Mary Bell Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Mary Bell

With the Underground to Palestine

(23 December 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 51, 23 December 1946, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

This personal account by the liberal journalist of The New Republic and PM (Underground to Palestine, by I.F. Stone. Published by Boni & Gaer) gives the reader a vicarious trip on the Jewish underground railway to Palestine: and that is its main value. I.F. Stone has performed a service in describing how the underground works and illuminating the conditions of European Jews and their overwhelming desire to escape the continuing anti-Semitism and pogroms of Eastern Europe by fleeing to Palestine.

Stone’s first stop is England. Discussions there convince him that the average Englishman has been sold the idea that further concessions to the Jews will “inflame” the Arab world.

Traveling next to an unnamed French city, Stone makes advance arrangements for his passage with an emissary, the Haganah, the Jewish underground. He acquires visas for every Mediterranean country, since it is not known in advance from what port he will eventually leave, and then takes the Orient Express to Germany. There Stone tours the Displaced Persons camps around Nuremburg, run largely by UNRRA and the Joint Distribution Committee. Most are filthy barracks. He is told by one official, “If conditions here were too good, they would stay on. This is only supposed to be a clearance center.”

The Reactions of a Polish Jew

Irony describes these fleeing Jews as “the second class mankind”; the bureaucratic language of officialdom calls them “unsuccessful repatriatees.” At a DP camp at Furth near Nuremberg a Polish Jew from Lodz tells Stone how most Jews feel, even about the best of the camps:

“When I look out my window, ES WERT MIR KALT IM HERZEN (my heart grows cold) and when I go with my TEPELE (my little pot) to get my meals, I feel as though I’m still in KA T-ZET (concentration camp).”

When Stone inquires of a local Stalinist official whether the Jews can live in Germany, the reply is, “Es ist sehr schlecht” (it’s very bad).

Stone crosses the treacherous Polish-Czech frontier to Bratislava. This border is most dangerous because Poland is the seat the most virulent anti-Semitism. Lives of DPs are often purchased with cigarette bribes of border police. There are myriad stories Jews caught by the guards on this border who defy their captors with, “You can shoot us but you can’t force us to go back to Poland.”

Since six million Jews were wiped out in the war, the typical conversation with a Jewish DP begins, “There were twenty-five thousand Jews in Sosnowice before the war. There are very few left now ...” Most those who cross the border with Stone bear the tattooed concentration camp number, their badge of honor. Many are remnants families who survived the crematoria Buchenwald, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. In fact, the only whole families are those which originally fled to Russia and have now emigrated.

Stone visits the refugee hospital in Anton, a disguised Czech city. “I got used to bad smells on the trip, but ... never anything to match the first whiff in the hospital at Anton,” he writes. Of the refugees:

“They looked and smelled bad. Most the men were undersized and underfed. The women are either scrawny or unhealthily obese. The eyes the children are the eyes of little people unpleasantly adult before their time. Men, women and children who crowded together in that first reception center, ragged and unclean and tired, looked like the cast-offs of humanity.”

Past the Iron Curtain

Boarding a broken-down train on the first lap the flight through the “iron curtain,” Stone rides with eleven others in a darkened compartment designed for eight, shares black bread and salami and gives a young girl the first chocolate she’s tasted in six years. The train goes to the ghost-town Vienna, whose rampant anti-Semitism makes it impossible for the Jews to live there, too.

The next stop is somewhere in Italy, where a ship manned by American seamen awaits to make the trip to Palestine. Waiting at midnight on the beach, Stone becomes involved with the carabinieri and Italian legal red-tape while the ship he intended to take sails with about 1,500 Jews.

He manages to get aboard a second boat, manned by American Jews and amply supplied with canned goods and other needs. The Italian police are liberally fed while 1,000 refugees file into their berths. Two-thirds are men; only 196 are over thirty; all but a few are remnants of families. There are subbotniks, Chassidim, orthodox and non-orthodox, from sixteen different countries. There are a few Aryans.

One Jew states, “I was never a Jew before the war. But now that six million Jews have been killed, I will be a Jew, too.” Stone describes them all as “socialists of one kind or another.”

In mid-sea all passengers are transferred to an ancient Turkish freighter half the length of the other vessel, after having virtually to commandeer the reluctant Turkish captain’s ship. The men are forced to take turns in the airless, stinking holds where they are packed as on an old African slaver. Food and water soon give out. They are ready to give themselves up to the British in exchange for food and assistance to get into port, for the Turkish boat is far from seaworthy, but the British gunboats ignore their SOS calls. Finally they make Haifa where they are sent food by the Jewish colony.

Compromising Political Position

After rendering this faithful and moving task reportage, Stone adds an Epilogue, wherein he recites his compromising self-contradictory, typically liberal credo for the solution the Jewish problem. He begins with a truism which the documentary section of his book heavily underlines. “For my comrades, for the Jews waiting in the DP camps of Germany and Austria, Palestine is not a theory.” While many he talked with would prefer life in a settled country like England or the United States, they want to go to Palestine.

He is bitter about the British and says nothing can be expected from the British government. He repeats the quotation from an old Polish Jew which appears on the frontispiece: “The Germans killed us. The British don’t let us live.” And “... I would far rather deal with that Arab statesman and patriot (Assam Bey) on behalf the Jews than with Ernest Bevin.”

Stone tells an expected new British offensive against Jewish settlements and cities. “One British military official told a Jewish leader frankly – I assure the reader this is not just gossip – ‘The world took the killing of six million Jews and if we have to destroy half of Tel Aviv, the world will take that, too.’”

Stone is well aware of the “politics of baksheesh” the British employ in placating the Moslem upper classes in the Middle East to build an alliance against Russia, France and the United States. The $300 million loan that England is asking of the United States, for example, will go to the Arab rulers and not into development of the area.

Stone’s Proposed Palestine Solution

Stone’s proposed solution: “a bi-national Arab-Jewish state,” to be a part of a Middle East Semitic Federation, which will be under a ten-year international trusteeship to the Big Four powers, of which Britain is one. The Arab-Jewish state is initially to have consultative bodies and later representative bodies to advise the big powers administering the trusteeship. Stone would substitute for one imperialist four imperialists, all of whom are interested in the oil and the sea-routes in the Middle East and none of whom has displayed any interest whatsoever in the problem of the Jews or Palestinian independence. The latter question, Stone, too, would postpone, in typically imperialist fashion. Of Arab-Jewish unity against British imperialism, Stone says nothing. The implications of his “bi-nationalism” are that the Jewish minority would have parity with an Arab majority.

Stone, from the vantage-point of one imperialist nation, the United States, sees in perspective the characteristics of another, Great Britain. He cannot see the hypocritical attitude of the U.S. government which has not offered a haven by opening its own doors. It is only within the international working class movement that one can get a true perspective on all the contending imperialisms, and propose a solution that starts with the interests of the dispossessed.

It is in this light that the Workers Party has formulated its key demands on the Jewish problem: Open the doors of all nations to the Jews! For the ousting of the British and a free Palestine! For the immediate convention of a democratic constituent assembly in Palestine based upon universal suffrage, the right of all over eighteen to vote!

Mary Bell Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 17 July 2020