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Exodus – The Odyssey of a Commander

“The State of Israel was not born on 15 May 1948, when it was formally declared. It was born a year earlier, on 18 July 1947, when a battered American ship, the President Warfield, renamed Exodus 1947, limped into the port of Haifa.” So opens Kaniuk’s book which tells the true story of Yossi Harel, the commander of the Exodus. This ship became universally famous thanks to Leon Uris’ novel and the epic film made in 1960 by Otto Preminger, starring Paul Newman. The story of this immigrant ship became the justification for the creation of the State of Israel.

Kaniuk’s treatment of the biography is unusual – lively, emotional, at times ecstatic, its language poetic. Kaniuk paints the portrait of a bold and adventurous, yet sensitive and responsible, ‘sabra’, whose forefathers had settled in Palestine in the 18th century, who joined the Haganah at the age of 14 and took part in the struggle of the Jewish community against the British Mandate. Then, with the outbreak of World War II, he joined the British Army and fought in the Libyan desert and in Greece. But the climax of Yossi Harel’s career was his command, between late 1945 and early 1948, of four immigrant ships, the largest of the ‘Aliyah Bet,’ the illegal Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine, which brought some 24,000 Jews from Europe, most of them Holocaust survivors. One of these ships was the legendary Exodus, which was attacked by British soldiers with gas bombs, forced back to sea and then forced to unload its wretched human cargo in Hamburg, Germany, of all places. ‘Two years earlier, they had survived death by another kind of gas, in another place,’ Kaniuk writes of the passengers, who were defeated, with some injured, by the gas attack, ‘in a century when Jews and gas should not have been made to meet again.’

Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian
Title Exodus – The Odyssey of a Commander
Writer's Last Name Kaniuk
Writer's First Name Yoram
Genre Fiction
Publisher (Hebrew) Yedioth Ahronoth
No. Pages 269pp.
Book title - Hebrew (phonetic) Exodus - Odysseia Shel Mefaked; Ha-Ish Ve-Ha-Exodus
  • “ A forcefully exciting story in which Kaniuk places respect for human life and suffering above all. ”

    Die Welt
  • “ Masterfully describing both Harel’s biography, and the suffering and determination of the refugees, Kaniuk portrays an ugly episode in history and provides much-needed historical depth to contemporary political debates. ”

    Publishers Weekly
  • “ Tells the story from the viewpoint of one person....This is the focus of the author’s special concept, and this decision...gives the book its quality, creating intense intimacy alongside painful revelations. ”