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Aliyah to Israel and settlement

Pre-Zionist Aliyah
The Return to Zion • The Old Yishuv
Prior to the founding of Israel
First Aliyah • Second Aliyah • During WWI • Third Aliyah • Fourth Aliyah • Fifth Aliyah • During and after WWII • Berihah
After the founding of Israel
Operation Magic Carpet • Operation Ezra and Nehemiah • Jewish exodus from Arab lands • Polish aliyah in 1968 • Aliyah from the Soviet Union in the 1970s • Aliyah from Ethiopia • Aliyah from the Commonwealth of Independent States in the 1990s • Aliyah from Latin America in the 2000s
Judaism • Zionism • Law of Return • Jewish homeland • Yerida • Galut • Jewish Messianism
Persons and organizations
Theodor Herzl • World Zionist Organization • Knesset • Nefesh B'Nefesh • El Al
Related topics
Jewish history • Jewish diaspora  • History of the Jews in the Land of Israel  • Yishuv  • History of Zionism  • History of Israel  • Israeli Jews  • Anti-Zionism  • Revival of Hebrew language  • Religious Zionism  • Haredim and Zionism  • Anti-Zionism

Aliyah Bet (Hebrew: 'עלייה ב), meaning "Aliyah 'B'" (bet being the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet) was the code name given to illegal immigration by Jews to the Palestine in violation of British restrictions, in the years 1934-1948. In modern day Israel it has also been called by the Hebrew term Ha'apala (Hebrew: ההעפלה‎).

It was distinguished from Aliyah Aleph ("Aliyah 'A'") (Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet): the limited Jewish immigration permitted by British authorities in the same period.



During Ha'apala, several Jewish organizations worked together to facilitate immigration beyond the established quotas. As persecution of Jews intensified in Europe during the Nazi era, the urgency driving the immigration also became more acute. Those who participated in the immigration efforts consistently refused to term it "illegal", instead calling it "clandestine."

Ha'apala occurred in two phases. First, from 1934 to 1942, it was an effort to enable European Jews to escape Nazi persecution and murder. Then, from 1945 to 1948, it was an effort to find homes for Jewish survivors of the Nazi crimes (Sh'erit ha-Pletah) who were among the millions of displaced persons ("DPs") languishing in refugee camps in occupied Germany. During the first phase, several organizations (including Revisionists) led the effort; after World War II, the Mossad Le'aliyah Bet ("the Institute for Aliyah B"), an arm of the Haganah, took charge.


The journey of Aliyah Bet Group 14

Post-World War II, Ha'apala journeys typically started in the DP camps and moved through one of two collection points in the American occupation sector, Bad Reichenhall and Leipheim. From there, the refugees travelled in disguised trucks, on foot, or by train to ports on the Mediterranean Sea, where ships brought them to Palestine. More than 70,000 Jews arrived in Palestine using more than 100 ships.[1]

American sector camps imposed no restrictions on the movements out of the camps, and American, French, and Italian officials often turned a blind eye to the movements. Several UNRRA officials (in particular Elizabeth Robertson in Leipheim) acted as facilitators of the emigration. The British government vehemently opposed the movement, and restricted movement in and out of their camps. Britain also set up armed naval patrols to prevent immigrants from landing in Palestine.


Over 100,000 people attempted to illegally enter Palestine. There were 142 voyages by 120 ships. Over half were stopped by the British patrols. Most of the intercepted immigrants were sent to internment camps in Cyprus: (Karaolos near Famagusta, Nicosia, Dhekelia, and Xylotumbou). Some were sent to the Atlit detention camp in Palestine, and some to Mauritius. The British held as many as 50,000 people in these camps (see Jews in British camps on Cyprus). Over 1,600 drowned at sea. Only a few thousand actually entered Palestine.

The pivotal event in the Ha'apala program was the incident of the SS Exodus in 1947. The Exodus was intercepted, attacked, and boarded by the British patrol. Despite significant resistance from its passengers, Exodus was forcibly returned to Europe. Its passengers were eventually sent back to Germany. This was publicized, to the great embarrassment of the British government.

A particularly "brilliant" account of Aliyah Bet is given by journalist I. F. Stone in his 1946 book Underground to Palestine, an first-person account of traveling with European displaced persons attempting to reach the Jewish homeland. [2]


Haganah ship Jewish State in Haifa harbour, 1947
Exodus arriving at Haifa harbour, July 20, 1947
United States lands Jewish refugees in Nahariya, 1948

The Tiger Hill, a 1,499 ton ship, built in 1887, sailed from Constanţa on August 3, 1939, with about 750 immigrants on board. She took on board the passengers from the Frossoula, another illegal immigrant ship that was marooned in Lebanon. On September 1, the first day of World War II, the Tiger Hill was intercepted and fired on by British gunboats off Tel Aviv, and was beached. Hans Schneider, a Jewish refugee on the Tiger Hill, was killed. He may have been the first fatal casualty of World War II.


On October 3, 1939, a large group of immigrants sailed from Vienna on the river boat Uranus, down the Danube. At the Romanian border, the Uranus was stopped and the immigrants were forced to disembark at the old fortress town of Kladovo in Yugoslavia. About 1,100 refugees were stranded there. In May, 1941, they were still in Yugoslavia, where 915 of them were caught and eventually killed by the invading Nazis.

On May 18, 1940, the old Italian paddle steamer Pencho sailed from Bratislava, with 514 passengers, mostly Betar members. The Pencho sailed down the Danube to the Black Sea and into the Aegean Sea. On October 9, her engines stopped working, and she was wrecked off Mytilene, in the Italian-ruled Dodecanese Islands. The Italians rescued the passengers and took them to Rhodes. All but two were then placed in an internment camp at Ferramonti di Tarsia in southern Italy. They were held there until Allied forces liberated the area in September 1943. The story of the Pencho was published as Odyssey, by John Bierman.

In October 1940, a large group of refugees was allowed to leave Vienna. The exodus was organized by Berthold Storfer, a Jewish businessman who worked under Adolph Eichmann. They took four river boats, Uranus, Schönbrunn, Helios, and Melk, down the Danube to Romania, where the Uranus passengers, approximately 1,000, boarded the Pacific, and sailed on October 11, 1940. They arrived at Haifa on November 1, followed by the Milos. The British transferred all the immigrants to the French liner Patria, intending to take them for internment to Mauritius. To stop the Patria from sailing, the Haganah smuggled a bomb on board. The explosion blew a hole in the side of the ship, which capsized, killing 267 persons. The British, by order of Winston Churchill, allowed the survivors to remain in Palestine.

In December 1940 the Salvador, a small Bulgarian schooner formerly named Tsar Krum, left Burgas with 327 refugees. On December 12 the Salvador was wrecked in a violent storm in the Sea of Marmora, near Istanbul. 223 persons, including 66 children, lost their lives. The survivors were taken to Istanbul. 125 survivors were deported back to Bulgaria, and the remaining 70 left on the Darien (No. 66). [2].

On December 11, 1941 the Struma sailed from Constanţa, flying the Panamanian flag. The Struma was torpedoed and sunk by the Soviet submarine SC-213 on February 24, 1942. 770 lives were lost. There was one survivor.

On September 20, 1942 the Europa sailed from Romania, with twenty-one passengers. The boat was wrecked in the Bosporus.

On August 5, 1944, the Mefkura (or Mefkure) sailed from Constanţa with 350 persons on board. The ship travelled with the Morino and Bulbul. During the night the Mefkura was sunk by gunfire/torpedo from by the Soviet submarine SC-215. Of the 350 persons being transported, only five survived. They were picked up by the Bulbul.


The success of Aliyah Bet was modest when measured in terms of the numbers who succeeded in entering Palestine. But it proved to be a unifying force both for the Jewish community in Palestine (the Yishuv) and for the Holocaust-survivor refugees in Europe (Sh'erit ha-Pletah).


  1. ^ Reich, Bernard. A Brief History of Israel. pp. 39–40. ISBN 0-8160-5793-1.  
  2. ^ The first draft of Israeli history: The great radical journalist I.F. Stone journeyed to Europe and Palestine in 1946 to report on the plight of Jewish DPs,John R. MacArthur, Nextbook, May. 25, 2009 [1]



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