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The early French connection to Israel

Alan Swarc

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Jewish Historical Studies, volume 43, 2011 The early French connection to Israel ALAN SWARC One often hears of the Golden Age of Franco-Israeli relations in the period 1953 to 1965, during which France supplied nuclear know-how and modern weapons to Israel. However, there is far less mention in the historiography of an earlier period when the bonds of this relationship were originally forged. This goes back to the postwar era when the illegal immigration campaign was in full swing and French ports provided an outlet to the Mediterranean for thousands of Jewish Displaced Persons (DPs) determined to reach the shores of Palestine. Jews could not simply walk out of German or Austrian DP camps and tak a train to Marseilles to board one of the liners serving the Middle Eastern ports. On the contrary, it was more probable that they left their camps in secret led by members of the Mossad VAliyah Bet (Institute for 'Parallel Immigration'). This was a secret body set up in Palestine in 1938 by the Jewish Agency, and staffed, in the main, by Labour Zionists from the kibbutz movement. While this organization maintained only a functional link to the Jewish Agency's paramilitary forces, the Haganah, its leader, Shaul Meirov, was one of its the Haganah's top officers. He was a close associate of David Ben-Gurion, the Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine. In later years, the name 'Mossad' was attributed to the external intelligence service of the State of Israel. Legal entry to Palestine was subject to restrictions set in place by the British Mandate authorities, so no regular liner would take on board Jews without proper entry certificates. In 1945 a quota of only 18,000 Jewish immigrants per annum was available and at this stage no entry certificates were granted to DPs. By late 1946 there were some 200,000 displaced Jews in the American and British Zones of Germany and Austria, who had refused repatriation to their former homes and were looking for a haven elsewhere. There were others in camps in Italy. The goal of the Mossad was to breach the British naval blockade along the shores of Palestine and land the immi? grants onto the beaches undetected, from where they would be integrated into existing Jewish settlements, quota or no quota. Although Italy was the Mossad's preferred route to the Mediterranean and the Adriatic, it was in France that the Mossad decided to set up its European operational headquarters. Here it did not work alone. It relied on 159</page><page sequence="2">Alan Swarc the assistance of four distinct groupings: former Jewish resistance members (PArmee Juive, AJ), official Palestinian emissaries, leading French Zionists and, by far the most significant, Socialist ministers and their officials in the various French coalition governments after the war. The contribution made by this last group to Aliyah Bet forms the main focus of this article, and illus? trates how wide-ranging was the support given to the Zionist cause in France.11 start with the contribution by the former members of the AJ. L' Armee Juive This specifically Jewish resistance movement had been set up at the begin? ning of 1942 in the Free Zone of France. Ties with the Jewish Agency already existed, as Avraham Polonski, one of the AJ leaders, had signed an agree? ment with Eliahu Dobkin in Barcelona in July 1944, under which the move? ment accepted the authority of the Agency. The first accredited representative of the Jewish Agency in France was David Shaltiel, who arrived on 27 November 1944.2 His official task as Director of the Palestinian Office of the Jewish Agency was to organize legal Jewish immigration to Palestine. Within a month or so, Shaltiel had a first contact with the former leaders of the AJ. Despite ShaltiePs warm words, in which he expressed his respect for their work during the war, this initial contact was not immedi? ately fruitful. It is suggested that the leaders of the AJ were hesitant to commit themselves, particularly because of the political strains existing at the time between the President of the Jewish Agency, Chaim Weizmann, whom they greatly respected, and David Ben-Gurion, its Chairman.3 In February 1945 Shaltiel was joined in Paris by Ruth Kluger, who was to act as his co-director of the Agency. Within Mossad circles she already had a formidable reputation for her work in extracting Jews from Eastern Europe before and during the war. The pioneering work by these two Jewish Agency representatives in Paris represented the first phase of direct Palestinian activ? ity in France. With the arrival of Ben-Gurion in May 1945 in Paris, to which he was no stranger, a new and more intensive phase was set in motion. In this capital city Ben-Gurion had one close confidant, the ardent Zionist Marc Jarblum, the head of the Federation des Societes Juives de France (FSJF). Once he had arrived, Ben-Gurion set about re-establishing contact with his old 'Parisian Friend' and meeting other French Zionist leaders in order to 1 This article forms the background to the paper presented to the Society on 19 March 2009. 2 The National Archives (TNA), FO 371/42885, Note from Air Ministry to Transport Command, 24 Nov. 1944. 3 A. Grynberg, 'France 1944-1947, ouvrir les portes de Sion: de la resistance contre le nazisme ? la solidarite avec Israel' Les Nouveaux Cahiers XVI (Autumn 1990) 509-30. i6o</page><page sequence="3">The early French connection to Israel explore the possibilities of setting up a range of Haganah activities on French soil.4 In his meetings with Kluger and Shaltiel, Ben-Gurion insisted that henceforth they work closely with Jarblum, whose contacts in the French administration, particularly with the Socialist ministers, were second to none. While they would keep Jarblum informed on immigration matters, he in turn would disclose to them all his political activities.5 It was Kluger who, anxious to deflect the scepticism about Ben-Gurion demonstrated by the AJ leaders, arranged an hour's meeting between Ben Gurion and Polonski on 18 May 1945.6 After this meeting Ben-Gurion noted in his diary that of the original two thousand operatives in the AJ, eight hundred had remained in contact and could be very useful. With the British Labour Party's accession to power in July 1945, Ben Gurion and the members of the Jewish Agency executive felt that at last their hopes would be realized. This illusion was shattered later in September, when Clement Attlee indicated that the White Paper restricting Jewish immigration would continue to be maintained until his government had finally determined its policy for Palestine. Returning to Paris on 29 September 1945, Ben-Gurion, determined to cir? cumvent the restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine, ordered his col? leagues in Palestine to despatch to Paris both Meirov, the head of the Mossad, and his second in command, Ehud Avriel, to organize Aliyah Bet operations.7 Next, Ben-Gurion sought out Polonski to determine the sort of assistance he could render the Haganah in France. By then the AJ had over? come its earlier misgivings about Ben-Gurion and was eager to be of service. As a first gesture Ben-Gurion was invited to inaugurate the first transmission of the AJ's secret radio station in Paris, dedicated to the future needs of the Mossad.8 Polonski also informed Ben-Gurion that he was now fully prepared to put at his disposal the skills in forgery, transport and weapons which his Resistance organization had acquired fighting the Germans. Given that, at this stage, no effective Haganah infrastructure existed in France, Ben Gurion saw the AJ as providing the means to kick-start operations. Later in October 1945, writing his report in London, Ben-Gurion expressed his hopes for a fruitful collaboration between the Palestinian 4 I. Zertal, From Catastrophe to Power: Holocaust Survivors and the Emergence of Israel (Berkeley, California 1998) 77. 5 T. Hershco, Entre Paris et Jerusalem: la France, le sionisme et la creation de Vetat a"Israel, 1945-1949 (Paris 2003) 59 6 Grynberg (see n. 3) 16. 7 I. Zertal, 'Le Cinquieme cote du triangle: la France, les juifs et la question de la Palestine, 1945-1948', in I. Malkin and J. Brill (eds) La France et la mediterrannee: vingt-sept siecles d'interdependances (Leiden, Netherlands 1990) 414 8 Grynberg (see n. 3) 17. i6i</page><page sequence="4">Alan Swarc emissaries and the AJ.9 As a follow-up, on n November 1945 Ben-Gurion chaired a conference in Paris of ex-AJ men, members of the Jewish Brigade and of the Haganah. Jarblum and Kluger were also present, as well as three hundred delegates. Subsequently, in April 1946, Polonski was appointed the Haganah Commander for France and North Africa. Later that year Ben-Gurion had an enforced stay in the French capital. This arose out of fear of arrest if he attempted to return to Palestine after the events of 29 June 1946, when British forces in Palestine launched a concerted action against the Jewish Agency and all paramilitary forces. On that 'Black Saturday' Ben-Gurion was at his usual hotel, the Royal Monceau in Paris, preparing to return to Palestine. His response to events at home was to demand an increase in the illegal immigration traffic. He called for the arrival, off the shores of Palestine, of at least one ship a week.10 From this date until the end of 1946, those members of the Executive of the Jewish Agency who had escaped arrest held their meetings in Paris. Polonski was an essential figure in assisting the various branches of the Haganah to set themselves up in France. His many contacts with former Resistance members, then in official positions even within the DST (the French counter-espionage agency), greatly assisted this process. Also, prob? lems which had arisen because Meirov (who had finally arrived in May 1946) and the Palestinian emissaries did not know the language, culture and customs of France were easily resolved by Polonski's participation and his perfect knowledge of Hebrew.11 (Meirov changed his name to Avigur, 'Father of Gur, after the death of his son in the War of Independence in 1948.) Meirov's first postwar visit to Europe was to Italy where he inspected some of the DP and training camps. His subsequent move to Paris and the Hotel Metropole, to establish the European headquarters of the Mossad, was but a return journey as he had lived there before the war.12 Initially, Ehud Avriel assisted Meirov, and then in June he was joined by Venia Pomerantz, another experienced member of the Haganah from the Labour Kibbutz movement. On Avriel's return to Palestine in the spring of 1947, Pomerantz succeeded him.13 In later life he adopted the Hebrew name of Ze'ev Hadari and it is under this name that he wrote a series of books about the Mossad's 9 R. Posnanski, 'L'heritage de la guerre, le sionisme et la France dans les annees 1944-1947', in B. Pinkus and D. Bensimon (eds) Actes du collogue international: lesjuifs de France, le sionisme et V etat dy Israel (Paris 1987) 258. 10 E. Avriel, Open the Gates: A Personal Story of'Illegal1 Immigration to Israel (London 1975) 288-92. 11 Y. Ben David, HaHaganah Ba Europa: The Haganah in Europe (Tel-Aviv 1995) 264. 12 A. Boaz, Olam Vnochet Becol: Hayech Shaul Avigur (Unseen yet always present: the life story of Shaul Avigur) (Tel-Aviv 2001)194. 13 Ibid. 204. 162</page><page sequence="5">The early French connection to Israel activities, concentrating on France.14 A pomerantz in Yiddish can be trans? lated as an orange, whereas hadari in Hebrew refers to a grove such as an orange grove. Meirov instilled in the emissaries who reported to him the necessity to observe a modest lifestyle and absolute probity when dealing with the sub? stantial sums placed in their care for operational activities. This included the purchase of ships, equipment and 'greasing payments' (bribes) for shipping agents, customs officials and military and police officers in various parts of Europe. They also received strict instructions to avoid being conspicuous, not to compromise civil servants or complicate the political and diplomatic moves of the French government.15 From his headquarters in Paris, Meirov also supervised the Mossad leadership in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Germany and Italy. Although Hadari insists that the Mossad in France kept few written records, the existence of the Paris log of radio transmissions with ships at sea, with Palestine and other Mossad centres in Europe comprises at least one documentary record of the Mossad's daily activities.16 It consists of partially coded messages dealing with ships, ship refurbishment and equipment, numbers of immigrants, fuel supplies and financial matters. Some of the more extensive radio traffic between Paris and Marseilles concerned the last minute difficulties over the departure of the President Warfield (later renamed the Exodus) in July 1947.17 Leading French Zionists, as privileged intermediaries, were set the task of assisting the Jewish Agency in its attempts to influence government policy in its favour. Their effectiveness was largely due to their tactful exploitation of the bonds established with Socialist members of the Resistance who, after the liberation of France, became highly placed government ministers and officials. It is arguable that, without such ministerial cover, the Mossad's activities would not have been regarded as benignly as they were by the French security services. French Zionists Among a number of intermediaries there are three whose contribution was outstanding. They were Andre Blumel, Marc Jarblum and a priest, FAbbe Alexandre Glasberg. A resume of their respective backgrounds and interests helps to explain their motivation. 14 Interview with Philippe Boukara, Paris 6 Oct. 2004. 15 J. Derogy, La Loi du retour: la secrete et verkable histoire de VExodus (Paris 1969 ) 91; Z. Hadari, Hamossad VAliyah Bet: Yoman Mevaziim-Paris 1947 (Beer Sheva 1991) 16. 16 The operations log book was given by Polonski to Zertal before his death in 1990. 17 Hadari (seen. 15) 108-14. 163</page><page sequence="6">Alan Swarc Andre Blumel (i 893-1973), a journalist and lawyer, was an ardent Socialist militant in the prewar era. When Leon Blum came to power at the head of the Front Populaire in 1936, Blumel became the Director General of his office. In the first provisional government set up by General de Gaulle in September 1944, Blumel was appointed Director General of the Office of the Minister of the Interior, but a year later he left government service to take up his profes? sion at the Paris Bar. It was in his capacity as 'Maitre Blumel' that he was often asked to represent members of the Haganah and other Palestinian paramil tary organizations when they were caught by the French police in illegal oper? ations, frequently connected with the hoarding of weapons for shipment to Palestine or operating clandestine radio transmitters.18 It is clear that, as a result of his close and ongoing relationships with Socialist ministers, Blumel was always in the best position to use his influence whenever the Mossad or other Palestinian groups upset the French bureaucracy. Marc Jarblum (1887-1972) - totally unlike Blumel - was a Yiddish-speak? ing Jew from Warsaw who spoke French with a heavy accent. Nevertheless, he became one of the foremost Zionist personalities on the French scene, a member of the executive of the World Zionist Organization and in 1937 pres? ident of the FSJF. In 1907 he moved to Paris and took up journalism and the law. When Bloom took over as leader of the Section Francaise de 1' Internationale Ouvriere Socialist Party (SFIO) in 1920, Jarblum entered his circle. His relationship with Blum became long-standing and enabled him to arrange discreet meetings between him and Zionist personalities such as Weizmann, both of whom developed a high regard for each other and met on many occasions, often at Jarblum's flat.19 In 1940, with the arrival of German troops in the capital, Jarblum moved south into the Free Zone. He became the representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (The Joint) and conveyed its funds to various Jewish relief organizations and also to members of the SFIO. At the end of 1942, after the occupation of the Free Zone, he was asked by the Jewish Resistance Movement to cross the frontier into Switzerland for his own safety.20 Soon after his return to Paris after the war, Jarblum was requested by both Weizmann and Ben-Gurion to be the Agency's representative to the French authorities.21 Subsequently, he coupled his membership of the Paris Political 18 Central Zionist Archives (CZA), Blumel Papers, A426/49, translation of an article in Maariv (Israel) by Dr David Lazare, 14 July 1961. 19 Interview with Boukara, 6 Oct. 2004. 20 Yad Tabenkin Archives (Ramat Efal, Israel), Avraham Polonski Files, report on POrganisation Juive de Combat (Armee Juive). 21 CZA, A303/20/21 Letter from Weizmann, London, to Jarblum, 16 Oct. 1944, and telegramme from Ben-Gurion, Jerusalem, to Jarblum, 20 Oct. 1944. 164</page><page sequence="7">The early French connection to Israel Committee of the Jewish Agency with the presidency of the Federation des Sionistes de France with its twenty thousand members.22 In July 1947 Jarblum's close friendship with Edouard Depreux, the Minister of the Interior, enabled him to intervene effectively at the time of the Exodus affair (on which more later). The third man was PAbbe Alexandre Glasberg (1902-81). As a Catholic priest, he was possibly the most unlikely recruit to the Zionist cause. A Ukrainian Jew converted to Catholicism, Glasberg came to France at the age of thirty to study at a Catholic seminary.23 His adherence to Zionism was brought about by Jarblum, who introduced him to Avriel, as an individual who was particularly concerned for the welfare of refugees and was noted for his war-time work in the Resistance. Glasberg's initial contact with foreign Jews arose out of his work with Jewish welfare organizations in Vichy's internment camps in southern France. Thereafter his efforts during his time in the Resistance were directed towards the rescue of Jewish children. The Germans, failing to apprehend him, condemned him to death in his absence. Among other code-names he was referred to, in the Mossad's secret radio transmissions, as HaKomer ('the priest'). He used his influence with Marcel Pages, the head of the Direction de la Reglementation et des Etrangers (Aliens Office), to convince him to facilitate the Mossad's work in illegal immigration. Pages's reverence for biblical stories concerning the destiny of the Jews is suggested as having been the key to Glasberg acquiring the support of this particularly well-placed French civil servant.24 Aside from matters concerned with illegal immigration, with which it denied any official connection, the JA in Paris also pursued a more strictly political agenda. In this respect, in addition to calling on the good services of Blum, Jarblum and Blumel, it could involve other heads of the community acting as a Zionist lobby whenever French government policy was vacillating on issues of direct concern to the Agency. In Jewish circles, according to Philippe Boukara, these three gentlemen were known collectively in Yiddish as di drei blumen ('the three flowers'). This brings me to the fourth and most important group which supported the activities of the Mossad, namely certain Socialist ministers and their officials. 22 TNA CO 537/1705 CID report 28 May 1946. 23 Z. Hadari, The Second Exodus: The Full Story of Jewish Illegal Immigration to Palestine, 1945 1948 (Beer Sheva, Israel 1991) 147. 24 Ibid. 149. i6s</page><page sequence="8">Alan Swarc Socialist ministers According to Hadari, it was the newly appointed Minister of the Interior, Edouard Depreux, who in June 1946 laid down the rules for covert contacts with the Mossad. The main conduit was to be the head of the DST, Roger Wybot, and his deputy, Stanislas Mangin.25 Hadari contends that the rela? tionship with the French administration was based solely on mutual respect and not on any written agreement. He claims that without the aid afforded by large numbers of French officials it would have been impossible to bring thousands of DPs to France and set up transit camps for them prior to their departure from ports near Marseilles.26 These officials, controlling as they did the internal movements of foreigners in France and the ports of embarka? tion, were in a prime position firstly to assist the passage of immigrants across France and secondly to keep British Intelligence agents from interfering with this traffic. Beside government ministers such as Depreux, Jules Moch and Daniel Mayer, their mentor Leon Blum, the head of the SFIO, also pro? claimed sympathy for the Zionist cause. Part of the explanation for this friendly attitude was provided by Daniel Mayer, then the General Secretary of the SFIO, during a meeting of Poalei Zion, one of the left-wing Zionist parties in France. From the outset, Mayer was keen to establish that he came to them solely as a Frenchman and in the name of the French Socialist party addressing a fraternal party. He asserted that 'Socialists do not recognize the concept of race'.27 He then related that, during the war, funds provided by The Joint were used by Jarblum for the relief of French Socialists and their families forced to live a clandestine exis? tence.28 This philanthropic act was confirmed by Depreux in his memoirs: 'It was in Lyon that I had numerous contacts with Mr Jarblum, who coura? geously and with great tact brought relief, with the funds at his disposal, to the most needy of the victims of Hitlerite and Vichy racism, particularly fam? ilies of those imprisoned or deported'.29 The other Socialist minister of note was Jules Moch. His tongue-in-cheek revelations in his memoirs are instructive as to his own involvement and commitment. One of his statements sets out clearly the source of his moti? vation: 'In 1946-1947, the Jews were my principal worry, not because of reli? gious solidarity -1 am an agnostic - nor even because of national identity - I am French, descendant of a long line of officers - but because, massacred in 25 Hadari (see n. 23) 144. 26 Ibid. 145. 27 Yad Tabenkin Archives, Polonski files, Minutes of Poalei Zion meeting, 1 March 1945. 28 Ibid. 29 E. Depreux, Souvenirs d'un militant: de la social-democratie au socialisme. Un demi-siecle de luttes (Paris 1972) 173. 166</page><page sequence="9">The early French connection to Israel their millions by Hitler, persecuted in Russia, in Austria or in the Balkans, the Jews were the most unhappy of men'.30 It has been argued that the very nature of the postwar coalition govern? ments, with their internal dissentions and suspicions, enabled individual ministers, often in the interests of their own parties, to develop their own partisan policies without recourse to cabinet consent or supervision.31 Each party 'colonized' the ministries for which it was responsible by placing civil servants with the same political outlook in the most important functions.32 Often these civil servants, highly motivated bureaucrats and technocrats, developed policies of their own to which their ministers gave their unofficial blessing, rather than seeking cabinet approval. This, to some extent, explains the overall political context in which a few determined Socialist ministers, acting in concert with trusted officials, could provide the Mossad with a secure environment in which it could operate effectively on French soil. As previously indicated, one official in the Ministry of the Interior was instrumental, more than any other, in aiding and abetting illegal immigra? tion: Marcel Pages. In December 1944, as part of a ploy to avoid purging former Vichy civil servants, Pages left the wartime Ministry of Labour and was temporarily attached, at his own request, to the Ministry of the Interior. Later this became a permanent appointment. He had clearly benefited from a declaration made by the investigating Comite de la Liberation, set up in the Ministry of Labour, that 'he had been totally opposed to the Vichy regime and was a renowned supporter of General de Gaulle since June 1940'. He was also credited with having helped various Resistance organizations.33 In 1946 the system evolved by Pages with the Mossad was one which, at all times, would satisfy the French taste for bureaucratic efficiency. Consequently, he insisted on the submission of documents which complied with existing French regulations and which would pass scrutiny. In this way he could ensure that his Minister, Depreux, could not be held accountable if a boat, after leaving French territorial waters, set sail for a destination other than that indicated on the immigrants' visas. Pages indicated to the Mossad that where a contingent of Jews was due to cross into France from the French zone of Germany, he would only require a 'collective visa'. This had to be delivered by the consulate of the country of final destination.34 On the strength of this document, Pages's Aliens Office would then issue a collective transit visa, which would enable the immigrants 30 J. Moch, Une si longue vie (Paris 1976) 252. 31 G. Elgey, Histoire de la IVe Republique iere partie: la republique des illusions, 1945-1951 (Paris 1993)162. 32 J.-J. Becker, Histoirepolitique de la France depuis 1945 (Paris 2003) 35. 33 Paris, Archives Nationales, M. Pages, Dossier de Carriere, 19770340, Art. 10. 34 Avriel(seen. 10)266. 167</page><page sequence="10">Alan Swarc to pass through France. The whole administrative process was therefore totally dependent on the Mossad contriving to obtain a consul's official stamp of approval on a list of potential immigrants. Once this was achieved, by one means or another, the rest of the process presented few obstacles. Collective visas from countries as varied as Venezuela, Columbia, Bolivia, Ethiopia and Cuba were the most easily obtained by the Mossad. Given that, at least on the surface, French regulations were respected, the actual embarkation process could be carried out by the Mossad in daylight hours without any further subterfuge or fear of preventative measures. However, the reality that these boats were being systematically intercepted near the Palestinian coast eventually led to official protests by the British Embassy and confrontations between the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Georges Bidault, and the pro-Zionist ministers, Depreux and Moch. In the case of the 4500 passengers for the President Warfield in July 1947, the frontier crossing presented certain difficulties because of the sheer numbers involved. Pages arranged that for each convoy arriving at the French frontier, the police would telephone the Ministry of the Interior for instructions. Glasberg, who had been specially allocated an office in the Ministry, was automatically passed these calls by the switchboard, on Pages's instructions, so that he could give the necessary instructions and clear the convoy for transit through France.35 That Pages was regularly informed that Jews were leaving France with suspect visas is clear from his exchange of correspondence with the Prefet of the Bouches-du-Rh?ne who was responsible for the Marseilles area. Pages's response to the Prefet's revelation is remarkable for its air of feigned igno? rance. 'In your letter no. 916 of 23 November you indicated to me that Jews are arriving in France with regular transit visas which, according to you, had been delivered in the majority of cases on the basis of fraudulent visas for countries, which claim not to have been consulted. I would be obliged if you would indicate to me the nature of this information and the basis on which you found your conclusions.'36 On the face of it, Pages always managed to keep his own officials from enquiring too deeply into such questions which, if pursued, would have severely embarrassed his ministry and ultimately the operations of the Mossad. However, apart from employing delaying tactics in response to police reports of dubious visas, there was no clear evidence of his involve? ment in illegal immigration. Nevertheless, there is some circumstantial yet compelling evidence, provided by a number of memoranda prepared by agencies within the ministry itself. If nothing else, they are indicative of a 35 L. Lazare, UAbbe Glasberg (Paris 1990) 92. 36 Archives Departementales des BDR, 148W185 Memo from Direction de la Reglementation et des Etrangers to M. le Prefet des BDR, 23 Nov. 1946. 168</page><page sequence="11">The early French connection to Israel sympathetic approach to the question of the transit of Jewish immigrants through France, en route, as they clearly inferred, to Palestine. First, there is a Renseignements Generaux (RG, Political Police) report issued in early 1947 which directly concerned itself with illegal immigration. In this report the French cast themselves purely in the role of passive onlook? ers. It noted, without any pretence at ignorance or ambiguity, that from the Mediterranean coasts to the Black Sea, boats of varying tonnage and type set sail for Palestine each week. On the one hand, Polish, German, Austrian and Czech Jews transited through French and Italian ports, while on the other, Jews from Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Romania transited through Greek and Romanian ports. In addition, RG reflected on the silent war being waged between the 'Jewish organizations' and the British army and intelli? gence services. It noted that while the espionage and counter-espionage serv? ices of the British Admiralty kept watch on boats suspected of covertly embarking Jews for Palestine, the Intelligence Service pursued clandestine networks.37 The contents of this short report to the Ministry of the Interior is particularly significant because it coincides with a period in which the min? istry found itself under severe attack from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MAE). This arose through its alleged failure to verify on the visas the ulti? mate destination of Jewish immigrants leaving from French ports. Later reports date from after the creation of the State of Israel and are more explicit. For instance, a memorandum issued in 1950 reveals the real nature of the relationships with the Zionists in the 1945-8 period. The writer states As you know, the Direction de la Reglementation took over in 1946 the impor? tant problem of the Jewish DPs and refugees who wished to transit through France to sail to a country where they would be welcomed . . . Many Jewish associations in France dealt with this problem, among them the Jewish Agency for Palestine. As the State of Israel did not exist at the time, given the political ramifications of this affair, discreet as opposed to official contacts were main? tained between the interior ministry and the interested parties. A substantial number of Jews from around the world were thus able to get to Palestine and contribute to the State of Israel. The services rendered in kind by our country, albeit little known in France, were considerable . . .38 Given the context of the times, there can be little doubt that 'political rami? fications' referred to British pressure on the French government, that 'inter? ested parties' would have included the Mossad and that 'services rendered' 37 RG report, Paris, 25 Jan. 1947. 38 Archives Nationales, F7/15589 Transit Israelites en provenance d'Allemagne et d'Europe Centrale, to Directeur de la Reglementation et Etrangers from sous-direction des Etrangers et des Passeports, 20 Oct. 1950. My emphases. i6q</page><page sequence="12">Alan Swarc could only refer to illegal immigration. To that extent the memorandum con? tains an implicit indication of the Ministry of the Interior's complicity in Aliyah Bet. In a separate report, also written in 1950, the RG clearly recognized the clandestine nature of the embarkations: 'France, traditional land of asylum, found itself on one of the principal routes towards Palestine. That is why the Zionist leaders approached the government to ask for a right of passage, which it knew, given the humanitarian policy always followed by our government, would not be refused.' It is also worth pointing out that the geographical loca? tion of the port of Marseilles lent itself to departures to Palestine, particularly at the beginning of the emigration, when there were a number of clandestine embarkations. Also, the social climate which existed in France permitted the Jewish leadership to engage in an important organizational effort, both for departures and setting up the necessary transit points.39 Some years later, in 1958, a report again prepared by RG stated categori? cally that France had been favourably disposed to and had aided the immi? gration process as early as 1946, when it was still in its illegal phase.40 These revelations put a different light on assurances given by the Ministry of the Interior to the MAE at the time that the immigrants' visas and other docu? ments were always in order. Apart from the aid provided by the highest levels at the Ministry of the Interior, it is more than probable that many civil ser? vants and minor officials, together with policemen, port employees, dockers and shipping agents, facilitated the process. As to the preparation of the boats, which had to be fitted with hundreds of bunks, radio transmitters and provisions for the journey to Palestine, others in the French ports would have been in the know.41 An appreciation of the extent of the aid afforded by the French to illegal immigration can be gained from the recollections of Yi gal Allon, head of the Palmach (Shock troop formations whose patron was MAP AM, as opposed to the Haganah, whose patron was MAP AI), on a visit of inspection to France in 1947: We moved around France as if we found ourselves carrying out the lawful activities of the Haganah. The French authorities treated us like allies. Our boats in the ports of Marseilles and surroundings were repaired, prepared for sailing, whilst Jewish soldiers wearing British uniforms transported in 'bor? rowed' military vehicles the survivors of the camps. Solidarity reigned: the dockers in the ports, the restaurant owners, the lawyers who dealt with our 39 Ibid. F7/15589 Direction des Renseignements Generaux, section frontiere, 'le mouvement de transmigration des israelites: la question israelienne', 1950. 40 Ibid. F7/16107, RG report 'Israel et le sionisme', 17 June 1958. 41 D. Lazard, UOpinion francaise et la naissance de Vetat dTsrael 1945-1949 (Paris 1972) 96. 170</page><page sequence="13">The early French connection to Israel legal requirements, everybody put themselves out to help us. We were surrounded by love, by human kindness.42 In considering the activities of those opposed to illegal immigration there can be little doubt that the major player on the British side was the Foreign Office and that without the formidable Ernest Bevin at its head, its determination might have flagged on occasion. Bevin was particularly incensed by the attitude of the French government, which he considered less than grateful for British wartime support. That they remained quiescent during 1946 in the face of the illicit traffic through their ports appeared to him an unfriendly act at best. The effects of British diplomatic activity Starting in 1947, the Foreign Office launched a campaign of mounting pres? sure on the French government to bring illegal immigration from its ports to an end. It was aware that the French were keen to obtain British support in their demands for German labour to be made available from the British zone of Germany, and that this could be used as a form of leverage. Failing that, the Foreign Office was not averse to causing the French some difficul? ties with the Arab countries over their North African possessions. The diplomatic pressure, applied for the most part by the British Ambas? sador, Arthur Duff Cooper, was at its most acute on Georges Bidault, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and leader of the MRP faction (right of centre) in the coalition government. Believing that France's interest lay in cooper? ating with the British in economic and foreign policy matters, Bidault strove to convince the two most influential Socialist ministers, Depreux and Moch, to resolve the illegal immigration issue so that it did not interfere with his own agenda. The first real signs of protest from the British Embassy in France came with the sailing of the Asya, the first illegal ship to leave France. Following its interception off the coast of Palestine on 27 March 1946, Sir Alan Cunningham, the High Commissioner in Palestine, requested that urgent representations be made to the French government.43 This was taken up by Duff Cooper, who duly wrote to the MAE to draw attention to the British government's concerns about illegal immigration from French ports, which, he argued pointedly, caused great resentment in the Arab States of the Middle East.44 Here was a none too subtle way of telling the French that they were risking trouble in their North African possessions. 42 C. Nicault, La France et le sionisme 1897-1948: une rencontre manquee (Paris 1992) 220. 43 TNA, CO 537/1802, from Cunningham to Secretary of State for the Colonies, 11 April 1946. 44 Ibid. CO 537/1802, Aide Memoire from British Embassy in Paris to MAE, 10 May 1946 (excluding separate memorandum). i7i</page><page sequence="14">Alan Swarc In a separate memorandum, Duff Cooper also raised the question of illegal immigrants who had tried to hide among legal immigrants on French liners that regularly called at Haifa. He stated categorically that investigations had shown that illegal immigration was run from the headquarters of a Jewish organization situated somewhere in Paris. However, he admitted ignorance of the individuals involved and the exact location of the headquarters.45 A week later the Embassy wrote again to the MAE pointing out that a suspect boat, carrying the Honduran flag, was preparing to leave Marseilles with yet another load of illegal immigrants.46 In response, the MAE con? firmed that it had asked the Ministry of the Interior to take the necessary steps to put an end to the irregularities at the ports.47 Confronted with these claims, Pages, to cover himself, launched a formal inquiry. Not surprisingly, his deputy later reported back to the MAE that all administrative procedures in relation to the boats listed had been correctly carried out by the police and customs officials at the ports, and that therefore no blame could be attached to them.48 The problem of lack of adequate controls, from the British point of view, was exacerbated by the existence of an arrangement between the French gov? ernment and the Conseil Interoeuvres d'Aide aux Immigrants et Transitaires Juifs (CIAITJ), an immigrants committee, overseen by Glasberg on behalf of the Jewish organizations. Under this arrangement, which came into force in August 1946, France permitted at any one time the temporary residence in its territory of some eight thousand Jewish refugees, pending a decision as to their ultimate destination. It was left to the CIAITJ to procure the neces? sary visas from those countries prepared to take them. This quota of eight thousand allowed up to seven thousand refugees to travel on collective transit visas and for up to a thousand to travel on indi? vidual visas.49 To the chagrin of the British, this enabled the entry into France of refugees without the need to produce a visa for a country of ulti? mate destination, and therefore opened up the possibility of their leaving France without such visas or even false ones. Also, as refugees left French ports, the quota was automatically renewed up to its full level. The British Embassy recognized the sensitivity of the French government to the issue of Jewish refugees, and that it did not wish to offend Jewish public opinion or appear in its policies to be anti-Zionist. There was also an 45 MAE Archives, Immigration, File 376, Aide Memoire from British Embassy in Paris to MAE, 10 May 1946 (including separate memorandum). 46 Ibid. 17 May 1946 (annotation indicates the contents of this letter were telephoned urgently to Pages at Ministry of the Interior). 47 Ibid. Direction d'Afrique-Levant to British Embassy, 23 May 1946. 48 Ibid. Letter from"Bernard, sous-directeur du Service Etranger et des Passeports to Ministre des Affaires Etrangeres, 11 July 1946. 172</page><page sequence="15">The early French connection to Israel awareness that the French press was largely sympathetic, as was the major? ity of the government, to the Zionist cause. Thus, in the British Embassy's view, if Jewish refugees could be prevented from entering France in the first place, this would be the preferred solution to the problem. However, once they were in France, the interest of the French government was in moving them on as quickly as possible, and thus there was no certainty that under? takings given to the British regarding the application of effective controls would be fulfilled.50 The creation of the CIAITJ was made necessary by the deluge of visa requests emanating from seventeen different Jewish organizations.51 Given France's professed regard for the humanitarian aspects of the problem, its operations were agreed without difficulty between the MAE and the Ministry of the Interior. Nevertheless, the principal stipulation of the MAE was that during their stay in France, the refugees should acquire entry visas to a country of ultimate destination, thus ensuring that their stay would only be temporary. Having no jurisdiction over the movements of foreigners within France, the MAE was totally reliant on the efficiency and good faith of officials of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Public Works and Transport to ensure that the refugees did indeed leave France after complying with all the formalities. As events showed, the MAE only belatedly, and because of British Intelligence information, realized that it was being duped both by Depreux's and Moch's officials and that the refugees were part of the illegal immigration campaign. To make amends to the British, and in an attempt to ensure proper coordi? nation with the other occupying power in Germany directly involved, namely the Americans, the MAE proposed a tripartite conference in Paris, to review controls over refugees entering France. This was held on 11 January 1947 at the Quai d'Orsay and was chaired by Raymond Bousquet, the Director General of the Direction des Conventions Administratives et Sociales at the Ministry. The subjects discussed were the need to unify DPs' identification papers and the struggle against illegal emigration from Germany.52 Despite initial American misgivings, it was agreed that, as a matter of prin? ciple, all persons leaving the zones of occupation in Germany should have individual travel documents and exit permits. In addition, exit permits could 49 TNA, FO 371/61750 and FO 371/61800, January 1947. 50 Ibid. CO 537/1801, British Embassy in Paris to British Consul-General in Marseilles, 27 Nov. 1946. This detailed letter was in response to one from S. E. Kay, the Consul, who advocated a tightening by the Ministry of the Interior of the entry of Jewish refugees into France. 51 Archives of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJJDC), Report from Paris office to New York headquarters of the Joint, 25 Oct. 1946. 52 Archives Nationales, RG report, 15 Jan. 1947. 173</page><page sequence="16">Alan Swarc be granted only once a visa had been obtained to the country of ultimate destination.53 In later bilateral meetings with representatives of the MAE and the Ministry of the Interior, however, it became clear to the British that the French would not check the validity of visas for the ultimate destination. This was crucial as these visas were generally obtained by the Mossad from corrupt consular officials or were forged by Polonski's people in laboratories close to or within the transit camps.54 The false visas were created purely to satisfy French bureaucracy and as a cover for the immigrants' true destination. The first real attempt to force the Ministry of the Interior to take the issue of illegal immigration seriously appears to have been launched by Philippe Perier, one of Bousquet's officials who was in regular contact with the British Embassy. In a first letter on 27 December 1946, ostensibly written on behalf of Blum, the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister at the time, he informed Depreux of action he had taken in relation to a thousand Jewish immigrants from Czechoslovakia, due to arrive in France in transit to the Dominican Republic. Apparently he had been informed, by the British Embassy in Paris, that consultations with the government at Santo Domingo had indicated that they did not wish to accept these immigrants on their territory. Accordingly he had instructed his representative in Prague to refuse any transit visa to these immigrants.55 In a second communication to Depreux, he requested that all immigrant visas for Jews be checked by the MAE with the embassy of the country of ultimate destination, before embarkation took place. Depreux, having checked with Blum that he had not authorized Perier's original initiative, responded a few days later. He pointed out that as departmental prefets were already allowing the exit of Jewish emigrants (on collective lists) only on presentation of visas for countries of ultimate destination, this was already stretching the law. Normally, any foreigner leaving France, although obliged to have an exit visa, did not have to submit to this additional procedure. Depreux, in an attempt to deflect Perier from pursuing his original demand any further, concluded: 'To sum up, while appreciating the purpose of the British request, I believe that the proposed procedure is too heavy and too complicated to be efficient and could only damage our interests.'56 Two weeks later, in a conversation between Bevin and Rene Massigli, the French Ambassador in London, the subject of illegal immigration was raised. 53 TNA, FO 371/61750, Jan. 1947. 54 Hadari(seen. 15) 12. 55 Haganah Archives, Tel-Aviv, Blumel files, 123/Blumel/2, Letter from Perier to Depreux, 27 Dec. 1946. 56 Archives Nationales, Fonds Georges Bidault, 457AP124, Letter from Depreux to Minister of Foreign Affairs, 31 Dec. 1946. 174</page><page sequence="17">The early French connection to Israel This conversation took place at a reception in London for Blum who, at the time, was still leading the caretaker government. Bevin informed Massigli, out of the earshot of Blum, that, according to intelligence reports, terrorist actions in Palestine were largely organized by Jewish extremists in Paris. In effect, he contended, Jewish terrorists were being allowed to leave French ports on illegal ships. He therefore asked Massigli to seek the French gov? ernment's assistance to prevent this traffic.57 A day or so after his return to Paris, Blum dealt more formally with the problem created by Perier. Having indicated that he had not had advance sight of Perier's letter, he instructed that Depreux be informed that 'it is not in order for us to verify the authenticity of entry visas to countries which are submitted to us'.58 This, however, was not the end of the matter, for Blum's premiership came to an end the next day, on 22 January 1947, and the new Prime Minister, Paul Ramadier, restored Bidault to the MAE. Seizing the opportunity once again to expose the lack of controls in respect of illegal immigration, Bousquet vented his department's frustration to Bidault in a lengthy memo.59 His note illustrated how well aware the senior officials of the MAE had become of the true destination of immigrants who had transited across France, despite the Ministry of Interior's protestations to the contrary. Bousquet insisted on stringent measures to bring the traffic to Palestine to a stop. However, the MAE had yet to overcome the entrenched position of both Depreux and Moch who, as long as possible, fought a rearguard action to pre? serve the Mossad's area of manoeuvrability on French soil. Examination of the available documentation reveals how difficult it was for Bidault to counteract their influence and how the subject of illegal immi? gration created tensions between his ministry and those of the Interior and Public Works and Transport. An initiative by the MAE to intervene in an area of administrative respon? sibility that Moch considered his own served to awaken his ire. He took exception to Perier writing to the Secretary General of the Merchant Navy in an effort to dictate control procedures to be instituted at the ports. These, in Moch's view, would have 'international repercussions'. This response launched an exchange of correspondence which exposed a measure of exas? peration on both sides: 3 February 1947 Moch to Bidault In your letter to the Secretary of the Merchant Navy you asked him to prevent foreign ships from sailing from French ports if they carried illegal immigrants 57 Ibid. 457AP124, Note from Massigli to Chauvel, General Secretary of the MAE, 16 Jan. 1947. 58 Haganah Archives, Blumel files, i23/Blumel/2, Blum's letter of instruction to his Chef de Cabinet, 21 Jan. 1947. 59 MAE Archives, Immigration, file 376, Memo from Bousquet to Bidault, 31 Jan. 1947. i75</page><page sequence="18">Alan Swarc to Palestine. You believe that this would cause problems in Franco-British relations. It would be a very sensitive matter to hold foreign-owned ships. As a Minister, I can only intervene if a foreign vessel appears to be in breach of international law for merchant shipping. If it were judged desirable to arrest shipping on political grounds, I would not be able to take part in such an oper? ation in my capacity as Minister of Public Works and Transport. . .60 Bidault's reply, while polite in its terms, did not hide his dismay at Moch's unhelpful attitude: The first approaches by my officials to yours were motivated by the numer? ous complaints from the British Embassy in Paris and by the personal appeal of Mr Bevin to Mr Massigli. Mr Bevin made note of the spirit of tolerance with which the French authorities apparently treated Jewish terrorists who were travelling illegally to Palestine. It therefore appeared to my officials necessary to provide our Ambassador with the means to show the British authorities that their claim against the French authorities was without foundation. Despite the indications in your letter, I maintain that your department does possess two effective means of control. Bidault then suggested, first, informing the British authorities of suspect shipping in French ports and, second, that the port captain should obtain details, via the pilot, of the true destination of a suspect ship.61 Moch's reply on 28 February was clearly intended to block any further interference by Bidault's officials. In a clear reference to their wartime activ? ities in the Resistance, Moch reproached Bidault for suggesting that illegal immigrants could be terrorists, when only a few years previously 'You as well as I, were branded "terrorists" by the authorities then in power in France'. He went on to decry the use of pilots as police spies to obtain information from ships' masters as to their ultimate destination, which would then be passed on to a foreign power. Neither was he prepared to impose this task on the captains of the ports. Moch closed by inviting Bidault to raise the matter in Cabinet, but warned him that he would defend his position, namely that men under his control would carry out only their professional duties but not act as policemen.62 Outside government, but nevertheless an influential voice with Socialist ministers, Blumel intervened directly with Ramadier on 13 March 1947. His personal status within the Socialist Party enabled him to address the Prime Minister with an authority not available to others. He insisted that Blum's 60 Archives Nationales, Fonds Jules Moch, 484AP13, Fonctions Ministerielles, 3 February 1947. 61 MAE Archives, Cabinet du Ministre, sous-serie G. Bidault, Dossier Afrique-Levant no. 156, 22 Feb.1947. 62 Archives Nationales, Fonds Jules Moch 484AP13, 28 Feb. 1947. 176</page><page sequence="19">The early French connection to Israel former directive of 21 January 1947 on the subject of immigrants' visas should not again be circumvented by the MAE. In other words, no investi? gation was to be made of the legitimacy or otherwise of visas issued by foreign countries in the possession of immigrants transiting through France.63 This exceptional letter underlines that the Mossad was anxious to avoid too close an inspection of the visas it supplied to illegal immigrants and Blumel was the ideal man to intercede on their behalf. The apparently rancorous exchange of correspondence between Bidault and Moch is treated with some light-hearted scepticism by the latter in his memoirs. In effect he seems to imply that the whole business was a charade by Bidault, intended to impress others (one would assume, either Bidault's pro-Arab officials in the Quai d'Orsay or indeed even the British Ambassador). On 28 February 1947 Moch noted in his memoirs: I exchange memos and telephone calls with Bidault, under pressure from British diplomats, but at heart in agreement with me. He asks me (but without really meaning it) that I inform him of the real destination of boats leaving our Mediterranean ports in order to help (or appear to help) the British to block the clandestine landings in Palestine. I refuse. The destination of a boat, for me, is that indicated by its Master. Bidault is, I am certain, delighted with my reply.64 Moch deliberately characterized Bidault as a 'true friend of Israel'. This view of Bidault as a closet Zionist is supported by his biographer. He describes Bidault's prudent official approach to all matters concerned with Palestine, whether it be on illegal immigration or later on the United Nations vote on partition or the recognition of the State of Israel, as hiding, in reality, 'A real empathy for the Zionist endeavour'.65 However, nothing in Bidault's papers indicates that these were his true feelings. On the contrary, his correspon? dence with Depreux and Moch in early 1947 over illegal immigration tends to underline his frustration with an issue that threatened to upset the rapport he had built up with Bevin over other bilateral matters more concerned with France's postwar economic rejuvenation. A confrontation within the French cabinet on the subject of illegal immi? gration finally took place in April 1947. Bidault, who was attending a foreign ministers' Council Meeting in Moscow at the time, wrote to Ramadier to impart a note of caution to the cabinet: 'I must give you my firm opinion that the continuation of the present state of affairs, which the department [MAE] has vainly tried to remedy, will no doubt cause within a short period of time very serious complications in our relationship with England'.66 63 Haganah Archives, Blumel files, i23/Blumel/2, 15 March 1947. 64 J. Moch, Une si longue vie (Paris 1976) 269. 63 J. Dalloz, Georges Bidault: biographie politique (Paris 1992) 274. 66 MAE Archives, File no. 30, Afrique-Levant, Telegramme from Bidault, 7 April 1947. 177</page><page sequence="20">Alan Swarc At a meeting on 16 April, Ramadier agreed in the absence of Depreux to carry the discussion over to a more restricted cabinet meeting to be held on 21 April at his residence.67 It was left to Bidault's and Depreux's deputies, Pierre-Henri Teitgen and Marcel Pages respectively, to lead the debate. Teitgen presented a paper proposing that all visas for the country of ultimate destination be checked as to their validity by the MAE.68 In response, Pages pointed to the constant requests of the Quai d'Orsay to forbid the transit of Jewish refugees through France and accused the MAE of attempting, by all means, to force the government into adopting British Government policy. In his view this was tantamount to France being forced to apply discrimina? tory policies on racial grounds against the survivors of the concentration camps, which could incite unwanted reactions to the Jewish question. At the end, the meeting finally approved a compromise, going some way to satisfy the MAE, and by extension the British, but at the same time laying down its own firm views on the question of Jewish immigration to Palestine. Later, Pages, in reporting to his minister on the cabinet meeting, indicated that only the imposition of control on collective visas would be 'a nuisance for the Jews'. He proposed to discuss with the Jewish associations the conditions under which they would be able to operate in the future. Pages pointed out that the control envisaged would only be to ensure that the collective visa had been granted by the consulate of the host country concerned. However, he concluded ingeniously, 'We do not also have to check with their govern? ments that they really are prepared to accept the foreigners involved.'69 Nevertheless, the oft-stated position of the Ministry of the Interior that they would not check the validity of collective visas, under which the majority of immigrants travelled, was upset by the government's letter to the British Embassy of 21 April 1947, which stipulated that they would henceforth do so. From the viewpoint of the British Embassy there was nothing in the French Government's statement to which they could reasonably object. However, behind the scenes the British tried to exploit the protracted fight to control policy on illegal immigration that was being quietly waged between the lower echelons of the Ministry of the Interior and the MAE. While the true attitudes and actions of government ministers in relation to Jewish illegal immigration could to some extent be dissimulated from their fellow cabinet colleagues within the coalition, they relied heavily on the com? plicity of their officials to carry them through in the most covert manner. Here one can cite as the prime examples Raymond Bousquet at the Quai 67 Ibid. Telegramme from Teitgen to Bidault in Moscow, 18 April 1947. 68 Ibid. Afrique-Levant, Letter to Bidault from Teitgen containing proposal, 16 April 1947. 69 Archives Nationales, F7/16089, Memo to Ministre de PInterieur from Direction de la Reglementation et des Etrangers, 22 April 1947. i78</page><page sequence="21">The early French connection to Israel d'Orsay and Marcel Pages at the Ministry of the Interior who, according to their actions, seemed to be promoting diametrically opposed policies. Both, in their own way, used their limited authority to fulfil (what they interpreted as) the policy guidelines of their respective ministers. While Bousquet devel? oped a particularly friendly relationship with staff at the British Embassy, Pages worked closely and discreetly with the various Zionist organizations in Paris, including the Mossad. On 28 April, Bousquet, anxious to tie the Ministry of the Interior down on the question of the verification of visas, convened a meeting with the British Ambassador at the Quai d'Orsay, to which Pages was invited. In a subse? quent report on the meeting to Pierre Boursicot, the head of the Surete, Pages complained at the underhand way in which Bousquet revealed the agenda only once all were present. Ostensibly convened to discuss the recruitment of DPs and German workers from the British Zone to help the French economy, the third item on the agenda, to Pages's discomfort, was the 'Palestinian question'. In effect, Bousquet was offering the British a quid pro quo: workers from Germany for France's depleted industries against a deal to verify stringently immigration visas to other countries. In reporting to Boursicot, Pages suggested that Depreux should request that the Palestinian question not be discussed under any circumstances, until the decision of the United Nations on the matter was known and certainly not in relation to the recruitment of DPs.70 Pages, true to his own agenda, was attempting to thwart Bousquet at every turn, by supplying his own min? ister with ammunition to be used to counter the efforts of the MAE. Following this first meeting with the British, Bousquet, doggedly pursuing his objective, reminded the Ministry of the Interior that the French embassies under his control were now responsible for checking the validity of collective visas.71 At a second joint meeting with Embassy officials that he attended with Bousquet on 12 May 1947, Pages rejected the British request that the French provide the nominal lists of those inscribed on collective visas. They would be used, the British contended, to help identify those arriving illegally in Palestine who had thrown away their papers. Bousquet, more circumspect, promised to refer the matter to his minister. In his report to Boursicot on that meeting, Pages, in order to preempt any positive decisions, insisted that the French Government must oppose two of the British demands, the first being to supply the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the nominal lists of those on collective passports, and the second to take action to stop the supply of diesel or coal to ships identified as suspect by the British. 70 Haganah Archives, Blumel files, 123/Blumel/2, Note from Pages to the Director of the S?rete Nationale, 28 April 1947. 71 Archives Nationales, F7/16089, Bousquet to Ministry of the Interior, 7 May 1947. 179</page><page sequence="22">Alan Swarc There can be little doubt where Pages himself stood with regard to Jewish illegal immigration; where he could, he attempted to counter the pro-British policies of the Quai d'Orsay. Bousquet, in contrast, nurtured a cosy rela? tionship with the British Embassy in Paris. In a memorandum to the Foreign Office it was reported that Bousquet had, at meetings with the Embassy, alluded to the pro-immigrant bias of the Socialist ministers in the French Government and to the influence of Blum.72 More likely to compromise Bousquet, however, was the fact that he had covertly agreed to supply the nominal lists of those on collective visas to the British Embassy.73 It appears that in Raymond Bousquet the Foreign Office believed that they had found a dupe who would unwittingly supply them with a stick with which to beat the French Government. Bousquet's ultimate vindication, however, came with the embarrassing political fallout over the Exodus affair in July 1947, when the Cabinet had to admit that errors had been committed at the port of departure. Pages had previously asserted that each person on the passenger list carried an individ? ual Columbian visa delivered by its consulate in Marseilles, and a proper French exit visa delivered by the Prefecture of the Bouches-du-Rhone.74 Another report stated that the Prefecture had acted in accordance with an authority from the Ministry of the Interior dated 26 June.75 All these affir? mations were backed up by the RG, whose agents had checked the docu? ments of those who had embarked.76 However, it had become abundantly clear, in view of the Columbian Government's refusal to recognize the visas held by the immigrants on the President Warfield, that a large-scale fraud had been perpetrated by the organizers of the boat. This incident, as the MAE was quick to point out, was one of a whole series of similar cases involving bogus visas. It had been shown that boats ostensibly sailing for countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Columbia and Ethiopia, according to the immigrants' visas, invariably turned up off the coast of Palestine. In addition, it was undeniable that the President War field had left port car? rying three times the permitted number of passengers and was therefore in breach of the 1929 International Convention regulating ships at sea. The Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, the ministries responsible for the police, customs and maritime authorities, 72 TNA, FO 371/61750, Paris to Foreign Office, 16 Jan. 1947. 73 Ibid. CO 537/2378, John Coulson, British Embassy in Paris to John Beith, Foreign Office, 20 June 1947. 74 Archives Nationales, Memo from Direction de la Reglementation to President du Conseil, 16 July 1947. 75 Ibid. Report on departure of President Warfield by M. Jutin, Secretary General of the Department of the Herault, 12 July 1947. 76 Haganah Archives, Blumel files i23/Blumel/2, RG Sete to Director of RG in Paris, 11 July 1947. i8o</page><page sequence="23">The early French connection to Israel were put in the embarrassing position of having to acknowledge that their agents had consistently failed to prevent these illegalities, despite constant warnings from the MAE that they were occurring. To make amends, both ministries issued new instructions in October 1947 to prevent a recurrence of the Exodus affair, which as the documentation reveals led to an embarrassing battle of wills between the British and the immigrants, with the French looking on as 'innocent' bystanders. The Exodus Affair British surveillance of the President Warfield had been extensive from the moment it had left its American home. When it arrived at Port-de-Bouc on 13 June it was extensively refitted to carry passengers, and took on board large amounts of fuel. It was then thoroughly searched by RG agents and customs officers, who reported that they did not find anything illegal.77 However, there can be little doubt that these officials and indeed the workers in the port were well aware of the intended use and destination of the boat. A few weeks later it was decided by the Mossad to move the boat to Sete in Moch's constituency, where the likelihood of interference by the author? ities was considered less. When the boat arrived on the night of 9 July, British alarm bells began to ring. The following morning Captain Courtney, an agent of the SIS (British Intelligence) arranged for aerial photographs to be taken of the boat and the results were immediately sent to the British Embassy in Paris (in November 1947 Courtney's activities in Marseilles were brought to an end when the French DST had him deported and his local network of French agents dismantled). London was informed and Bevin instructed the Ambassador, Duff Cooper, to make urgent representations to the MAE to prevent or delay its sailing for as long as possible.78 However, at 4 am on 10 July the process of embarking the immigrants onto the President Warfield was begun. Embarkation was completed at 1 pm under the supervision of the French police and the more covert surveillance of the SIS. The sudden activity of the SIS had not escaped the attention of Roger Wybot's DST in Marseilles. Wybot immediately warned the Mossad chief in Paris, Meirov, of impending trouble.79 To forestal Bidault's attempts to stop the sailing, Pomerantz of the Mossad was immediately despatched to seek the help of his political contacts and friendly civil servants in the French administration, but he met with little success. Ramadier, on the eve of an 77 Archives Departementales des BDR, 150W163, RG du Port-de-Bouc to Chef des RG, 4 July 1947 78 Zertal (see n. 4) 54. 79 Boaz (see n. 12) 212. i8i</page><page sequence="24">Alan Swarc important conference with the British, was no more inclined than Bidault to upset Bevin. Even Blum and the Social Security Minister, Daniel Mayer, counselled prudence.80 Bidault put pressure on Moch, responsible as he was for maritime matters, to forbid the sailing on the basis that the ship was not equipped with sufficient lifeboats and the captain was unable to produce a certificate of seaworthiness. It was left to Depreux, with Wybot's active support, to give a surrepti? tious green light to Pomerantz for the ship to sail: 'Go ahead but be quick or soon it will be too late'.81 The captain of the President War field, an American called Ike Aronowicz, was however faced with a number of constraints. The authorities had ensured that no maritime pilot or tug was available, and police were on hand to ensure that the boat remained moored to the quay. At 7.15 pm 'Rudy' Zameret, the local Mossad agent, received a radio message from Paris to dispense two or three million francs to facilitate the departure.82 However, despite the promise of a massive fee to a local pilot, the latter failed to materialize.83 A while later, the overall commander on board, Yossi Harel, came under intense pressure from the Mossad in Paris to set sail.84 This telephone message was then reinforced by a radio message from Meirov himself at 9.15 pm, in which he intimated that costs were not a factor if this helped to have the boat released.85 A further radio message at midnight from Pomerantz reflected an increasing sense of desperation. He guaranteed that if any port workers who aided the departure of the ship lost their jobs as a result, a fund of five million francs would be available to compensate them.86 A decision was finally made and at 4.30 on the morning of 11 July the mooring ropes were hacked off and the President Warfteld slowly moved out of the harbour. Almost immediately she became stuck on a sandbank at the port entrance. After one and a half hours of risky manoeuvres she was finally extricated and set out for the open sea. She was then renamed the Exodus. From the moment the boat left Sete, she was continuously shadowed by Royal Navy ships. On 18 July she was rammed and forcibly boarded off the coast of Palestine. A report to the Chief Secretary at the Colonial Office indi? cated that strong resistance had been offered during the boarding operation. Fatalities suffered on board by the crew and immigrants amounted to two men. Many other immigrants were injured, but most were tended to on the 80 P. Bernert, Roger Wybot et la bataille pour la DST (Paris 1975) 158. 81 Derogy(seen. 15) 146. 82 Hadari (see n. 15) transmission taken from the Mossad's operational log, 112. 83 Zertal (see n. 4) 70. 84 Hadari (see n. 15) 44. 85 Ibid, transmission taken from the Mossad's operational log, 112. 86 Ibid. 182</page><page sequence="25">The early French connection to Israel spot.87 Twenty-eight were taken to the Government hospital in Haifa, one of whom later died. After the seriously injured and dead had been removed from the boat, the rest of the passengers were forcibly transferred to three prison ships, the Ocean Vigour, the Runnymede Park and the Empire Rival. After these ships sailed away, the passengers discovered that they were not heading for Cyprus, the usual place of internment, but for France. Depreux, who had secretly encouraged the departure of the President War field, convinced the Cabinet at a meeting held on 23 July 1947 at Rambouillet (the Prime Minister's summer residence) that a firm line be taken with the British when their prison ships arrived off Port-de-Bouc. Bidault, aware that the British would press for the return to France of the passengers, had already taken the unusual step of asking Duff Cooper to meet him in Rambouillet for a discussion prior to the deliberations on the topic by the Cabinet. Later that day, Duff Cooper reported to the Foreign Office that Bidault, having come out of the Cabinet meeting especially to meet him, had felt that it was the height of madness for the French Government