Cover image for From catastrophe to power : Holocaust survivors and the emergence of Israel
From catastrophe to power : Holocaust survivors and the emergence of Israel
Zertal, Idith.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Zehavam shel ha-Yehudim. English
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [1998]

Physical Description:
xiii, 344 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
JV8749.P3 Z4713 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In a book certain to generate controversy and debate, Idith Zertal boldly interprets a much revered chapter in contemporary Jewish and Zionist history: the clandestine immigration to Palestine of Jewish refugees, most of them Holocaust survivors, that was organized by Palestinian Zionists just after World War II. Events that captured the attention of the world, such as the Exodus affair in the summer 1947, are seen here in a strikingly new light.

At the center of Zertal's book is the Mossad, a small, unorthodox Zionist organization whose mission beginning in 1938 was to bring Jews to Palestine in order to subvert the British quotas on Jewish immigration. From Catastrophe to Power scrutinizes the Mossad's mode of operation, its ideology and politics, its structure and history, and its collective human profile as never before.

Zertal's moving story sweeps across four continents and encompasses a range of political cultures and international forces. But underneath this story another darker and more complex plot unfolds: the special encounter between the Zionist revolutionary collective and the mass of Jewish remnant after the Holocaust. According to Zertal, this psychologically painful yet politically powerful encounter was the Zionists' most effective weapon in their struggle for a sovereign Jewish state. Drawing on primary archival documents and new readings of canonical texts of the period, she analyzes this encounter from all angles--political, social, cultural, and psychological. The outcome is a gripping and troubling human story of a crucial period in Jewish and Israeli history, one that also provides a key to understanding the fundamental tensions between Israel and the Jewish communities and Israel and the world today.

Author Notes

Idith Zertal , an Israeli historian and essayist, is the author of several books and many articles on Jewish, Zionist, and Israeli history. She teaches history and cultural studies at The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and at The Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, Herzliya. She has also been a visiting professor and senior research fellow in the United States, Europe, and Israel.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The clandestine Jewish immigration organized by the Zionists of Palestine is the subject of Zertal's absorbing book, an abridged and revised edition of her work first published in Hebrew in 1996. The covert transfer of 80,000 people, mostly Holocaust survivors, from 1945 to the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, was an undertaking of major dimensions. The purpose of her book, Zertal posits, is to go beyond the Zionist rhetoric of rescue and redemption; to analyze the refugee's movement from a different point of view. She focuses on the group that organized the immigration, the Mossad, which circumvented the restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine imposed by the British. In her research, the author examined the Mossad's voluminous records: operation reports, cables, letters, notes from telephone conversations, and written testimonies, as well as personal letters, diaries, and memoirs. The result is a detailed account of this perilous period in the struggle for a Jewish state, along with an impressive study of its political and ideological aspects. --George Cohen

Choice Review

Revised and abridged from the acclaimed Hebrew original (1996), Zertal's remarkable and dense work has three parts and three aims. First, it provides a fresh and well-researched account of the clandestine immigration to Palestine (1945-48) spearheaded by the Mossad. It includes fresh information concerning such episodes as the capture of Jewish refugees in La Spezia, Italy, the Exodus affair, and the surprising role played by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in funding this "illegal" Mossad-sponsored immigration. Second, it offers a political and organizational analysis of the Mossad, detailing its structure, hierarchy, work methods, and leaders, as well as its deft ability to manipulate events for propaganda purposes. Finally, it problematizes this whole heroic chapter in Zionist historiography by portraying the immigration as an "encounter between the Jewish catastrophe and the Israeli Zionist collective" in which Zionist leaders like David Ben-Gurion used the immigration for their own purposes, even as they viewed the immigrants themselves in highly ambivalent ways that reflected their own ambivalent stance toward both the diaspora and those who survived the Nazi Holocaust. An essential work of Zionist history, this study is also among the most sensitive and persuasive examples of the new self-critical Zionist historiography. Graduate, faculty. J. D. Sarna; Brandeis University