‘We survived Hitler – Death is no stranger to us…’

Richard Maddox

 IN THE SUMMER OF 1946* the Josiah Wedgewood arrived in the port of Haifa carrying hundreds of passengers – mostly Holocaust survivors from Eastern Europe – who wanted to make their home in Palestine.

JOSIAH CLEMENT WEDGWOOD, 1st BARON WEDGWOOD OF BURLASTON. A politician before and after the First World War he had a varied military career serving with the Royal Naval Air Service and the Armoured Car Section of the Royal Naval Division and as staff officer in the Army, rising to the rank of Colonel. Image © IWM. IWM Catalogue reference HU 127229. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205390526

JOSIAH CLEMENT WEDGWOOD, 1st BARON WEDGWOOD OF BURLASTON. A politician before and after the First World War he had a varied military career serving with the Royal Naval Air Service and the Armoured Car Section of the Royal Naval Division and as staff officer in the Army, rising to the rank of Colonel. Image © IWM. IWM Catalogue reference HU 127229. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205390526

Named not after an English politician who was critical of British government policy towards Jewish immigration into Palestine and involved with the Kindertransport, (1) (2) the ship was the former Royal Canadian Navy corvette K-540, HMCS Beauharnois(3)

It had been decommissioned in July 1945 and purchased secretly – together with another ex-Royal Canadian Navy corvette, ‘Norsyd‘ – in early 1946 by a front company for the Ha’Mossad Le’Aliya Bet a clandestine organisation that had been established to help Jewish immigrants enter Palestine. (4)

The Josiah Wedgewood (ex-RCNS HMCS Beauharnois) at anchor and with decks crowded and listing to port.

THE ‘JOSIAH WEDGWOOD’ (ex-RCNS HMCS Beauharnois) at anchor and with decks crowded and listing to port. Image © IWM. IWM catalogue reference E 31952. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205196540.

There were 1257 refugees aboard – more than ten times the number of the vessel’s wartime crew – and included around 500 women of which around 100 were pregnant. (5)

Today these and similar settlers are known as the Ma’apilim after a reference in the Torah concerning those who having spent 40 years wandering the Egyptian desert decide against the advice of Moses to go to Israel. (6)

Sailing with a volunteer crew – including a number who had wartime naval service – from New York from 1 April 1946, the ship had a long voyage (due to technical problems) via the Azores, Gibraltar and Genoa to arrive in Savona on Italy’s north-west corner at the end of May. (7)

JEWISH REFUGEES ON BOARD THE 'JOSIAH WEDGWOOD' as the ship arrives at Haifa on 1 July 1946. From the funnel to the masts is tied a banner declaring "We survived Hitler - Death is no stranger to us - Nothing can keep us from our Jewish homeland - The blame is on your head if you fire on this unarmed ship" Image IWM. IWM catalogue reference E 31953. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205196541

Jewish refugees on board the JOSIAH WEDGWOOD as the ship arrives at Haifa on 1 July 1946. From the funnel to the masts is tied a banner, the wording aimed at British authorities. It declares “We survived Hitler – Death is no stranger to us – Nothing can keep us from our Jewish homeland – The blame is on your head if you fire on this unarmed ship” Image IWM. IWM catalogue reference E 31953. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205196541

The vessel – less than 64 metres overall – had been intercepted by HMS Venus, a Royal Navy destroyer serving with the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla based at Fort St Angelo, Malta. (8)

The intercepted ship was escorted into Haifa and those aboard were interned at the Atlit detention camp some 20 kilometres south of Haifa.

HMS Venus also intercepted the Haganah (renamed from the Bilbao and another former corvette, ex-HMCS Norsyd) also in July 1946. Haganah had sailed via Marseille to pick up refugees from Yugoslavia. The refugees from this ship were also detained at Atlit (9)

THE V-CLASS DESTROYER HMS VENUS. Image © IWM. IWM catalogue reference FL 20930. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205121607

The Destroyer HMS Venus.. Image © IWM. IWM catalogue reference FL 20930. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205121607

The Royal Navy were maintaining a blockade of Palestine designed to enforce immigration restrictions.

Under a Mandate from the League of Nations dating from June 1922, Britain had been assigned to administer the area, to oversee the advancement and well-being of the population on a temporary basis in preparation for an eventual Jewish homeland. (10)

However, in September 1922 the League of Nations and Great Britain decided that the area to the east of the River Jordan – some 75% of area of the mandated territory – would not be used for the Jewish homeland. Instead it would eventually become the Kingdom of Jordan. (11)

Further pressure from Arab interests on the British authorities meant immigration restrictions to the area in 1930 and 1939 with Land Transfer restrictions from 1940. (12)

The crew ‘disappeared’ either during the disembarkation or having mingled with the refugees, were smuggled out of the camp. (13)

The same source says that the refugees were also freed from the camp through gaps in the fence made by sympathisers and then ‘absorbed into the general population.’

And the ships?

Having been interned at Haifa, both the Josiah Wedgwood and Haganah became part of the Israeli Navy in 1948.

The Wedgwood became Israeli Naval Ship (INS) Wedgwood (K 18) on 9 June 1948. Later the ship was renamed INS HaShomer before being broken up in 1956.(14)

The Haganah was commissioned as INS Haganah (K 20) on 18 July 1948, serving until broken up in 1956. (15)

Two other vessels from the ten-strong ‘Aliyah Bet’ fleet would join newly-formed Israeli navy. (16)

HMS Venus had a longer life, being one of a number of former Second World War destroyers converted to Type 15 fast anti-submarine frigates as part of a scheme to keep shipyards employed and update the Royal Navy. Venus’ conversion took two years starting in 1952. (17)

Later the ship was used as a target for damage assessment in 1967 and 1968 during the development of the ‘Sea Dart’ surface-to-air missile system, which was in service from 1973 until June 2013. (18) (19)

HMS Venus was towed to the breakers yard in December 1972. (20)

Note

* Dates vary according to source, with 1 July, 6 July and 27 June all given as dates when the ship entered Haifa. Some sources name the ship as ‘Yosiah Wedgwood

Sources

(1) https://thehistoryofparliament.wordpress.com/2018/06/20/a-fighting-life-commemorating-josiah-c-wedgwood-founder-of-the-history-of-parliament-project/ – retrieved 18 July 2018

(2) http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1065 – retrieved 18 July 2018

(3) https://thehistoryofparliament.wordpress.com/2018/06/20/a-fighting-life-commemorating-josiah-c-wedgwood-founder-of-the-history-of-parliament-project/ – retrieved 18 July 2018

(4) https://uboat.net/allies/warships/ship/786.html– retrieved 18 July 2018

(5) https://www.jta.org/1946/06/28/archive/800-men-500-women-landed-at-haifa-from-josiah-wedgwood-vessels-captain-disappears – retrieved 18 July 2018

(6) https://www.thejc.com/judaism/jewish-words/ma-apilim-1.6533 – retrieved 18 July 2018

(7) http://www.forposterityssake.ca/Navy/HMCS_NORSYD_K520.htm – retrieved 18 July 2018

(8) Ibid

(9) https://www.touristisrael.com/atlit-detainee-camp-museum/16177/ – retrieved 18 July 2018

(10) http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/palmanda.asp – retrieved 18 July 2018

(11) https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/history-and-overview-of-the-british-palestine-mandate – retrieved 18 July 2018

(12) https://www.un.org/unispal/history/origins-and-evolution-of-the-palestine-problem/part-i-1917-1947/ _ retrieved 18 July 2018

(13) http://jhvonline.com/from-bondage-to-freedom-woodlands-mensch-shares-his-maritime-story-hono-p10954-244.htm – retrieved 18 July 2018

(14) http://yourcanadawiki.blogspot.com/2018/07/flower-class-corvette.html – retrieved 18 July 2018

(14) https://uboat.net/allies/warships/ship/786.html – retrieved 18 July 2018

(15) http://www.forposterityssake.ca/Navy/HMCS_NORSYD_K520.htm – retrieved 18 July 2018

(16) http://www.machal.org.il/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=370&Itemid=637&lang=en – retrieved 18 July 2018

(17) http://www.leander-project.homecall.co.uk/Hybrid%20Frigates.htm – retrieved 18 July 2018

(18) UK National Archives file reference ADM 281/224 ‘Report of damage survey of a Type 15 frigate, HMS VENUS, after a hit from a SEADART missile’. Online file reference

(19) https://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/sea-dart-missile-a-parting-salute/ – retrieved 18 July 2018

(20) https://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chrono-10DD-60V-HMS_Venus.htm – retrieved 18 July 2018

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