Cover image for Commander of the Exodus
Commander of the Exodus
Kaniuk, Yoram.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Eḳsodus. English
Publication Information:
New York : Grove Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xvi, 214 pages ; 22 cm
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Corporate Subject:
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DS126.4 .K237 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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"Commander of the Exodus" animates the story of Yossi Harel, a modern-day Moses who defied the blockade of the British Mandate to deliver more than 24,000 displaced Holocaust survivors to Palestine while the rest of the world closed its doors.

Author Notes

A native Israeli, Yoram Kaniuk was born on May 2, 1930. He served in the Haganah and later in the War of Independence. He was in the United States from 1950 to 1961, sharpened his artistic abilities, and developed a nostalgic vision of Tel Aviv and a deep attachment for Jerusalem. In May 2011, Kaniuk petitioned the Israeli Interior Ministry to change his religion status from "Jewish" to "no religion." This stemmed from his desire not to belong to a "Jewish Iran" or "what is today called the religion of Israel." In October 2011, a district court judge approved his petition, meaning that Kaniuk was then considered a Jew by nationality, but not by religion. Hundreds of other Israelis intend to do the same; a new verb, lehitkaniuk (to Kaniuk oneself) was coined to refer to this process.

Kaniuk published 17 novels, a memoir, seven collections of short stories, two books of essays and five books for children and youth. His books have been published in 25 languages and he has won numerous literary prizes. He died on June 8, 2013. (Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Many books have been written on the plight of the Exodus, the legendary ship that became the symbol of the struggle for a Jewish state, most notably Aviva Halamish's The Exodus Affair (1998). The ship, carrying 4,515 survivors of the Holocaust in July 1947, attempted to break through a British blockade to reach Palestine, but it was rammed and boarded by the British navy and taken to Haifa. Refusing to disembark, the Jews were forcefully expelled to the British-ruled zone in Germany. Kaniuk's book is the first biography of Yossi Harel, who, between 1945 and 1948, commanded four of the largest illegal Jewish immigrant ships that carried thousands of Jews from Europe to Palestine: the Pan York, Pan Crescent, Knesset Israel, and Exodus. The book is based on the author's interviews with Harel, who was reluctant to talk about his heroic acts, which included some of Israel's top-secret missions. Kaniuk not only gives readers a penetrating picture of Harel but also offers valuable insights into the Jewish struggle to create a homeland. --George Cohen

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this unusual foray into nonfiction, the well-respected Israeli novelist Kaniuk (Confessions of a Good Arab) depicts the life of Yossi Harel, a Palestine-born Jew who, in the 1940s, defied the British and brought four boatloads of Holocaust survivors to Palestine. Basing the narrative on his interviews with Harel (now in his 80s), Kaniuk tells how Harel left his troubled family to join the Haganah (the Jewish militia) at the age of 14. Inspired by the revolutionary leader Yitzhak Sadeh, he fought the Arabs during the anti-Jewish riots of the 1930s and the Germans during WWII; then, after the war ended, he fought the British. Harel's first expedition brought 3,000 Jewish refugees from Yugoslavia aboard the Knesset Israel, but the British forbade their entry, and they ended up in Cyprus. Then, in 1947, Harel commanded the famous ship Exodus (an expedition later depicted in the novel by Leon Uris and a film starring Paul Newman), which sailed from France with 4,515 refugees. When the Exodus arrived, British destroyers attacked it, and the refugees went back to detention camps in Germany. Finally, in 1948, Harel commanded two more ships carrying 15,236 Jews--all of whom, due to a brokered compromise, went back to Cyprus, where they secretly boarded British ships bound for Palestine. Masterfully describing both Harel's biography and the suffering and determination of the refugees, Kaniuk portrays an ugly episode in history and provides much-needed historical depth to contemporary political debates. (It was, he argues, the global condemnation that came in the aftermath of Britain's heartless refusals that led to the birth of Israel.) (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

While the ship Exodus has been immortalized in the Leon Uris novel and Otto Preminger film (both of the same name), little was known about the ship's captain, Yossi Harel. In this capably translated book (first published in Hebrew in 1999), Israeli novelist Kaniuk (Adam Resurrected and Confessions of a Good Arab) fills in the many gaps in Harel's early career. The reader learns that the young "Zionist cowboy" served in both the Haganah (the Zionist military organization) and the British Army before commanding four expeditions (while still in his 20s) that transported over 24,000 refugees to Palestine, openly defying the British blockade. Kaniuk paints a vivid picture of the wretched conditions aboard the old ships and the violence of the British sailors. Based on interviews with the elderly Harel, the book has no footnotes or documentation, and Kaniuk notes that "some portions of this book blend historical truth with imaginationit is not a traditional biography, but is absolutely based on the facts." Recommended for public libraries that have high reader interest in the subject. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/00.]--John A. Drobnicki, York Coll., CUNY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.