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The Jews' Secret Fleet

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The Jews' Secret Fleet

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The Jews' Secret Fleet
The Untold Story of North American Volunteers who Smashed the British Blockade
By Joseph M. Hochstein and Murray S. Greenfield
Introduction by Martin Gilbert
Gefen Publishing House: Jerusalem and New York, (1999)
ISBN: 965-229-023-8

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - March 30, 2007

The story of the ship Exodus, which brought 'illegal' immigrants into Israel during the British Mandate, has been well documented via Leon Uris' book, Exodus and from the movie of the same name that was based upon the book. What you may not know, however, is that while Uris' book was fitional, it was based on fact. Not only was the ship Exodus involved in transporting 'illegal' Jews into Israel, but so were ten other ships from North America, all manned by North American volunteers. In The Jews' Secret Fleet, Joseph M. Hochstein and Murray S. Greenfield chronicle the deeds of this secret fleet of eleven ships and the 240 men who served upon them.

At the end of World War II, as the survivors of the Holocaust sought a way out of Europe, the British still refused to allow the entry of more than a handful of Jewish immigrants into what was then British Palestine. Unable to gain entry legally, they were secreted into Israel via this ragtag armada manned by volunteers. By the time they were no longer needed, this tiny fleet had transported around 32,000 Jews into Israel - and safety!

The eleven ships in the fleet were: Within the pages of this exciting book, the authors detail how this miraculous fleet was obtained, the Aliyah Bet movement as a whole, and details about the various trips taken by the ships - and the outcome of thier attempts to circumvent the British blockade. ( Aliyah Bet was the codename for the 'illegal' smuggling of Jews into Israel from the 1930's through the creation of the modern State of Israel.) The authors also detail how this modest fleet served as the nascence of the Israeli Navy. The information in this book is presented chronologically and thematically, by this I mean that the authors start out by describing who the blockade runners were, and they give a brief overview of the Aliyah Bet. They then go on to discuss how the boats were purchased and refitted as bulk passenger carriers. (The boats in this 'fleet' ran the gamut, in their former lives, from being a Coast Guard Icebreaker to a Spanish Civil War Smuggling yacht). This is followed by individual chapters devoted to one or two boats at a time, detailing their activities, the passengers they carried, the fate of ships themselves, and the success, or lack thereof, of each mission. In turn, these chapters are followed by an intriguing chapter on what the British did, or did not, know about the Aliyah Bet, and it concludes with a chapter that outlines what happened to the crewmen of these ships after Israel's independence. The book also includes an edifying introduction by Sir Martin Gilbert, the famed Holocaust scholar and biographer of Winston Churchill.

The book is enhanced by the inclusion of copies of letters, the front pages of newspapers, and pictures detailing the events mentioned in the text. Several informative appendixes are also included, one of which lists the names of all 240 volunteers along with the name of the ship they served on. The Aliyah Bet as a whole is a fascinating and often unknown aspect of Israeli and Jewish history. The Jews' Secret Fleet helps to rectify this oversight by painting a detailed, readable, and engrossing overview of the post-World War II efforts of the Aliyah Bet and the secret fleet that helped 32,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors reach the safety of Israel. The 60th Anniversary of the end of the Aliyah Bet is rapidly approaching (2008), making this an ideal time to read, and learn about this important aspect of Jewish history. It is also a book that should be required reading of all Jews as well as anyone interested in Jewish or Israeli history.

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