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Purity of Arms

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Aryeh (Leon) Malkin  E-mail
Aryeh MalkinI was born in 1921 in New York City.  I joined the Hashomer Hatzair Youth movement when I was 11-years-old and was strongly attracted to the idea of making Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael and living in a kibbutz. In June of 1942 I was inducted into the US Army. In October of 1943 I was shipped over to England in a unit that was created especially to repair tires (my civilian trade). On June 11 of 1944 my unit landed on Omaha Beach and, within one hour after landing, started to repair tires. My unit was attached to a mechanized corps of the First Army and I  went with that Corps from Normandy through Paris to the border of Belgium and on through the Walloon region of Belgium to Aachen and Bonn: V-Day found us at Kassel, in the middle of Germany. I returned to the USA in November of 1945, and only then could I start  making plans for Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael.

While checking the various options that I had at that time, a Shaliach of the movement came to the communal apartment that I and my friends were living at in the Bronx, and told us that the Haganah had purchased two Canadian corvettes and wanted members of the Zionist Youth movements to man them because absolutely trustworthy people were needed for this first venture from the shores of America. (As a matter of record, I want to give credit where credit is due and let the public know that these ships were purchased through the noble generosity of Mr. Rudolph Sonnenborn, an oil magnate from Baltimore.)

Five members of my kibbutz (Kibbutz Daled - later Kibbutz Ein Dor) volunteered: Menachem Peretz (Moskowitz), Zeev Rauff, Dov Smilansky (Seligman), Mordecai Barkan (Blockman) - and myself. There were many other volunteers from an older group of members of the Hashomer movement (Kibbutz Gimmel - later Kibbutz Hatzor), and from a younger group (Kibbutz Heh - later Kibbutz Sasa) and from the Habonim movement also. Two complete crews, consisting of 100% Jewish sailors were ready to man and sail these ships for the first time in 2000 years!

On the day we were to leave port, the crew was divided up between the two ships, the “Beauharnois” and the “Norsyd”: I and three others from my kibbutz sailed on the “Beauharnois”, and Menachem sailed on the “Norsyd.” The day after the Passover Seder we left the Port of New York for destination unknown. The only experienced seamen on our ship were the Captain, Gerry  Lichtman and the First Mate, Hans Flagler, two Jewish sailors who were veterans of the American merchant fleet. We also had a young Israeli radio operator and a Russian-Israeli Chief-Engineer named Kalametzov.

We were divided into deck hands and machinist crews and it turned out that Zeev and I were deckhands on the 12 – 4:00 PM  shift, Blocky and Dov had the 4 – 8:00 PM shift and the rest of our seamen who were from Habonim,  worked the 8 - midnight deck shift, and all the machinist shifts. Jack Pleat of Kibbutz Gimmel was the kitchen staff and that was it; 9 men on the machines, 6 on deck and 1 was in the kitchen. That was the crew and the four officers completed the picture. The Captain and First Mate were old buddies and both were enlisted by their good friend Yoel Rohr, a member of Kfar Menachem and an artist. They had had no connection with the Zionist movement, but were ready to do anything that was 'against the British Empire'. Kalametzov was looking for good pay and a bottle of vodka, and he was given both on the ship. We, who were  from the youth movements were volunteers and received no pay at all. I think the radio operator was a Palyam man but that was only a guess then.

Out at sea we had trouble continuously with the ship's engines and sometimes we stopped and just floated along while some temporary repair was made. Finally, we put in to the port of Ponta Delgada in the Azores Islands so that some serious repair work could be done and we stayed there for ten days. While there, a Rabbi from Lithuania who was the only Jew on the island found our ship and begged the captain to take him along; he promised to earn his keep at kitchen work and the captain thought he might be needed once we took on our passengers.

From Ponta Delgada we sailed into a storm which reminded us how frail our sea-legs were, but we somehow managed to reach Gibraltar (we were sailing under the flag of Panama as a bona-fide merchant ship). There we loaded up on fuel and crossed the strait into the Mediterranean. If was only then that the captain was informed of our destination; Genoa, Italy. Our sister ship, the “Norsyd”, made for the port of Marseille. At this stage we deckhands were given more specific duties for the purpose of moving into port. I was given the job of helmsman; Blocky was in charge of the winches and Dov of the launches.

The Mediterranean was calm, the weather was beautiful and the week's voyage to Genoa was a most pleasant one. Once there, we were given a few hours of free time to see the sites of the city, with the admonition: "Do not tell anyone the ultimate destination of the ship!" As we walked along the main street we saw a large group of people marching along with flags. They were waving the Magen David and when we questioned some of them we learned that these were the survivors of the Holocaust whom we were to bring to Israel!  We went along with them to the large house in which they were living, saying that we were Jewish merchant sailors on a ship sailing to Cairo.

We took our departure from this group of fellow-Jews with mixed feelings,  without letting them know our real purpose, and headed back to our ship. The following day we left Genoa, which was too busy a port and had too many British eyes looking for us, and we headed for the port of Savona, farther north. Savona was a smaller and 'quieter' port and seemed more suitable for our purposes. Once we were alongside a pier our Palyam men came aboard and took charge of affairs from that moment on. The following day Italian workers came aboard and added space on the deck, put in the stanchions and outfitted  the ship to carry hundreds of passengers.

In the evening, when the ship was readied, we left port heading south, but once out at sea we turned and headed back north to a very small fishing pier, Vado. The sea was shallow and the current and wind made the task of tying up to the pier very difficult and took longer than expected. Once done, we hurried to lower rope ladders and move our passengers into the ship's hold. With dawn, several policemen appeared before we had completed loading all the passengers. They wanted to quarantine the ship but the Palyam boys convinced them to allow us to finish loading the passengers instead of leaving them sitting in the sun on the shore. The policemen agreed and once all were aboard we cut the lines and ran. The police were angry but helpless, and the Haganah people left behind placated them and did all the explaining. (I may also add that we left behind the American journalist, I. F. Stone who had contracted with the Haganah to write the story of the illegal Aliyah. The Haganah people promised Stone that he could make Aliyah with our sister ship which was soon to leave for Eretz Yisrael from southern France. He did make Aliyah on that ship and wrote an interesting account of the voyage, "Underground to Palestine').

We sailed south along the coast of Italy and through the Strait of Messina, on our way to Eretz Yisrael with a cargo of about 1,230 Jews. Half the passengers were Polish and most of the rest were Greek, with a few Italians and a handful of Russian partisans. The latter were very helpful in caring for the needs of the passengers and for maintaining a high morale. Conditions were extremely crowded, sanitary facilities were minimal and the logistics of supplying water and food to all were complicated and difficult. These passengers who had gone through so many difficulties and dangers in the past years still had this voyage under these harsh conditions ahead of them, before they would be able, hopefully, to settle down and rebuild their lives anew in Eretz Yisrael.

There was no room anywhere below deck for the sailors, so we all slept in the open air on the bridge. It was June and the weather was perfect. We had sailed for about a week towards the coast of Eretz Yisrael and when we were about 100 miles from Haifa we sighted a plane circling overhead. More to the point, the plane sighted us and we knew that His Majesty's fleet would soon appear. The following morning we were awakened by a shot that was fired across our bow, and we were informed that we were in the territorial waters of Palestine and we would be taken in tow to Haifa with the aid of the British fleet. We were surrounded by three British destroyers.

We had been informed by the Haganah radio that the ship's passengers were to be taken to the Atlit Detention Camp and therefore we should not resist capture. One destroyer attached our ship to its side and the British marines prepared to board and commandeer the vessel. We had taken down the Panama flag that had been flown until then and the Magen David now flew in its place. At the same time, a banner was strung across the length of the ship declaring us to be the "Haganah Ship, Josiah Wedgewood" in honor of the British Statesman who strongly supported what we called "Aliyah Bet", and what the British called "Illegal Immigration."  As the British Marines prepared to board our ship and stood in ranks on the deck of the destroyer, all the passengers came out on deck and stood there in a solid wall. All, without a command or a word being uttered broke into the singing of “Hatikvah.” This was one of the most emotional and unforgettable moments in my life! We stood there in full view of Haifa and the Carmel range together with the mass of Holocaust survivors and a few young Palyamniks and about 15 young Americans singing “Hatikvah” while the British marines waited patiently. As the song died away they boarded the ship and towed us into port.

We sailors were instructed to act as if we were Polish immigrants with Polish names of our own choosing. This was not difficult and none of us had identification with us anyway. The Palyamniks also made themselves unrecognizable. We were taken off the ship and transferred immediately to Egged busses that stood in a long line waiting to receive us. In a short time we were all on our way to the Atlit Detention Camp. We had arrived on what became known as 'Black Saturday'. On this day the British arrested all the leaders of the Jewish Agency and several thousand kibbutznikim in a desperate effort to capture the Haganah leadership. The barracks at Atlit were full of kibbutznikim so the British erected a temporary camp of tents next to the barracks and that was where we were to be held.

After the decontamination ceremony and showers in the permanent camp area, we were moved to the tent area and assigned 25 to a tent. Men and women were separated and we were given mess kits with which to eat our meals. We slept on mats on the ground. None of the Palyam boys reached Atlit; they had all disappeared en-route! That remained a mystery to us for many years.

Shortly after our arrival in camp the Haganah proceeded to get us out. First, the captain and first mate were 'removed', and then in twos, threes and tours, the rest of the crew. Our turn came 16 days after our arrival, and after we had all been transferred back to the permanent barracks. (The thousands of kibbutznikim had been interrogated and freed.) We were smuggled out of the camp and sent to the Haganah Hotel in Haifa. The following day we took the bus to Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek and were reunited with our friends who had already made Aliyah by devious means.

Since then, I reside in Kibbutz Ein Dor, as do all the others who came on the ship with me. Those who have passed away are buried there, including my friend Menachem who arrived some time later on the Haganah ship "Haganah". Sadly, Dov Seligman who had come with us did not have the opportunity to live a normal span of life. When we settled in the Lower Galilee and began to build our new kibbutz he was shot from ambush and mortally wounded while driving a tractor and cultivating the land. This was on January 29 , 1948 only one and one half years after arriving in Israel, and several months after his marriage. I married and raised my family in Kibbutz Ein Dor, and worked at farming the land, which had been my childhood dream. I was a cotton grower and ginner and classer for about 45 years. I am now retired but still try to maintain an active and productive life style.

Author:  Aryeh Malkin
This story also appears on the Palyam website:  www.palyam.org