The various resistance organizations of the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Eretz Israel during the British Mandate of Palestine) differed in their views on the ways to achieve the Zionist goal of statehood,
but they were united with respect to the Aliya Bet enterprise
– the clandestine immigration of Jews to Eretz Israel.
In 1939, the Hagana
– the main and by far the biggest of the Yishuv's resistance military organizations
– established Ha’Mossad Le’Aliya Bet
(“The Organization for Aliya Bet”), known generally as Ha’Mossad (“The Organization”), with a charter to handle all aspects of Aliya Bet operations.
During WW-II Ha'Mossad's focus was on rescuing Jews from Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, and immigration by land routes from Arab states.
The "golden age" of Ha'Mossad was the three years period
after the end of WW-II, during which it organized 65 sea voyages to Eretz Israel, carrying over 70,000 ma'apilim (Aliya Bet immigrants).
Ha'Mossad was headed by the senior Hagana member Shaul Avigur, who reported directly to Ben-Gurion.
Shaul Avigur, the head of Ha'Mossad
At the end of World War II in 1945, a mass exodus of Jews from Europe began. they moved across borders in their endeavor to reach the port cities of the Mediterranean or the Black Sea, so that they could board a
vessel that would take them to Palestine. This mass movement was aided and in fact led, by emissaries sent from Israel, 'Haganah' members of the Jewish Brigade & Ha’Chavura,
and at the end of the line – in provisional camps around those ports –
Palyam members who had to preapare the people for life on board the vessels. The mass flight operations were referred to as Ha'Bricha - the Hebrew word for 'The Flight'.
In the course of 1946 Ha'Mossad Le'Aliya Bet assumed command of Ha'Bricha operations as well.
Ha’Mossad had overall command of the whole Aliya Bet operation and operated in Europe, The Middle East, North Africa and the United States.
The following is a list of its major duties and responsibilities:
• Procurement of ships secretly and repairing and preparing them to carry immigrants.
• Hiring of captains and crews to man those ships on a dangerous and illegal voyage.
• Procurement of fuel, food, and water for the period that the ships were to be at sea.
• Concentrating the immigrants at the points of departure, choosing the immigrants and guiding and preparing them for the voyage.
• Establishing a system of communication, called the ‘Gid’on’ network, between Europe, Palestine and the ships at sea.
• Establishing secret relationships with the necessary governments of Europe or with other organizations, as needed.
• Conducting training courses for the members of the Palyam that would prepare them to act as commanders of the ships.
• Recruiting Jewish volunteers from North America to man the ships that were procured there.
• Establishing a financial network that would be able to move money between countries as needed.
Ha’Mossad worked secretly and with only a small number of executives. The offices were small and there was very little paper work. Everything, of course, was “Top Secret”. Immigration was illegal only as far as the British were concerned. The governments of most of the other European countries were not averse to having the Jews leave. They willingly cooperated with Ha’Mossad or else did not prevent it from carrying out its purpose, to the disappointment of the British. Had these governments not cooperated, Ha’Mossad would have found it almost impossible to function on the scale that it did. Ha’Mossad needed a great deal of money in order to finance activities such as buying and hiring ships and crews. These funds were procured in devious ways and the head of Ha’Mossad, Shaul Avigur, would say: “The dirty side of Israel’s financial activities must be in the hands of only the most trustworthy individuals.”
Ha’Mossad’s headquarters were in the Histadrut Building and on Rothchild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. That was where Eliahu Golomb, Yisrael Galili and Shaul Avigur were to be found. Members of the Palyam would recall that Room No. 17 in the Histadrut Building was where Moishale Tshervinski was to be found. He was in charge of the office. In Europe, someone was named to be the director of operations for each country. The following were among the station heads:
in Italy, Yehuda Arazi and Ada Sereni;
in Greece, Levi Shwartz and Yani Avidov;
in France, Shmarya Tzameret and Zeev Hadari;
in Eastern Europe, Moshe Agami, Shaike Dan, Yitzchak Ben Ephraim, Ephraim Shilo and others;
in the United States, Ze’ev Shind and Davidka Nameri.
The center of activity in Europe was Paris and Switzerland. That is where Shaul Avigur, Zeev Hadari, Pino Ginzburg or Zecharia Kikaion could usually be found. Davidka Nameri and Grisha Sheinkman were in Haifa and they were responsible for the ships that arrived, and for the Palyam men who were there. Most of the leaders of Ha’Mossad were from kibbutzim or moshavim.
Davidka was the intermediary between Ha’Mossad and the Palmach and Palyam. He was the father-figure for the men of the Palyam from the day they started training at Sdot Yam, to when they went to Europe, and when they were back in the port of Haifa and had to sneak through the British cordon there. He was their contact with their families when they were away from home. He was also responsible for bringing immigrants ashore from ships that had not been caught, and securing places for them before they could be found by the British. Each member of the Palyam had special, personal contact with Davidka. When the men of the Palyam were in Europe, and were waiting for ships to sail, they were under the command of the people of Ha’Mossad and helped to prepare the ships, gather the immigrants and in general get everything ready for sailing. Grisha Sheinkman worked alongside Davidka and was of great help to him.
In view of the large forces that the British used against the Aliya Bet, Ha’Mossad discussed two solutions to the problem of increasing immigration:
(A) Continuing pressure of many small ships which, on a single night, could land at different points along the coast simultaneously, and thereby make it difficult for the British to deal with. Some vessels would be able to break through the blockade.
(B) Procuring much larger ships, capable of taking thousands of immigrants. These ships would undoubtedly be captured by the British but they would have a strong effect on the morale of the immigrants and on the entire fight for increased immigration. Ha’Mossad leadership decided to buy several large ships but not abandon the use of smaller ones as well.
The emissaries of Ha’Mossad who reached the United States showed great initiative and ingenuity, and won the aid of the Jewish public in backing its efforts. Money was contributed, ships were bought and seamen volunteered to man them. More than two hundred forty Americans and Canadians, mostly Jews, who had served in the military or merchant marine, volunteered to man the ten Hagana ships which brought a total of 32,000 immigrants. One of these men, Bill Bernstein, was killed by the British in a battle which took place on the ship “Exodus 1947”.
After the historic U.N. resolution of Nov. 29th, 1947, Ha'Mossad added the transportation of arms to Israel to its mission.
The infrastructure and connections established during Aliya Bet operations were now used to organize and send arms ships to Israel. After Israel was born, and
during the Independence War, Ha'Mossad (under the new name Ha'Mossad Le'Aliya) handled both a massive wave of Aliya (just between May and December 1948 about 106,000
immigrants came to Israel) and over 50 voyages of arms ships.