Shortly after the war, hundreds of Dutch-Jewish youths left for Palestine. They had barely survived the horrors of the Second World War when they decided to risk their lives by leaving the Netherlands. On ramshackle, overcrowded ships, they undertook the illegal journey to the 'promised land', after which they ended up behind barbed wire once again. The exhibition Exodus. Illegal Palestine travellers, 1945-1948 with the poignant stories of Dutch people who wanted to build a new life in Palestine, will be held in the National Holocaust Museum in development from 5 October 2018.
After the liberation in 1945, it was difficult for most Jews to resume normal life again. Family members were murdered and they lost most of their possessions. After the war, tens of thousands of displaced Jews, especially from Eastern Europe, still remained in the former German concentration camps without anywhere to go. In the post-war Netherlands, many Jews had trouble finding their footing as well. Young people had fallen behind in school and young men were called upon to fulfil their conscription in the Dutch East Indies.
Therefore, hundreds of young people left for Palestine between 1945 and 1948, with the Zionist ambition of helping establish a Jewish state. But Palestine was under English rule, which had set strict immigration restrictions for Jews. In an answer to this, Palestinian Jews organised large-scaled clandestine operations in order to get as many Holocaust survivors from Europe to Palestine, named alia bet. The Dutch secretly traveled to the southern French coast in groups, where they embarked for the crossing to Palestine; for many, it was a dramatic journey.
Once in Palestine territorial waters, the British warships attacked the boats full of migrants and the passengers were detained in camps in Palestine and on Cyprus. The 4500 passengers of the famous ship the Exodus came no further than the Haifa wharf. The British forcibly shipped them back to Europe and the passengers ended up in Germany after months of wandering in the British occupation zone. This way, many Holocaust survivors were once again held in former concentration camps. It led to great international outrage and accelerated the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
Two times Bergen-Belsen
The exhibition is about the Jewish Dutch who tried to enter Palestine illegally: personal stories of people who had nothing left and were facing an uncertain future in an area that was new to them, visualised with documents, photos, travel reports, interview fragments and historical film material. Attention is paid, among other things, to the experiences of four Amsterdam youths, who traveled on the Exodus and Theodore Herzl. One of them, Marty van Collem (1929-2018), ended up in the Bergen-Belsen camp for the second time in her life in 1947. Amsterdam native Max Noach (1928) made detailed sketches of his journey with the Theodor Herzl, where the passengers slept in four-bed racks above each other in the cramped hull of the ship.
The exhibition is co-organised by film-maker Ruben Gischler who, between 2012 and 2014, talked to fifteen Dutch people about their journey to Palestine. In 2014, he made the documentary Een rest keert weer as a result of these conversations.