Captives in Lebanon: The Story of the “Marine Carp”

How Israel’s declaration of independence shaped the fate of 69 Jews on an American passenger ship

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In May 1948, a new regional order took hold in the Middle East. In a single moment, metaphorical walls were erected and routes were cut off. Jerusalem was still under siege and the road to the Negev desert was blocked. International routes that were once used freely by the inhabitants of Mandatory Palestine were now shut down as a result of the war that had broken out. Damascus and Cairo were no longer accessible. In the midst of this new order, just one day after the establishment of the State of Israel, a maritime drama began which would last for a month and a half. This is the story of the American ship, Marine Carp.

This article was written in collaboration with the Toldot Yisrael Collection, dedicated to documenting the testimonies of the State of Israel’s founding generation. This collection is now deposited in the National Library.

The USNS Marine Carp was originally built for the purpose of transporting military forces to Europe and back. Following the conclusion of World War II, the vessel was repurposed as a  passenger ship and set on a regular, commercial route. She embarked out of New York, crossed the Atlantic, and docked in Athens, Beirut, Haifa, and Alexandria. At the end of the route, she returned to New York via Italy. During the post-war period, the Marine Carp transported many American Jews to the Land of Israel in order to volunteer on kibbutzim, attend youth gatherings, or simply immigrate to the Land of Israel legally (if they were able to make it past the various obstacles successfully). The ship set out from New York every five weeks. On May 4th, 1948, Marine Carp embarked on its regular route. There were many Jewish travelers aboard, including Jews from the Land of Israel studying or living in the United States who were answering a general enlistment call put out by the Hebrew Yishuv which was already fighting for its life in the War of Independence.

A picture of some of the Marine Carp passengers before embarking on a fateful voyage. From The Jewish Daily Forward Yiddish newspaper. May 22, 1948.
A picture of some of the Marine Carp passengers before embarking on their fateful voyage. From The Jewish Daily Forward Yiddish newspaper. May 22nd, 1948

One of the passengers on the Marine Carp was David Sidorsky, who would later become a professor of philosophy at Columbia University. While a young student in New York, he was in attendance at the UN building during the vote on the partition plan. Following its acceptance, and the ensuing threats of war by the Arab states, the idea of volunteering for combat was planted deeply in his mind. After a brief meeting with Teddy Kollek, then a representative of the Haganah, he received permission to join the division of overseas volunteers and boarded the ship.

But the plans of the volunteers would be halted in their tracks.

David Sidorsky testifies:

When the ship reached Beirut, a stop on its regular route, 400 Lebanese soldiers were waiting for the passengers at port. The Lebanese authorities did not want to allow Jewish men of military age to continue on to Israel. Indeed, 69 passengers, all Jewish men between the ages of 18 and 50, were forcibly removed from the ship. Among the detainees were 41 American citizens, 23 fresh Israeli citizens, 3 Canadians, and 2 others. Some of the Israeli citizens aboard had, in fact, been training in the United States to operate radar systems for the newly formed IDF.

Another passenger on the ship was Muriel Eisenberg, later Muriel Arens when she married future Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Arens. According to her testimony, the Lebanese forces searched the ship, in which weapons were hidden, and threatened the radio operator not to send any kind of distress signal.

Muriel Arens testifies:

Courtesy of Eliza Arens, Muriel’s daughter, we received pictures taken by Muriel on the deck of the ship, as well as images of the docking at the port of Beirut.

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On the ship’s deck. Courtesy of the Arens family

 

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At the port of Beirut. Courtesy of the Arens family

The ship’s crew tried to resist, but their efforts were in vain. Daniel Doron, another passenger (and a great-grandson of Zerah Barnett, co-founder of the city of Petah Tikva). testified:

 

“Most of the ship’s crew were black. We made friends with them. We would sing with them, drink with them and eat with them. They refused to leave Beirut. They said, ‘We are not leaving, not moving the ship. We are not leaving Beirut without the Israelis.’ It was only when the ambassador convinced them that the incident would be resolved within a week that they agreed to continue on their way.”

The detainees were taken by truck to the city of Baalbek, where they were held in an abandoned French military camp. Daniel Doron reflected on the drive to the camp:

“We drove all night. We departed at 10 o’clock or 12 o’clock at night. That was the most dangerous part because the trucks – Lebanese military trucks – were in bad shape. The brakes did not work very well. They bounced up and down, you know…”

 

Some of the passengers complained about how the U.S. was handling their detention, and even accused the U.S. consulate in Beirut of anti-Semitism. The United States condemned the refusal of the Lebanese to release the detainees, causing a minor diplomatic incident between the two countries.

While the detainees were transported to Baalbek, the ship continued on to Haifa. Among the passengers on board were the families of the detainees – women and children who were allowed to continue on their journey. It was at this point that a separate drama began to unfold on the ship. Israeli authorities demanded the removal of 25 Lebanese civilians from the ship, hoping to leverage a prisoner exchange. These attempts were apparently unsuccessful, and did not contribute to the efforts to release the detainees in Lebanon. Telegrams sent to the Marine Carp captain on that day are stored in the Israel State Archives.

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Letter to the captain of the Marine Carp, asking him to condone the arrest of 25 Lebanese on board. Courtesy of the Israel State Archives

 

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List of the 25 Lebanese passengers aboard the Marine Carp, whom the Israeli authorities requested to detain in response to Lebanese actions. Courtesy of the Israel State Archives

Once the incident in Beirut became public knowledge, it aroused great interest in the new State of Israel. The local press covered the events extensively throughout the episode.

So, what was the catalyst that eventually led to the liberation of the captive Jews? What finally contributed to stepping up U.S. efforts to end the affair? The official answer has never been revealed.

According to testimony from Daniel Doron, a family member was able to speak to then-US President Harry Truman about the issue. Truman was, apparently, able to find a solution to the crisis over the course of the two weeks that followed the meeting.

“Truman said, ‘What?!’ Then he told him the story. Truman fumed and went to the red phone. He picked it up, and the head of covert services was on the other end. He said, ‘Listen, my friend, either you free these people within two weeks or you can look for another job.’”

The American detainees refused to accept the release that had been arranged for them without their Israeli counterparts. Lebanese attempts to separate the populations had failed. Finally, on June 30th, almost a month and a half after the incident, the Lebanese agreed to release all of the detainees. They were sent back to New York, but many of them were unable to obtain a visa and were forced to stay on Ellis Island. From there, they again departed with the Marine Carp. Some of the passengers, anxious to return to Israel, had not waited to arrive on American shores. They chose to hop off the ship at other ports and found creative ways to get back to Israel. One of the liberated detainees who fled the ship in Italy was Shabtai Teveth, who later became the biographer of David Ben-Gurion. Another well-known passenger was Oded Burla who, over the years, became one of Israel’s most well-known and beloved children’s poets.

The National Library’s Toldot Yisrael Collection contains interviews with four passengers who were on the Marine Carp. Do you know other people who were aboard the ship during that fateful voyage? If so, please let us know.

 

Four Israeli Premieres, Some VR and a Little Iraq N’Roll at the Library

Fifth Docu.Text film fest kicks off August 18-22 at the National Library of Israel

A screening at the Docu.Text festival. Photo: Yoni Kelberman

By Zack Rothbart

Four acclaimed documentary films will have their Israeli big-screen premieres at the fifth annual Docu.Text Documentary Film Festival at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, August 18-22, 2019. Two of the premiered films will be virtual reality (VR)/augmented reality (AR) experiences offered to festival goers for the first time. Docu.Text will feature dozens of indoor and outdoor screenings, special tours, conversations with filmmakers and experts, as well as a concert on the National Library Plaza featuring Israeli rocker Dudu Tassa exploring his grandfather’s Iraqi musical roots.

An immersive portrait of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the ground-breaking intellectual, policy specialist, ambassador and long-serving New York senator

The four premieres are: “Moynihan“, an immersive portrait of intellectual, diplomat and legendary New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan; “Zikr: A Sufi Revival“, which takes participants on an interactive VR journey into the world of ecstatic ritual, dance and music in Tunisia; “East of the Rockies“, an AR experience about the forced displacement of Japanese-Canadians during World War II; and “Paul Auster – What If“, offering 70 years of American history through the renowned author’s eyes.

“Paul Auster – What if?”: A look at 70 years of American history through the eyes of one if its great authors

Besides film screenings and the VR/AR area, the festival program includes a number of special events. Following the screening of “Moynihan”, the film’s director Toby Perl Freilich will talk with Mike Herzog, retired IDF brigadier general and current Milton Fine International Fellow of The Washington Institute, whose father Chaim worked closely with Moynihan when the two were ambassadors to the UN at the time of the infamous “Zionism is Racism” decision in 1975.

The American creators of the VR experience “Zikr: A Sufi Revival” will also be at the festival, where they will talk about experiential storytelling.

“Zikr – A Sufi Revival”: An interactive virtual reality journey into the world of ecstatic ritual, dance and music in Tunisia

The “Truth be Told” one-day seminar  will focus on the issues of cultural responsibility and creative copyright, examining the place of the Library, which is charged with preservation of knowledge in an era where it seems that truth is more relative than ever. The seminar will be held in cooperation with the Forum of Documentary Filmmakers.

Docu.Text 5 will close with “Iraq N’ Roll”, the story of popular Israeli rocker Dudu Tassa’s personal journey to reconnect with the musical legacy of his grandfather, Daud al-Kuwaity, who along with his brother Saleh was one of the most celebrated musicians in the Arab world of the 1930s and all but forgotten in 1950s Israel.  The film will be followed by a concert by Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis, who recently toured with Radiohead, as they celebrate this journey in music live on stage.

Israeli rocker Dudu Tassa explores his Iraqi roots through music

Docu.Text is a collaboration with Docaviv, and is made possible with support from Carole and Saul Zabar, Bader Philanthropies and an anonymous donor.

For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit: docutext.nli.org.il/english.

International Members of the National Library of Israel get a discount to the festival and other benefits throughout the year.

The Times of Israel is the proud media partner for Docu.Text 5.

Menachem Begin: The Man of a Thousand Faces

What (or who) do Mr. Halperin, Rabbi Sassover, and Dr. Konigshoffer have in common? How the head of the Irgun evaded capture by the British Police, time and again

It was the days of the British Mandate in the Land of Israel. Jewish underground organizations were at the height of their activity against the colonial authorities. Special attention was being paid to the Irgun organization headed by Menachem Begin, which the British considered a terrorist group. Begin and the Irgun were indeed a particularly bothersome thorn in the side of the waning British Empire. The group was responsible for hundreds of rebellious act against the regime, including the breach of the Acre prison and the bombing of the King David Hotel, which resulted in the deaths of dozens of members of the Mandatory administration, among others.

As the Irgun’s leader, Menachem Begin was assigned a place of high priority on the British Secret Intelligence Service wanted list. A bounty for his capture and rewards for information on his whereabouts were offered to the public. Begin was forced into hiding, moving from safe house to safe house, even using disguises and false identities. These were simple ruses but they were successful time and time again. Whenever the British began to close in on him, Begin simply packed up his family and belongings, and disappeared. He would then resurface elsewhere with a different identity.

A Palestine Police announcement from February 1947, offering compensation to anyone who could offer information leading to the arrest of the wanted men on the poster. First from the left in the first row: Menachem Begin. From the Jabotinsky Institute collection
A Palestine Police announcement from February 1947, offering compensation to anyone who could offer information leading to the arrest of the wanted men on the poster. First from the left in the first row: Menachem Begin. From the Jabotinsky Institute collection

 

The Pole Who Never Left His House

Name: Israel Halperin

Address : #15 Tsirelson St., the Hasidof Neighborhood, Petah Tikva

Profession: Law student

Period of time living under this identity: May, 1944 – February, 1945

Begin on his false identity:

“…our neighbors had not the least suspicion. They found it all natural and understandable. They were told that the Halperin family was a family of refugees from Poland who had been unable to find accommodation in the town. True, the head of the family did not go out to work every day but for this too a plausible explanation was found. We voluntarily told the neighbors that we lived off an allocation frim the refugee aid organization and that I was preparing for the Palestinian law examinations – hence my working at home.”

The house where Menachem Begin lived as Israel Halperin in the Hasidof neighborhood in Petah Tikva. From the Jabotinsky Institute collection. For more photos of the house click here for the Petah Tikva online archive
The house where Menachem Begin lived as Israel Halperin in the Hasidof neighborhood in Petah Tikva. From the Jabotinsky Institute collection. For more photos of the house click here for the Petah Tikva online archive

 

 

Please Address Me as “The Honorable Rabbi”

Name: Rabbi Israel Sassover

Address: Corner of Habashan St. and Yehoshua Bin Nun St., Tel Aviv

Profession: “At the end of thirty days I had changed sufficiently to become Israel Sassover, who might have been a modern Rabbi, or a politician in one of the religious parties, or merely a penitent sinner”

Period of time living under this identity: February, 1945 – early 1947

Begin on this identity:

“My beard and the status it conferred on me also imposed certain obligations in my new surroundings. […] I was invited to become a regular participant at prayers in the synagogue […] They received their new neighbor with characteristically benevolent curiosity. They asked me questions which I had to answer. They gave me my regular place, and thenceforward I became one of them. I heard later, in confidence, that if the British had remained in Eretz Israel ten years longer I might possibly have risen to high eminence and been elected second assistant to the third warden of the synagogue. I was quite popular, though I never took part in any political discussions – or perhaps that was the reason.”

Menachem Begin disguised as Rabbi Israel Sassover, with his wife Aliza and their son Benny. Photo: GPO
Menachem Begin disguised as Rabbi Israel Sassover, with his wife Aliza and their son Benny. Photo: GPO

What the neighbors had to say about him:

“I think they came to the conclusion that I was a good-for-nothing who had had a large dowry from his wife. They could hardly have believed me capable of any work. They pitied my wife deeply, especially the women. ‘Poor young thing,’ they said, ‘she must have been forced to marry this loafer, this perpetual student.’ I was certainly not interested in dispelling their illusions.”

 

 

The Well-Behaved German 

The forged Dr. Koenigshoffer passport. From the Jabotinsky Institute collection
The forged Dr. Konigshoffer passport. From the Jabotinsky Institute collection

Name: Dr. Jona Konigshoffer

Address: The corner of Rosenbaum St. and Yosef Eliyahu St., Tel Aviv

Profession: Doctor

Nationality: German-Jewish

Period of time living under this identity: January, 1947 – the departure of the British from the Land of Israel

Begin on this identity:

“Quite by a chance a passport had been found in one of the public libraries in the name of Dr. Jona Konigshoffer.  It was rather a long name, but I had the advantage of being purely “Germanic.” It was a name reeking of loyalty and the preservation of law and order. So it was decided to suit me to the passport, or rather, to adapt my new photograph to it.

Bonus Fact:

The local children in the street would laugh at Menachem Begin’s son and make fun of the last name by twisting the meaning with a pun:

‘Konigs-bluffer.’ Begin reflected that “they did not know how serious their cruel joke was.”

 

All quotations in this article were taken from the book, The Revolt by Menachem Begin, published by Dell, 1978

For further information, visit the Jabotinsky Institute Archive online

 

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When Marilyn Monroe Sprained Her Ankle for Israel

The story of how Marilyn Monroe stole the show at a celebratory match featuring Israeli and American soccer stars

Marilyn Monroe was given the honor of kicking off the game between Hapoel and a team of U.S. All-Stars. Photo: Eliyahu Atar

In 1957, a special telegram was sent to the Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer team. Just before embarking on a celebratory trip to the United States on the occasion of the ninth anniversary of the State of Israel, the players were asked “Which American would you like to meet during your trip?” The players answered without hesitation: “As athletes, we would like to meet with the Brooklyn Dodgers. As men – with Marilyn Monroe.” This required quite a few strings to be pulled and quite a few phone calls to be made, but eventually the players’ wish came true.

The glitzy event featured a friendly soccer match on May 12th, 1957 between Hapoel and a team of American All-Stars, which took place under the slogan “Long Live the State of Israel!” The venue was historic Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who would move out to sunny Los Angeles later that year. In the stands were New York Mayor Robert Wagner, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Abba Eban, senators, cultural figures, representatives of Jewish organizations and many more. To top it all off, none other than Mrs. Marilyn Monroe would have the honor of kicking off the game!

Footage of the Historic Moment:

“Suddenly an open convertible burst into the stadium,” wrote Dan Pachter in the Israeli Davar Daily, “and in the backseat, there she was – the Hapoel mascot – the movie star, Marilyn Monroe!!! Three exclamation points will not suffice to emphasize the enthusiasm of the crowd. Marilyn rose to her feet and waved to every section of the audience – the same fair-haired Marilyn, who so artfully demonstrates her natural mischief. A marching band and a group of cheerleaders strode before her and behind them – the two teams in line.”

But the climax was what happened next: “The blonde movie star appeared on the field in minimal blue attire, featuring cleavage that occasionally tended to delve into dangerous dimensions,” the Herut newspaper reported. “Marilyn had to kick the ball no less than three times – twice for the many photographers who had gathered on the field and once for the soccer players.”

 

The cover of "Soccer" monthly magazine, June 1957. From left to right – legendary Israeli goalkeeper Ya'akov Hodorov, Marilyn Monroe and New York State Supreme Court Justice Samuel Leibowitz
The cover of “Soccer”, a monthly Hebrew magazine, June 1957. From left to right: Legendary Israeli goalkeeper Ya’akov Hodorov, Marilyn Monroe and New York State Supreme Court Justice Samuel Leibowitz

 

And while we wish the report ended here, this was not the case: “Her second kick scored a direct hit – right in the face of United Press photographer Joel Landau. After the final kick, the actress left the field limping, while leaning on the arm of the happily beaming Judge Samuel Leibowitz, her official chaperone for the game.”

The Hapoel team ended up winning the thrilling match by the score of 6 to 4. Legendary Israeli goalkeeper Ya’akov Khodorov had a few particularly close moments with Monroe – holding her hand, speaking with her and taking pictures with her several times. Unsurprisingly, after the game was over, he was asked if the four goals he conceded were a result of being starstruck by the celebrity actress.

Ya’akov Khodorov kisses Marilyn Monroe on the cheek. Photo: Eliyahu Atar, published in Davar on May 31st, 1957. Click the image to see the full article featuring more pictures.

 

“The papers wrote that I got confused and let in some unnecessary goals because I had been near Marilyn Monroe,” the goalkeeper said after the game. “True, I was a little excited, but who wouldn’t be excited next to her?”

 

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