by Steve Lancaster 2/3/18
This is a book and movie that could not be done in 2018 or anytime in the last 30 years. Exodus by Leon Uris was published in 1958. When it was released it became the largest best seller since the publication of Gone with The Wind in 1939. The book covers the events leading up to and just after the 1948 creation of the modern State of Israel. It is fiction although the events exist in history.
There really was a blockade runner called Exodus, maned by mostly American Jews, Hagenah and one American Methodist Minister. Before the war it was a Chesapeake Bay cruise liner called, SS President Warfield. During the war the ship was converted to a troopship and carried troops to Omaha Beach in June 1944. After the war it was sold as surplus for scrap.
At the end of the war hundreds of thousands of Jews and other peoples were displaced. The Jews sought escape from Europe to America and the British Mandate of Palestine. The British to appease the Arabs restricted the entry of Jewish refugees to 1500 per month. The Jewish Agency for Palestine purchased steamers and even barges, converted them to handle hundreds of people to run the British blockade of the Palestine mandate.
Pressure was increasing from the US and other nations on the British government to end the mandate. Smaller ships had beached themselves and thousands of Jewish refugees from the camps had made their way into Palestine. The Arab population was outraged, when are they not outraged? There were riots, strikes, and violence throughout the area. The only thing Arabs and Jews agreed on was that the British had to leave. The British brought in a UN High Commission to appraise and make recommendations for partition into Jewish and Arab states. It was during this time that the Exodus set sail for Haifa from France with 4,500 men, women and children.
In the view of the Jewish Agency and Hagenah should the Exodus reach Haifa and unload passengers it was a win. If the British intercepted, boarded the ship and turned it back to Cyprus it was a success. There was even talk, by the British Foreign Office, of returning the passengers to Germany, which would be an even greater PR victory. The intent of the Jewish Agency, and Hagenah was to create a public relations dilemma for Lord Bevin and the British government that would influence world opinion in favor of the refugees and end the mandate. The Exodus was boarded in international waters, the Jews fought the British with potatoes and tins of caned beef. It was as predicted, a PR disaster.
Ultimately, world opinion and their own characteristic good sense prevailed on the British to surrender the mandate. The UN voted for partition and on 14 May 1948 Israel became a nation again after 2000 years of diaspora. The only nation state restored in its historical location with its historical language and the descendants of the original population. One of the great lines in the book and movie, “If I must have a master the British are by far the best, but why have a master at all?”
Exodus, the book and the movie offer a brief glimpse into the history of the Jews in Europe and the Middle East. The movie starring Paul Newman as Ari Ben Canaan and Eva Marie Saint as Kitty Freemont tells the story of the Exodus although it is fictional.
Kitty is an American nurse who falls in love with Ari after her husband dies. Ari Ben Canaan is described as six feet two, with blue eyes. He is a Sabra, native born in the mandate. His father, Barak Ben Canaan (Lee J Cobb) and uncle, Akiva (David Opatoshu) had left the Russian Pale and walked from central Europe to Palestine when it was still administered by the Ottoman Empire. They were inspired by the new idea of Zionism and the writings of Theodore Herzl. They did not consider themselves immigrants but returnees to their native land. Barak is a loose picture of David Ben Gurion as the traditionalist and Akiva is the leader of the Irgun and similar to Menachem Begin.
In the book, and to a lesser extent the movie, the stories of various Jews in Europe during the war are told. There is Dov Landau, (Sal Mineo) a fighter of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and survivor of the death camps. Karen Hansen, (Jill Hayworth) a child smuggled out of Germany in 1939 at age ten and adopted by Christians in Denmark. General Sutherland (Ralph Richardson) a British officer with a Jewish mother who witnessed Dachau and is now responsible for Jews interned on Cyprus. Major Caldwell, (Peter Lawford) is a unfortunately all too typical British officer and aid for General Sutherland with strong anti-Jewish sympathies.
In the book and the movie refugees just recently interned on Cyprus are going to be taken off by Hagenah in another ship right under the British. To accomplish this goal Ari and other officers outfit a tramp steamer to run the British blockade. They take the refugees out of the camp using British trucks established as a false transportation organization, HMJFC, short for His Majesties Jewish Forces On Cyprus.
The refugees board the ship. The British trip to the plan and trap the ship in the harbor. The British threaten to board her but stop when Ari threatens to blow the ship up if any soldier steps on board. Stalemate, the ship cannot leave, and the British cannot board. To bring the standoff to a head a hunger strike is ordered. The book gives more information about the planning of the effort and about the hunger strike. However, after four days of intense pressure from the rest of the world, the British give in.
Karen and Kitty have become good friends and Kitty wants to adopt Karen and bring her to the US. Kitty accompanies Karen to Gan Dafna, a youth kibbutz in the Jezreel Valley not far from Mount Tabor. It was on mount Tabor that Deborah, the Judge of Israel, sent her general Barak out to fight the Canaanites. The whole story is in Judges 4 and 5. Wonder of wonder women’s lib in the first millennium BC.
Kitty makes a typical mistake. She fails to understand the restorative influence of Israel. A mistake most of the world still makes dealing with Israel. A people who for 2000 years were relegated to 3rd or 4th class status, could not carry weapons and were persecuted in country after country. Suddenly, the shopkeeper and the camp inmate become fierce warriors, cunning and dedicated to the rebirth of a Jewish state. There is also great escape of Dov and Akiva from Acre prison.
Dov and Karen fall in love, although Dov joins the Irgun to fight the British and Karen trains as a nurse at Gan Dafna. When partition is voted on in the UN the usual round of riots erupt in the mandate. In some areas sympatric British officers assist the Jews to hold strategic positions and in others Arab sympathizers give over police stations and forts to Arab irregulars.
Karen is murdered by Arab guerrillas as is the Moktar (mayor) of a nearby Arab village with close ties to the nearby Jewish Kibbutz and villages. The death of Karen brings Kitty totally into Ari’s arms and in the final scene of the movie, Karen is buried with the Arab friend and Kitty has exchanged her nurses’ clothes for an M-1 and fatigues.
Otto Preminger made the movie and Dalton Trumbo contributed the script. For Trumbo it was his first work in a major production since the HUAC debacle. For Preminger the movie served to reestablish his reputation in Hollywood after less than successful movies. The music is done by Ernest Gold with its main theme became a best seller on its own. Thanks to Ferrante and Teicher.
We often forget that history is composed of real people living real lives. In 1948 we tried to persuade Arabs to stay in their homes, to build a new country. Arab leaders like the Mufti of Jerusalem, who had spent the war in Berlin, promised that they could loot, murder, rob and rape when the Jews were defeated, and the Arabs could return. For over 100 years the Arabs have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
A movie biography by Kirk Douglas, Cast a Giant Shadow cover a similar time period. It co-stars with John Wayne and Frank Sinatra. The first general of the Israel Defense Force was an American Col. David Marcus. I highly recommend it. • (215 views)