Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Maximilian Kowler - April 26, 1984

The Exodus

Any big boats?

The big boat--now the biggest naturally was the Exodus, that was the, that was the big job, and that's the one I...

You were instrumental in that?

Yeah. I had to bring the people to the--to Sete there. Exodus left from the harbor of Sete, S-E-T-E, which was about halfway between Marseilles and the Spanish border--big fishing port. And that naturally was a big job because it was four and half thousand people and uh, prove the point, I, I, I always say that the beginning--of the day after--Declaration of Independence should have been written with the day after the Exodus, because when that Exodus ran out, got caught, and brought back--and on three liberty ships, they had to split them up then 1,500 apiece, came back then to Port-de-Bouc, near Marseille, uh, that whole history of the Exodus departure, brought back, refused, sent back to Hamburg then, came--and when they came back by train then to Marseille uh, that, I mean, that for me is the beginning of, of the independence of the State of Israel--of the creation of Israel, because the world knew at that time that there is a problem and we have to solve it--we have to solve the problem, we have to know what to do with these people. And uh, sooner or later, we have to stop smuggling them into Palestine, and uh, I would say that for me that was it.

Why do you--why were they refused entry--re-entry into Marseille?

Uh, we uh, we told the French government not to let them in--not to accept them. The French government would have taken them in. They would've done whatever we wanted to...


Uh, because they were nice to us.

But why--what was the strategy behind that?

Because we decided to leave them on the, on the, to leave them on the--to leave them with the British people--to leave them with the British government, to leave them on their hands. They didn't know what to do with them. They tried to peddle them all over the world. And uh, I'm sure that some countries would've accepted them if the Jewish Agency would've asked them to. But uh, nobody did, and uh, so they finally brought them back to Hamburg, which was then the capital of the British occupied zone of uh, Germany. And then they had to bring them back on the train. I think within a week or so the first ones came back to Marseilles. And then, soon, we put them on small boats, again, and they went through again--some of them went through and then some of them got caught, but most of them went through, and uh, but that--for me, that, that was it. From then on the whole thing became so relaxed somehow that uh, uh, came to a point where--that's when I then started to think of leaving the agency. It's uh, became like a travel agency, the fun was gone. It became like uh, you know, then we got closer and closer to Marseille then to ship them off you know, then towards the end, then we shipped them--they left from Marseille--from the harbor of Marseille, like a cruise ship, you know? So now that was no more fun, when it was an automatic thing, you know, there was no more challenge in it, you know? Not that it was a danger before, but still it was the challenge--you had to do it during the night, and you had to go down out to the boat, you know, and you had to find a port which uh, which would be effective, or which would be uh, suitable for the operation, all that. But then was in the harbor of Marseille, this was no more fun. In '51 I then went to Israel to--for three months, because I wanted to prepare the emigration of our whole family to Israel.

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