The French Jews Who Fought the Nazis and Brought the “Exodus” to Israel

Fictionalized by Leon Uris, and later made into a movie, the story of the Exodus—a ship that left France in July 1947, carrying some 4,500 Holocaust survivors, headed for Mandatory Palestine—is well known in the West. The British, unwilling to allow more Jews into the Land of Israel, turned the ship back; its passengers refused to leave the French port; and eventually the Royal Navy brought them to Hamburg. Less well known is the group of former French resistance fighters who helped organized Exodus’ departure, as Tsilla Hershco writes:

The Jewish resistance organization in France . . . participated in the rescue of tens of thousands of Jews in France during the Nazi occupation through the fabrication of forged documents, the hiding of children and adults, and the smuggling of convoys to Switzerland and Spain. At the end of the war, David Ben-Gurion appointed Avraham Polonski, a leader of the Jewish resistance in France, as commander of the Haganah in France and North Africa. The volunteers who joined the organization, mostly veterans of the Jewish resistance, participated in many critical activities: clandestine and legal immigration [from Europe to Mandatory Palestine]; the forging of documents; the transfer of arms to the yishuv; and the setting up of communication systems, immigrant camps, and military-training camps. . . . Later, many veterans of the resistance went on aliyah and participated in the War of Independence.

Members of the Haganah in France and North Africa under Polonski’s command were involved in the Exodus operation from its early stages: they forged travel documents, assisted in the transporting of survivors to the Strasbourg-Mulhouse border, recruited medical students, organized the reception of refugees by the Red Cross, and accompanied the refugees on their journey from the border train stations to Marseille.

Members of the Haganah in France, under Polonski’s leadership, also played an important role in preparing accommodations for the refugees. By leveraging their contacts and making bribes, they even managed to overcome the obstacle of a truck drivers’ strike in Marseille by obtaining their leaders’ consent to transport the refugees to their destination. [After they were returned to France], Polonski’s team assisted in preventing the British from forcing the passengers to disembark.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: French Jewry, Haganah, Israeli history, Leon Uris, Mandate Palestine, Resistance

Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship