Fifty years ago today, a group of more than 4,500 Holocaust survivors aboard the Exodus 1947, a converted Chesapeake Bay steamer that had sailed from Baltimore, engaged in a showdown with the British navy in international waters off Egypt.
The refugees were hoping to slip by a blockade to enter British-controlled Palestine. The furor after they were rebuffed and sent to detention camps in Germany eventually resulted in the creation of the state of Israel.
Today at noon, members of the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the Baltimore Zionist District will unveil a historical marker commemorating the event at the Waterfront Arcade of the World Trade Center in the Inner Harbor.
"This was a Baltimore ship that made history," said Dr. Barry S. Lever, chairman of the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the final voyage of the SS President Warfield/Exodus 1947.
The marker has a picture of the ship, which sank in the harbor off Haifa, Israel, in 1952, and proclaims it "The ship that launched a nation."
The ship, which was originally christened the SS President Warfield, was built in 1928 and made nightly cruises between Baltimore and Norfolk, Va. It was used as a Navy vessel during World War II and was purchased as war surplus in 1946 and outfitted in Baltimore to be part of a secret fleet that would take Holocaust survivors through the British blockade against Jewish immigration to Palestine.
On July 18, 1947, the ship was rammed and boarded by British navy ships. The passengers fought back, throwing canned goods and potatoes. During the incident, in which three people were killed and 145 injured, the name of the steamer was changed to the Exodus 1947. The Holocaust survivors were rerouted to Germany.
"That raised such a ruckus that the British six months later lost the mandate for the control of Palestine. Once the British lost the mandate, the state of Israel came into being," Lever said. "This ship links two countries."
Similar markers will be dedicated this year in the other locations that are part of the Exodus saga: Hamburg, Germany; Marseilles, France; and Haifa.
The Israeli government has issued a stamp honoring the Exodus 1947, which will go on sale at today's event, along with commemorative postmarks issued by United States and Israeli postmasters.
There are also two exhibits in the lobby of the World Trade Center, one with artifacts of the Exodus 1947, and the other dealing with the economic association between Maryland and Israel.
Pub Date: 7/18/97