The Exodus 1947 was an illegal immigrant ship carrying 4500 Jewish displaced persons from Europe to Palestine during the final year of the British Mandate. It became the symbol of the struggle for the right of unrestricted Jewish immigration into Palestine and the need for a Jewish national home. In November 1946 the Mosad le-Aliya Bet (the Agency for Illegal Immigration) acquired an American ship, the President Warfield, an old Chesapeake Bay pleasure steamer. During World War II, the vessel had been converted into a troop ship for the British navy. After taking part in the Allied landing at Normandy, the ship was taken out of service and anchored in the ships' graveyard in Baltimore. Immediately after the Mosad purchased the vessel, its interior was reconfigured in order to maximize the number of passengers it could hold. By the end of January 1947 the initial conversion was complete and a crew of nearly 40 American Jewish volunteers had been assembled in Baltimore. The crew was joined by a Methodist minister, John Stanley Grauel, who served as the official observer for the American Christian Palestine Committee. It was the Mosad's intention to mount a huge illegal immigration operation that would draw the attention of the international media and influence the members of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), who would then be visiting Palestine on a fact-finding mission. In early July 1947, Jewish DPs were moved from camps in Germany to transit camps in the south of France. With the cooperation of several French Socialist cabinet ministers, they boarded the President Warfield at the old port of Sete, near Marseilles. Once it was out to sea, the vessel was renamed the Exodus 1947. The ship was intercepted by the British navy off the coast of Palestine. The sailors were able to board the vessel, tow it to Haifa, and unload its passengers only after an extended struggle, which left two passengers and one crew member dead and many injured. In the port of Haifa the illegal immigrants were transferred by force to three British vessels--the Ocean Vigour, Runnymede Park, and Empire Rival-- to be taken back to France. This marked a significant change in British policy from what had been the standard procedure since August 1946, namely, the deportation of all apprehended illegal immigrants to detention camps in Cyprus. When the ships arrived in France on July 28, most of the passengers chose to remain on board. The French refused to accede to the British demand to force them out. For a month the three ships remained anchored near Port-de-Bouc. The refugee passengers suffered under grueling conditions. Finally, after a hunger strike, the British decided to return the refugees to DP camps in Germany. The ships arrived in Hamburg on September 8 and their passengers were forcibly removed by British soldiers. From Hamburg, they were taken by prisoner trains with barred windows to the Poppendorf and Amstau DP camps in the British zone. Most of the Exodus refugees remained in the DP camps for over a year, reaching Israel only after the state was established in May 1948. In 1951 the Mayor of Haifa announced that the Exodus 1947 was to become "a floating museum, a symbol of the desperate attempts by Jewish refugees to find asylum in the Holy Land." The project was put on hold while attention was focused on issues of national security. However, on August 26, 1952, the ship caught fire and burned to the waterline. It was towed out of the shipping area and abandoned on Shemen beach. On August 23, 1964, an attempt was made to salvage the Exodus 1947 for scrap, but during the process, the hulk broke loose and sank. It remains on the bottom of Shemen beach near Haifa.
[Source: "Poppendorf statt Palastina" (The Haganah Ship Exodus 1947), an online exhibition by Henrik Jan Fahlbusch et al. (25 November 2002)]
William Bernstein was the only crew member of the Exodus 1947 to be killed in the battle that followed the British interception of the illegal immigrant ship. Bernstein was buried, wrapped in an American flag, in Martyr's Row in Haifa cemetery. 20,000 mourners attended his memorial service in Madison Square Park on July 25, 1947.