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Purity of Arms

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William Steiner  E-mail

William SteinerBill Steiner was exposed to the Nazi takeover of Austria and the terror of Kristalnacht, and felt the blows of anti-Jewish oppressors after the "Anschluss." An elder brother, Julius, had settled in Eretz Yisrael in 1935. His parents succeeded in escaping from Austria during World War II, but his younger sister perished in the Holocaust.

Determined to leave Europe, he succeeded in obtaining an American visa. He subsequently escaped from Austria and journeyed to the United States on the "last" ship in August 1939. He then enlisted in the U.S. Army at the onset of World War II. He was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1943, following his U.S. military service, and obtained additional education and work experience.

Bill then volunteered to serve with the Haganah. He attended the Land and Labor activity at Josh's place in Poughkeepsie, New York, in the summer of 1948. He had been chosen to lead and deliver a contingent of 19 volunteers to the new State of Israel. The group travelled on the "SS Marine Falcon" to Le-Havre and then to Marseilles.

Serious business began at St. Jerome, the displaced persons camp where Bill bore much of the responsibility for running the camp and preparing the "Mishmar Ha'Emek" for its maiden voyage to Israel. This "ship" was in reality a very small wooden grain carrier, built in Italy and purchased to help in transporting human "cargo' to Israel. Bill took on the task of provisioning the little vessel and modifying its cargo hold with wooden shelves to accommodate the many refugees. Those not working on the ship took over the task of running the camp until the time of departure. Needless to say, Bill's previous U.S. Army experience and fluency in German became valuable assets in preparing the ships and helping to control the passengers during the 11-day voyage to Haifa.

The "Mishmar Ha'Emek" was manned by a skeleton Italian crew led by an ancient mariner and included an Israeli engineer to operate its tiny underpowered diesel engine. Those with naval experience steered and took watches at the helm. Half of the American, Canadian, and English volunteers had previous military experience and their chief task was to feed and oversee the North African and European refugees. The discipline of the volunteers combined with their selfless attitude made the stay at St. Jerome and the difficult voyage to Haifa feasible.

Bill had previously been educated as an engineer and acquired skills as an armorer/gunsmith while with the U.S. Army. His experience with the repair and modification of machine guns and other weapons made him much in demand during the War of Independence, and he travelled to various military installations while in Israel, where he remained until 1950.

The "Mishmar Ha'Emek" was subsequently taken out of service after a difficult voyage when problems were experienced with the ship and its over-crowded passengers.

Link to "The Story of the Mishmar Ha'Emek"

Source: The American Veterans of Israel Newsletter: Summer 2000