I was born in Brooklyn, New York, graduated from high school there and was a member of Hashomer Hatzair.
I entered the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy as a Cadet in 1943. I made a six-month trip on an American export ship, returned to the academy, completed the course of study and graduated; I passed the third assistant engineer's license exam, and received a commission as an ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve. I chose to serve in the Merchant Marine rather than the Navy and sailed as third and second assistant engineer on Liberty ships carrying ammunition during World War ll.
I returned from a trip around March/April 1946 and was told to check with the Hechalutz Office. There I was informed about the Corvettes, the first ships purchased in the USA for Aliyah Bet, and joined the crew of the Norsyd, which later became the SS Haganah. Except for the captain and the chief and first assistant engineers, all the crew were volunteers, many from Habomin and Hashomer Hatzair. All the remaining officers were experienced Merchant Mariners, and we also had some ex-GIs. We sailed from New York to Marseilles, where preparations began for accommodating the passengers. Our first contacts were Rudy (Shmaria Tzameret) and the Baharlia Brothers (ship chandlers), all very impressive people. The crew worked on regular maintenance while a shore gang installed the wooden shelves which served as bunks for the olim.
Visitors from Mosad I'Aliyah Bet came to see the first volunteer-Jewish crew. We were taken to the camp at St. Gerome and met with the staff and our future passengers. This was a mutually beneficial experience: for us, it was our first contact with survivors anxious to get to Eretz Yisrael. For them, it was a much-appreciated surprise to meet the Jewish-American crew.
Upon completion of the preparations, we boarded 999 olim at Port-de-Bout and set sail. Our commander was Yehoshua Rabinovitch (Baharav - Kibbutz Ginnosar). We met the ship Akbel and transferred our olim passengers to it in motor launches, a story that has¬† often been told. All facts considered, the transfer was a very successful operation.
Our next port was an anchorage at Milos, where we refueled from oil drums. Aryeh Paar, Larry Silverstein and Berney Marks rigged up a boom and added blocks and tackles, using the anchor windlass for power. They lifted the drums to the deck where Sammy Applebaum and I ruled them above a trough and spilled the oil into the double bottom. Next we sailed to Bakar in the north of Yugoslavia, with an overnight in Split. Another deck platform was built forward of the deck house and the aft accommodations were improved.
On the previous trip we considered the ship to be overcrowded with 999 passengers. Our sister ship, the Wedgwood, had carried 1,257 passengers from Italy. These were the approximate numbers we expected. The olim arrived by rail, and when they lined up alongside the ship, we could see there were more people than on the first trip. As boarding proceeded we were amazed to see a second train arrive. The total number of passengers was 2,678. The ship was dangerously overloaded and unstable. Despite the risks which those in charge were willing to take, all survived.
We arrived in Haifa after about a week, having encountered water in the fuel, as well as loss of power. Since the Wedgwood and Beria had arrived during the preceding weeks, the camp at Atlit was full. Our passengers were divided up onto several Aliyah Bet ships which had previously been captured by the British and were tied up to the Haifa breakwater.
Eventually the passengers were taken to Atlit. I left the ship several afternoons later on the arm of a Kupat Cholim nurse, acting as if I were a doctor, We proceeded through the gate of the port for a cold beer at the King's Bar.
I spent the next few months with friends at Kibbutz Mishmar Ha‚Äôemek. Then I returned to Marseilles. I was sent to Sweden by Mosad L'Aliyah Bet to check out some potential Aliyah Bet ships. From there I returned to New York, and early in 1941 I¬† went to Miami to set up another base for preparing Aliyah Bet ships.
I returned to Mishmar Ha‚Äôemek in November 1947 with a garin of Hashomer Hatzair. We moved to Kibbutz Ein Hashofet in January 1948. By March 1948, I found out that the Israel Navy was being organized, and I became part of it. Meanwhile, my garin had gone on to settle at Kibbutz Sasa.
I left the Israel Navy in June 1950 and went to settle at Kibbutz Sasa. I married Rezzie (Ruth) in 1951. We returned to the USA in August 1952, lived in the Philadelphia area where I worked as an engineer and where we had two sons. We returned to Israel in 1983 and live in Tel Aviv.
For me the most important and meaningful accomplishment was doing something for the survivors and the Yishuv. All the tons of arms which I had helped to deliver to the former Soviet Union, and to the U.S. Army in Europe and to the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor may not have saved one Jewish life. But the Aliyah Bet operation was a positive act. I transported our people to Eretz Yisrael (a.k.a. Palestine), strengthening both. Personally, it gave me an opportunity to meet many "doers:" Danny Shind, Yehoshua Rabinovitch, Yaakov Frank, Hamen (shouldn‚Äôt it be HYMAN?) Shamir. Aryeh Paar. Joe Buxenbaum and Paul Shulman, as well as most of the 230 American Aliyah Bet volunteers.
Author:¬† Dave Baum