Historical Background

In 30th January 1933 Hitler became Germany's Canceller (Prime Minister) and a short time after the Nazis came into power they started a systematic persecution of the Jews. Till the outbreak of World War II the Jews of Germany suffered humiliations, oppressions, dismiss from work-places and discrediting work licenses, all in one purpose to "purify" the Third Reich from Jews. They enacted racial anti-Semite laws, (The Nuremburg Acts in 1935) and deported Polish Jews back to Poland. With all its brutality the process was slow and reached a brutal climax at Kristalnacht (November 1938), widespread pogroms, that indicated that it was allowed to kill Jews.

The German Jews were confused and frightened and reacted differently: some hoped that it will pass as other pogroms did in the past Jewish history; some organized the national organization of German Jews; many others decide to leave for America, South-Africa, Australia, Western Europe and Eretz-Israel (55,000 German Jews immigrated to Israel during the Fifth Aliya 1933-39).

The German Jews were joined, in March 1938, by 180,000 Austrian Jews after the Anschluss (unification of Austria with Germany). The cruel and brutal persecutions of the Jews started immediately. At the head of the "Jewish" office in Vienna was Adolph Eichman that intended to "clear" Austria from Jews as quick as possible. The brutal methods used against the Jews and the belief that their lives and property are at danger caused many of them, 120,000, to leave Austria. Eichman cooperated with Jewish and Zionist organizations, and allowed "illegal ships" to leave toward Israel. The Jews were put on river boats and sent down on the Danube, which as International water allowed the boats to sail, because the countries that the Danube passes through are not allowed to stop the boats. This policy of letting the Jews escape continued at least till April 1940, in fact only in May 1941 it was officially stopped.

One of the problems that both the Nazis and the Jews had was that nearly all the countries in the world closed their gates for Jewish refugees and didn't let them in. The British Mandate Government in Palestine didn't change the restrictions of the White Paper from 1939 that allowed only 75,000 Jews to enter Palestine over 5 years, with only 15,000 each year.

The mass killings started after the invasion to Russia, June 1941 and the Wannsee conference where the "Final Solution" (complete annihilation of the Jewish Race) was declared was only in January 1942. From the 65,000 Austrian Jews were sent to concentration camps only 2,000 survived.

The reaction of the "Yishuv" (Jews of Eretz-Israel)

From 1934 onwards the "Ha'apala" (illegal immigration to Israel) by see has started to organize, mainly by the "Halutz" (Pioneer) movement. This movement was the parent organization of all the Zionist-Socialist Youth Movements that operated mainly in Europe and America. The Halutz that was founded in 1917 focused mainly in establishing training camps called "Kibbutzs" all over Europe. The ship "Vallus" was the first ship organized by the Halutz. 350 pioneers reached the shore of Israel in July 1934.

The Revisionist Movement (led by Jabotinsky) also managed to bring to Israeli shores several ships: a convoy of 3 boats "Af Al Pi" (means Nevertheless) with 381 "Betar" members from Vienna; and the ships "Draga A" and "Draga B" that arrived in October-November 1938 with 730 immigrants. Also there were private organizations that brought Ma'apilim (illegal immigrants) to Israel as Dr. Baruch Confino from Bulgaria. Most of the times that the people got ashore without being caught were when the private and Revisionists operations cooperated with the Hagana (Mossad) that met the ships in mid-sea with small paddle boats.

Officially the political Leadership of the Zionist Movement was against the "Ha'apala", it was afraid from deteriorating the relations between the "Yishuv" and the British authorities that at that time were trying to put down the Arab Revolt (1936-9). Only towards the end of 1938, disappointed from the recommendations of Peel commission not to establish a Jewish state, the leadership changed its opinion on Ha'apala. Then it was officially decided to establish the Mossad for Aliya Beth (institute for illegal immigration) in April 1939, though the Mossad started its operations already in 1938.

The Mossad was a unit in the Hagana (semi-official army of the Yishuv) and Shaul Meirov-Avigor was appointed Commander. The goal of the Mossad was to organize the illegal immigration to Israel, by sending envoys to Europe.

Up until the outbreak of the WW II, 22,000 immigrants reached Israel in illegal ships of the Mossad and the other organizations. During 1939-44 another 16,500 people sailed towards Israel.

Yet there were disasters on the way, during the war some ships sank. In November 1940 the British caught 3 ships and wanted to deport the people to Mauritius Island. In one of the deportation ships "Patria" the Hagana wanted to do a small sabotage so stop the deportation, the charge was too big and the Patria sank. On board were 1,700 people, about 200 deportees and 50 British soldiers lost their life.

A month later on December 1940, on Marmara Sea, the "Salvador" with 325 refugees from Bulgaria sank in a storm, about 200 drowned, 80 of the survivors came on the Darien to Israel.

On February 1942 in the Black sea the "Struma" sank with 769 people from Rumania aboard, only one survived. The Struma waited with a broken engine in Istanbul, The British Government didn't let the refugees to continue by land to Israel so the Turks sent the ship into the Black sea, and there she was torpedoed by a Russian Submarine.

The Last ship of the Mossad before the Darien was the "Hilda" that arrived in Haifa, on January 1940, the British put them in Athlit detention camp, but they were released after 3 months as a result of the Yishuv pressure on the British.

During 1940 there were debates among the leaders of the Yishuv if to continue these sailings or to stop them till the end of the war, aiming to help in all out effort against the common enemy, the Nazis. After the "Struma" disaster it was agreed with the British that Jews reaching Istanbul by themselves will be allowed to continue by land and enter Eretz -Israel. The Mossad agents in Istanbul (Zeav Shind, Moshe Agami and Ehud Avriel) organized sailings from Rumania with 5,000 people that continued by train to Eretz - Israel. One of these ships the "Mafkora" was torpedoed by the Germans on its way to Istanbul, and only 5 survived from the 315 people on board.

The Ha'apala from Europe during 1934-1948

Years By Sea Aliya Dalet
(With faked
By air By Land Total number
of Immigrants
No. of
No. of
1934 to
Sep. 1939
50 21,670       21,670
Sep. 1939
Dec. 1944
25 16,456       16,456
1945 8 1,032     171 1,203
1946 22 21,673     459 22,132
1947 20 24,400 3,182 50   27,632
1948 14 22,458 5,277     27,735
Total 139 107,689 8,459 50 630 116,828

After WW II the Mossad reached the peak of its activity. In 3 years, 1945-1948, they bought and equip 62 ships that sailed 65 times. About 70,000 holocaust survivors sailed to Israel, most were caught and deported to Cyprus, a few managed to enter without being caught.

The Mossad operated not only in Europe. During the war the Mossad directed its efforts to bring overland Jews from Arab countries, especially from Iraq after the pogrom in Baghdad in 1941. These efforts continued up until Israeli Independence.

In all over about 120,000 Jews made the way to Israel by different methods, more then 108,500 by ships in 141 sailings, 150 by air, over 5,000 by land and about 9,000 by Aliya D (faked papers). Also many deserters from the Polish Andres Army remained in Israel (including Menachem Begin and Itzhak Shamir) and Jews that came as tourists or on transit visas and "forgot to leave", Laufer Family is an example for that method.

Under Shaul Avigor's command served for long periods: Ehud Avriel, Moshe Agami, Ruth Kliger - Aliav, Yehuda Arazi, Yehuda Brganiski, Joseph Barpal, Yeshayahu Dan, Moshe Carmil, Ada Sireni, Vania Pomerantz- Hadari, Shmarya Zameret, Levi Shvartz, Zeav Shind and more.

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