In Their Own Words

(1378)

THE ALTALENA AFFAIR - Brother Against Brother

In the words of Yoske Nachmias

 

 

I was also involved in the Alatalena Affair. 

 

The Altalena was a ship which the Irgun brought in 1948 full of weapons and ammunition by the organization’s funding raising and procurement efforts of Hillel Kook (Peter Bergson) in the United States, purchasing American Army surplus.

 

They reached France, and in France the French government handed us, free of charge, all kinds of arms and ammunition.

 

Nine hundred and fourteen (914) Irgun warriors were on board, which had been trained in Europe (survivors of the death camps) by Irgun members and were coming to Eretz Israel.

 

When the ship was in route, the State of Israel was declared, 15 May 1948. 

 

The Irgun came to the temporary government and told them the ship was on the way with its 914 warriors and the Irgun were willing to give everything away to the new government ... but that 20% of the arms were to go to our units in Jerusalem.

 

Why Jerusalem?

 

Because Jerusalem was supposed to be “international” ...

 

and there was an ordinance with the temporary government, wherever there is not a Jewish regime, there the Underground would continue to exist.

 

So the demand of arms to their units in Jerusalem, and they asked where the ship should go (to land).

 

The temporary government said to land at Kfar Vitkin, a village by the beach half way between Haifa and Tel Aviv.

 

I was a company commander at the time in the Irgun.  The leader of operations of the Irgun, Gidi Paglini, told me to come to Kfar Vitkin with my company.

 

Without arms, we were to be put with the group to unload the supplies on the ship.  Gidi put me into confidence that the ship was coming with so many arms and people, he wanted me to be there with my unit to work as porters to off-load the ship.

 

My company got to Kfar Vitkin and there found the Palmach and IDF units also at the beach.  We sat together ... we waited on the ship coming ... then together we started unloading arms.

 

We didn’t unload many arms, working together three or four hours, when suddenly the Palmach and IDF units left the area and all that were left were members of the Irgun.

 

The Headquarters of the Irgun were there - Menachem Begin, Ya’acov Meridor, and many others were in meeting.  We decided we decided to offload by ourselves.

 

Suddenly a burst of heavy fire came on us, on the Palmach, on the IDF units!

 

Menachem Begin on the shore said -

 

          “Don’t fire back!”

          There will be no war between brothers!

            The first and second House of David was destroyed by brother hate ...

            There won’t be a destruction of the third House of Israel!”

 

And we didn’t fire one arm back!

 

Suddenly, Ya’acov Meridor, 2nd in Command, said -

 

          “You, Yoske - take the Commander and go on board and leave ...

          Wait for instructions there!”

 

Menachem Begin didn’t want to leave his men.

 

“We must leave,” I told him.  And my wife (also with the Irgun) took one side of his arm, another girl, Shula, took his other side, and I from his back pushed him into a landing craft.  We went into high seas to the Altalena.

 

From there we went to Tel Aviv with a white flag flying.

 

We had very big loudspeakers, and we broadcast saying -

 

            “We want to negotiate ...

            We don’t want to have war with our brothers!”

 

They didn’t listen to us.

 

Instead of talking to us, they (Yitzhak Rabin in command) fired on us a hell of a fire!

 

Menachem Begin was on the command position of the bridge, with a loudspeaker saying -

 

          “Don’t fire back!”

 

            “Let them kill us all!”

 

            “We will never lift a hand on a Jew!”

 

Menachem Begin called me and said -

 

          “Yoske - go ashore and with negotiation try to stop the fighting!

            You are going down without any arms ...

            You are going only with the ‘wireless.’”

 

I took a little landing craft and started sailing toward the beach. 

 

Heavy fire was on me all the time.

When I reached the beach, I jumped from the craft and I ran in zig-zags to a house where we thought - from there they are firing upon us.

 

I started shouting -

 

          “Who is the Commander here?”

 

A voice replied -

 

          “Yoske - is that you?”

 

He recognized my voice, it was my cousin!

 

“Look, Avraham,” I replied -

 

          “We don’t fire back, we don’t want war between brothers!

          Please stop the fighting!”

 

He said -

 

          “I swear to you, we are not firing at you!

          They are firing on you from the north there!

          (He pointed where the Hilton stands today.)

 

I looked there and I suddenly saw a burst of fire!

A mushroom came out of the center of the ship!

 

I took the wireless from my back, running to the sea. 

While I was running there was a blast of heavy fire raining on me. 

I ran in zig-zags ...

I got to the water ...

there was a hell of a fire on me while swimming as fast as I could back to the ship!

 

I looked for my wife - “Where is she?”

 

She was on the bottom deck caring for the wounded.

 

“Yava, the ship is ready to blow - let’s get out of here!”

 

She replied, “First let’s offload the wounded!”

 

And from God’s help - who knows how - lots of little canoes came - hundreds of them - I don’t know where they came from - under the firing they didn’t stop even for one second!

 

We offloaded all the wounded ...

Menachem Begin was at the deck giving orders ...

 

I said -

 

          “My Commander - JUMP!”

 

“NO!  I am the Captain - I am the last one to jump!” he said.

 

I said -

 

          “Excuse me, the Captain is Miran Fine - he is taking care of the ship.

 

            You are a Captain of the Jewish nation - JUMP - please!”

 

He said -

 

          “No - you jump - I am the last one to jump!”

 

I took two or three youngsters,

we put on him a life vest - by force (I didn’t know if he knew how to swim) -

 

AND WE THREW HIM OVERBOARD!

 

And then I told my wife to jump (my wife doesn’t swim) and she said to me -

 

          “You go first and wait for me.”

 

So she jumped down to me ...

and I took her, swimming on my back ...

all the time fire raining down on us!

 

I swam to the nearest dingy ...

Put my wife in ...

I said I can’t go to shore ...

 

I didn’t get in because five comrades were swimming ...

I called to them ...

 

One was shot in the head as he climbed in the dingy, and he drowned.

 

Another began to climb in and was hit in the arm and my wife grabbed his shirt.

 

We went on the high seas ...

The Israeli Navy picked us up ...

and jailed us.

 

Those five who came to the dingy were from Cuba.

 

They had come to us ...

Not even Jewish people ...

They came to help the Jewish people in Eretz Israel ...

They were strangers to us.

 

We were put into a room together,

and in the morning the Israeli police fingerprinted us.

 

I believe my wife, Yafa, and me were the first “gangsters” in the free land of Israel, with the Cubans!

 

Later I found out (as we were six generations in Jerusalem, and I was of ten brothers and sisters) some of us were in the Palmach (2) ... some in the Irgun (4).

 

They had summon up my brother’s Palmach unit (unit “L”) - of which he was the commander - to the beach, and he said -

 

          “Whom are we fighting here?”

 

They told him -

 

          “The Irgun.”

 

My brother said -

 

            “Are you crazy?”

 

“I don’t fight against Jews and especially against the Irgun because by brothers might be there!”

 

And he left.

 

He was jailed because he left the combat area.

 

Years later Ben-Gurion said that concerning the ship Altalena ...

somebody misinformed him ...

 

And that’s why he gave an order -

 

            Not to talk to the Irgun people and to fire to destroy the ship at all costs.

 

We had sixteen Irgun dead and many wounded ...

(some of the 914 survivors of the death camps died) ...

 

WE DIDN’T FIRE ONE SHOT BACK.


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