Palestine & Europe, 1930s-1948
When the British began imposing immigration restrictions during the 1930s, preventing hundreds of thousands of Jews in Europe from escaping to Palestine, the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Palestine) was determined to do an end-run around the problem. Led by the Haganah, but also involving the Irgun, the Jews in Palestine organized a massive clandestine operation to smuggle Jews out of Europe. Using decrepit boats often paid for by the American Jewish community, the Haganah would outfit the ships with a few days’ provisions, cram as many Jews as possible onto their decks, and try to evade the British navy’s blockade of Palestine. There were spectacular successes and failures, and a few instances of open fighting with the British. The most enduring symbol of the Aliyah Bet was the ship Exodus, which set sail in 1947.
The Aliyah Bet operation ultimately brought around 100,000 Jews into Palestine, saving them from the Holocaust. One historian described it as, “resistance, not by killing people, but by rescuing people.”