sailed from Haifa to Tobruk [in Libya].

You simply got on the ship and said you wanted to become a sailor?

No, it wasn't so simple. I had to bribe a guy named Perlman a whole month's salary to arrange it. After sailing on various ships, I did my officers' courses in London - for third, then second and then first officer. In 1942, when I returned to [pre-state] Israel, I heard that there was this thing called the Palmah [the first mobilized regiment of the Hagana, which preceded the IDF] that had a naval branch called the Palyam, and I wanted to join it. I got my friend, [cofounder of the Palmah and its first commanding officer] Yitzhak Sadeh, to help me. Now, at that time, there were other Jews here who sailed, but they did it to make a living - not as part of an ideological Zionist endeavor. And the Palmah had no sailors at all. Since I already had eight months' worth of experience at sea, I was considered practically an expert.

What about the Exodus?

It was the first ship of which I was captain. Six months earlier, I had become first officer - and I had four months missing to becoming a captain. But, because it was a boat from Honduras, where they didn't give a hoot about such regulations - I could do it. If that same boat had carried a British rather than a Honduran flag, there's no way I would have been made captain, because to become captain required seven years seatime, and I only had six and a half. [He is referring to the fact that after the ship was purchased by the Hagana from the American navy, which had anchored it, following its service in the allied invasion of Normandy, the Honduran Consulate gave it permission to sail under its flag.]

What was your experience on the ship?

We had a commander who was sent by [head of the Jewish Agency for Palestine who would become first prime minister of Israel] David Ben-Gurion. His name was Yossi Harel. [The character Ari Ben-Canaan, played by Paul Newman, is loosely based on him.] He died a year ago. He was a politruk brought to the ship to supervise us Palmahniks whom Ben-Gurion considered to be a bit nutty. And we told him he could go f**k himself. He was a guy who didn't even know what the inside of a ship looked like, let alone how it worked - though later he would go on to study naval architecture. Anyway, he got it in his head that the ship was going to sink. I told him he was talking nonsense - that the ship was not sinking.

Why did he think it was going to sink?

Because the British rammed it 20-odd times, so water began seeping in. But I tried to explain to him that the ship itself wasn't damaged at all. You see, this ship - originally called The President Warfield - was built for shallow water. [Named after the president of a shipping company in the Chesapeake Bay, it was originally a luxury liner that sailed between Baltimore, Maryland, and Norfolk, Virginia, during the years 1928-1940. In 1940-1, it was converted into a troop and supply ship for the British navy. Then it was assigned to the US navy, where it took part in the allied invasion of Normandy. It was the short draft of the ship that caused Aranne to notice \it in the first place at the ships' "graveyard" in Baltimore in 1946, and purchase it for the Hagana for the purpose of bringing Jewish refugees to Palestine. Its shallow draft is precisely what would enable it to get close enough to the coast of Palestine unhindered by boats that could sail only in deep water.]

Anyway, the point is that Harel was not a seaman, and didn't know anything about it. But he thought the ship was going to sink, and Ben-Gurion told him to surrender. So he surrendered.

How did you feel about that?

The crew and I were all against it. It was that surrender that brought about the decision of the United Nations to divide Palestine.

What was your opinion of Ben-Gurion?

Ben-Gurion is considered to be a great, daring leader, and it's complete nonsense. He thought that the Jewish people, without the support of America and the United Nations, would go kaput, which is ridiculous. It's now that we're kaput - or at least on the way there.

What is your most vivid memory from that episode?

My most emotional and horrible memory is Ben-Gurion's ordering Yossi Harel to surrender - and our surrendering.

Do you remember that day clearly?

Every aspect of it.

Did Leon Uris interview you prior to writing the book for the details you remember?

Yes he did, in 1956.

What emerged from that interview?

I told him that he was a very gifted writer, but not a historian, and therefore it shouldn't be he writing the history of the Exodus.

How did he react when you said that?

He was very offended. But, of course, I turned out to be right, because afterwards, he wrote a very good novel, but it had nothing to do with reality. Exodus, shmexodus.

Was it completely inaccurate?

I'm telling you, it had nothing to do with reality - not because of my own story, but because of the situation as a whole.

What happened on the Exodus caused the United Nations Special Commission on Palestine to divide Palestine into two states. The Palmah was against this decision, as were the Lehi [Stern group] and the IZL [Irgun]. We said that Israel had already been divided once in 1920 by Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann [Zionist leader, who later became the first president of Israel] after Balfour gave the declaration to have a Jewish state in 1917. And the Balfour Declaration was in favor of giving Palestine to us as a Jewish national home. That included all of Transjordan - which is eight times the size of Palestine, inhabited at the time by a mere 15,000 nomadic Beduin.

But then Ben-Gurion and Weizmann decided to give it to this guy from the Hejaz - Emir Abdullah - who wasn't even from Jordan. And that is how the Kingdom of Jordan was declared in 1920, against the decision of the League of Nations in 1917 to give Palestine to the Jewish people as a Jewish national home.

'Exodus' revisited: A sailor's tale 62 years on

Dec. 26, 2009

The passing of Exodus captain Yitzhak "Ike" Aronowicz last Wednesday marks the end of an era and a tribute to the founding of the state.

Aronowicz, who was 86 and lived in a ship-shaped home in Zichron Ya'akov, was laid to rest on Friday at the Kibbutz Givat Haim cemetery.

I never met the weather-beaten skipper but heard stories about him from my father, who was one of Ike's sailors on the famed Aliya Bet ship.

"As one of the crew members, I was saddened to hear about Ike," said Sam Schulman, 81, from New York. Schulman was one of some 200 American and Canadian volunteers who took part in the Aliya Bet operations, risking their lives on the high seas and against the British blockade.

"We were a bunch of kids back then... I was 18 and Ike was 23... but we grew up fast trying to get refugees out of Europe and bring them to Palestine," he reminisced. "What I remember most about Ike was his ability to grasp a situation quickly and make a decision with no regrets."

In particular, Schulman clearly remembers July 11, 1947, the day when the Exodus was sitting in France's southern port of Sète with its 4,515 passengers (including 655 children) ready to get clearance from the French to embark on the last leg of their long journey. When a local pilot failed to come aboard and help steer the ramshackled ship through the port's narrow passage ways (as a result of British pressure to detain the boat), Ike decided to go it alone and improvised a series of tricky maneuvers to get out to the Mediterranean Sea.

"That was a tough call and very risky," Schulman said. "I don't want to think about what would have happened if we crashed against a seawall with all our passengers."

The passengers had already seen their fair share of hardships; they were all Jewish refugees who had survived the Holocaust.

"They came bundled up in several layers of clothing plus a backpack, all their worldly goods," remembered Avi Livney, 83, a fellow crewmate of Schulman from New York who later made aliya and is today a member of Kibbutz Barkai. "Their trek had led them from concentration camps to displaced persons camps, to us."

But it wasn't smooth sailing after safely leaving France and making it to sea. Waiting for the Exodus was a British cruiser and a convoy of destroyers, which trailed the ship for several days before stopping it 20 nautical miles (40 kilometers) from the shores of Eretz Yisrael.

"On our last night, the British ships came in one at a time, rammed us, threw tear gas bombs and stun grenades, and succeeded in getting a large party of club-swinging marines on board," added Livney. "Three people were killed, including our second mate Bill Bernstein. Over a hundred were injured. By daybreak, we surrendered and were towed into Haifa."

From the end of World War II until the establishment of the State of Israel, "illegal" immigration was the main way of getting around the strictly enforced British policy of allowing only several hundred Jewish refugees into Palestine a month. From 1946-1948 more than 60 Aliya Bet ships were organized, but only a few managed to penetrate the British blockade and bring their passengers ashore. Most were stopped and sent to detention camps in Cyprus... All except the passengers on the Exodus, who were forced onto prison ships in Haifa and sent back to Europe.

Many of the crew members of the Exodus disembarked in Palestine with the aid of the Hagana, including Ike. Others, like Schulman, were asked to go undercover and stay with the refugees and help with logistics and coordination.

"We were under the impression that we were heading to Cyprus like all the other ships that had not managed to get through the blockade," Schulman said. "We were shocked to learn that we were being taken back to Europe."

The prison ships returned the refugees to France and then consequently to Germany, amid much controversy. The plight of the Exodus, followed by the international media, became a symbol of the struggle for open Jewish emigration to Palestine. After several months in detention camps, many of them did eventually find their way to Israel.

As for Sam Schulman, he got off in France and stayed in Europe to continue helping refugees get to Palestine. Several months later he reconnected with Livney and others on another Aliya Bet mission.

"The Exodus might have been the most famous of all the ships, but what many people don't know is that the Pan ships brought the largest number of refugees from Europe at one time," Schulman noted.

The Pan Crescent (also known by its Hebrew name, Atzmaut) and Pan York (Kibbutz Galuyot), nicknamed the "pans," left from the port of Burgas, Bulgaria, on December 27, 1947 - 62 years ago to the day - with over 15,000 immigrants. Several days later they were also stopped by British warships, after passing through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles in Turkey into the Aegean Sea toward the Mediterranean. The boats were forced to anchor at Famagusta, today on the Turkish side of Cyprus, and passengers placed in detention camps.

Schulman and Livney were two of the more than 50,000 interned by the British authorities in Cyprus. Some were detained for only several months and entered Palestine on the limited monthly quota, while others were there as long as two years and admitted only after independence.

The Hagana got Schulman out on the Jewish passenger liner the Kedmah under the alias of one of the immigrants approved by the monthly British quota. The next morning he disembarked in Haifa and headed south to the Negev to build a kibbutz with friends he knew from his youth movement days in France, and to fight in the War of Independence.

"I'm proud about the role that I played back then," said Schulman about his contribution to help Jewish immigrants get to Israel. "Those were important days of my life."

For Avi Livney, the sentiments were mutual. "I have truly had a most fortunate life. I've always been grateful to those who gave us an opportunity to serve in the Aliya Bet. We could have done no less."

Livney often likes to retell a story how one of his daughters once remarked, after learning about his past, that she felt like she was born in the wrong generation.

Every generation has its heroes. Ike Aronowicz, the volunteers of the Aliya Bet and the countless people who worked to establish the State of Israel will be remembered.