LARNACA, Cyprus (Reuters) - A boat sailed from Cyprus on Wednesday with 300 Jewish passengers aboard in a symbolic re-enactment of an attempt by European Jews to reach what was then British-run Palestine 60 years ago.
The story of the “Exodus”, intercepted by the British in 1947, helped draw world attention to the efforts of Jews to flee Europe after the World War Two Nazi Holocaust and became an important episode in the founding of the state of Israel.
Some 300 Jews, most of them French, boarded a vessel in the Cypriot port town of Larnaca, commemorating the departure of some 4,500 Jews from France on the original ship. New migrants to the Jewish state were among the passengers.
“We decided to leave France for Israel, to make the trip to coincide with the anniversary of the ‘Exodus’ mission,” said Samuel Nasicimento, 38, moving to the Jewish state with his wife and two daughters.
“This is a trip in honour of our brothers back then, and now I am fulfilling the wish of my father,” he said.
The ship was due to arrive in the Israeli port of Haifa on Thursday morning.
The original “Exodus”, which had sailed from a port near Marseille, was stopped by British forces before it reached the mandate of Palestine. It was towed to Haifa, where would-be immigrants were forced onto deportation ships back to Europe.
Some 52,000 would-be immigrants were interned on Cyprus between 1946 and 1948, when Israel was founded. At the time, Cyprus was a British colony.
The fact that some of the “Exodus” passengers were deported to Germany added to embarrassment over the episode for Britain at a time it was struggling to keep order between Palestinian Arabs and Jews seeking a state in the Middle East.
Wednesday’s trip was arranged by the United Israel Appeal in France and the Jewish Agency, which promotes Jewish emigration to Israel.
The scenes were very different to those of the 1940s. Passengers sipped orange juice at the quayside and young women in party costumes greeted them aboard the brightly lit ship.
“My parents were turned away from 68 countries 60 years ago. This is a pilgrimage for me,” said Israel Singer, honorary president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany.
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