A new exhibit, “Exodus,” tells the story of the ship that attempted to bring more than 4,500 Holocaust survivors and displaced persons to British-controlled Palestine in 1947, only to be turned away. The British had a restrictive immigration policy in Palestine while they awaited a solution to the Arab and Jewish claims to the land from the United Nation Special Committee on Palestine.
Originally named the President Warfield and built for roughly 500 people, the steamboat was expanded to carry the Jewish refugees. The ship sailed from the port of Sete, France, on July 11, 1947, and on the night of July 17, the British surrounded the ship with destroyers, minesweepers and a cruiser and boarded it. The refugees fought with whatever they had available — tin cans, bottles, wooden boards and metal bars, among other objects. Three Jews were killed and many more were wounded. The British prevailed, and the passengers were forced onto deportation ships bound for France. In France, the passengers refused to disembark for 24 days and went on a hunger strike. On August 22, the British returned the ship to the British-occupied zone of Germany, where the refugees remained until the founding of the State of Israel.
The refugees’ treatment aroused the world’s conscience, helping to create support for Israel’s establishment. The Exodus 1947 is now known as the “ship that launched a nation.”
The exhibit includes a 25- by 12-foot reproduction of the ship along with documents, photos and film footage tracing the ship’s development from a little-known Chesapeake Bay steamboat to an international symbol for the creation of the Jewish state.
Ruth Gruber, who covered the voyage of the Exodus for the New York Post, and Ike Aronowitz, the ship’s captain, speak at the opening. Otto Preminger’s “Exodus” (1960) is screened September 7.
Virginia Holocaust Museum, 2000 E. Cary St., Richmond; opening Sept. 3, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., speakers 7 p.m.; dinner Sept. 4, 6:30 p.m.; movie Sept. 7, 1 p.m.; exhibit and movie free. (804-257-5400 or www.va-holocaust.com)