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The Legal and Illegal immigration (Aliyah and Ha–Apalah)


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Photograph no. 123: Barshad – Geulah Cooperative, Kishinev 5681 (1921); the scope of this cooperative was to make Aliyah and to establish an advanced agricultural and industrial settlement named “Barshad”
From bottom to top: Row 1: from right to left, sitting: A. Shapira, B. Halfan (Secretary of the Board), A. Pasher (Vice Chairman), A. Sokolovsky (Chairman), Dr. J. Bernstein–Cohen (Chairman of the Zionist Federation), Advocate I. Triuvus, I. Manis (Treasurer), A. German, K. Lerner, Halbert

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Photograph no. 124: The Youth Aliyah from Romania, Heshvan 5699 (November 1938)
From Bottom to top, from right to left, Row 1: 1) L. Kolker, 2) Ab. Kedem, 3) A. Stern, 4) G. Wolovich, 5) Margalit, 6) Varda Rosenfeld, 7) I. Rozen
Row 2: 1) Dr. M. Kotik, 2) G. Seni, 3) Dr. Zalman, 4) M. Dantzik, 5) Chief Rabbi Yacov Nemierover, 6) S. Engelberg, 7) Engineer Zigler, 8) R. Kotik, 9) I. Frish, 10) D. Schechter, 11) M. Orchovsky, 12) R. Brezis, 13) Sh. Frish, 14) Mrs. Margalit
Row 3: 1) M. Kolker, 2) Il. Appel, 3) Z. Erlichman, 4) Av. Keidar, 5) Rf. Weissman, 6) Boiukansky, 7) Asher Roth, 8) A. Averbuch, 8a) H. Lempert, 9) H. Solomon, 10) D. Leibovich, 11) Weiss, 12) Idov Cohen, 13) A. Mark


Photograph no. 125: The first Youth Aliyah group from Romania before departure from Constantza, November 1938

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Farmers' hope

Immigration preoccupied the Jewish Community of Bessarabia for the longest time. When Keren Hayesod was founded and the great prospects of settlement in Eretz Israel became a reality, the Jewish farmers, about 8,000 families, became interested in Aliyah.[1] Even the people who left the farms or the ones who only partially worked on the farms started to dream about settling in Eretz Israel. The idea to settle in a near country like Eretz Israel looked more appealing than settling in distant lands like Argentina.

Most interested in Aliyah were the Jewish tobacco growers. The Jews had almost the entire tobacco growing industry for themselves; they were the specialists in planting, growing, harvesting and drying, packaging and shipping.

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In general, tobacco growing was very difficult work, but there were elements of the process that even small children could do it; so, the farmers employed their children. The Jews considered that they will easily continue this work in Eretz Israel. Also the winegrowers and vintners who leased lands from the big landowners in every small locality in Bessarabia dreamed of taking their expertise to Eretz Israel.

At the first Zionist Congress in May 1920 in Kishinev, a decision was taken to establish a special settlement for immigrants from Bessarabia. The Keren Kayemet “Settlement Enterprise in Eretz Israel,” program promised to allocate plots of land for the Bessarabia farmers.

In spring 1924, B. Gicheku requested from the Zionist leadership an allocation of 200 special immigration permits for the Bessarabia tobacco growers. He was sent to survey the situation in Eretz Israel[2] and from there he went to Paris and New York to raise the necessary funds to settle the farmers.

This entire program did not succeed because of the restrictions in the immigration and because of lack of funding for the settlement of the immigrants.

The farmers were left struggling to make a living when the harvests failed to bring enough revenue to cover the expenses. A lot of farmers left tobacco growing and went into other businesses, opened small shops, etc. Some worked during the winter in the tobacco packaging, a very unhealthy environment where they contracted heart and lung diseases.

Bessarabia at the time was an important transit point to many He–Halutz refugees from Ukraine and their example was followed by two more groups: the Barshad Cooperative and the Vinograd Cooperative.

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The Barshad Cooperative

A group of refugees from the city of Barshad (Ukraine) came to Kishinev in 1921/1922 together with the halutzim from the Ukraine with the purpose to immigrate to Eretz Israel. Under the leadership of Joseph Manis, they founded the cooperative Geulah to facilitate the organized immigration and settlement in Eretz Israel.

The initial group of 26 families subsequently attracted more than 100 families from other localities in Ukraine with the aim to establish a settlement that will be self sufficient and will not need outside workers or contractors. They were convinced they can set up an exemplary settlement with the little money they had and with the help of the Zionist leadership.

First, they asked the Zionist Centre in Kishinev for assistance to help cover the cost of the immigration permits (250 – 500 Sterling Pounds per person). At the request of Dr. Jacob Bernstein–Cohen, Tzwi Turkanovsky the director of Bank Bessarabia–Palestine, came to the help of the Cooperative.[3]

The Bessarabia–Palestine Bank founded by Jews from Kishinev was dealing with Eretz Israel via their branch “Hiram” in Haifa. At the bank's suggestion, the imports from Romania, especially the lumber and other forest products were marked with the name of the Cooperative Geulah. Based on these documents, Dr. Theodore Weiselberg, chairman of the Eretz Israel Bureau in

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persuaded the British Consul (also in) to issue immigration permits for the Cooperative.

In the letter of 29 September 1921 to the Central Zionist Bureau in London, Dr. Weiselberg explains the situation of the Cooperative:

“We were successful in obtaining permits for 37 out of the 153 families of the Barshad Cooperative. The cooperative has a capital of 5 million Lei and a large amount of merchandise which they will bring to Eretz Israel. This group left Constantinople on 21 September 1921 and probably arrived in Eretz Israel already. The other 150 families will leave Bessarabia when all the 37 families will settle. The name of the Cooperative is Geulah.[4]

The last group arrived during Nissan– Sivan 5682 and settled together with the rest of the Cooperative in tents around Haifa. They received exemption from Income tax and were not charged for the tents supplied by the Zionist leadership. Some of the members worked in the shops set up by the cooperative and some went to work outside. Soon they realized that there is no capital and that the little money they had, paid for the trip to Eretz Israel. The merchandise (i.e. pig hair) they brought to Eretz Israel did not turn to be a good investment and had to be sold in London for a big loss. All these problems contributed to the end of the Barshad Cooperative dream.

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The Cooperative dismantled and its membership dispersed all over the country, but this group contributed a lot to the culture, arts and society in Eretz Israel.


The Vinograd Cooperative

Representatives of the 300 people Jewish community of Vinograd (Ukraine) came to Eretz Israel at the outbreak of WWI and purchased a piece of land for future settlement of the community. When they returned to Ukraine they could not immigrate and got stuck in their village. In the terrible days that followed, they clandestinely crossed the Dniester and came to Kishinev. Similar to the people from Barshad, they set up for the purpose of immigration, the Cooperative “Karmiyah.”

With the financial assistance from the Bessarabia–Palestine Bank and the support of the British Consul in , Sir Cameron (a Righteous Gentile), the entire group immigrated during the winter and spring of 5682 (1922).

Due to the difficult situation in Eretz Israel and the lack of money the group did not settle as planned and each went their own way.[5]

The Kishinev community and the Eretz Israel Agency in did not spare any efforts to help the two cooperatives, Barshad and Vinograd, to immigrate to Eretz Israel. Even if the settlements did not succeed to organize as planned, a few hundred people made it to Eretz Israel.

A new wave of emigration started after Bessarabia's annexation to Romania in 1924 and the economic crisis that followed which compelled many people to leave and to disperse all over the world.

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The enormous task to organize the Aliyah in those days fell on the He–Halutz and the activists from the Zionist organizations. Tzwi Bonfeld, Secretary of the General Zionist and Yitzchak Schwartz from the Labour Department (Tzeirei Zion and He–Halutz) worked under enormous pressure to facilitate the immigration.

Permits were given only after the candidates for immigration were scrupulously checked for their experience in agriculture or in a professional field. It also helped to have money. The only advantage the candidates had was the knowledge of Hebrew as the majority graduated from Hebrew schools.

There is no separate data for Bessarabia on the number of immigrants, because the districts Bessarabia, Bucovina, Transylvania and the Regat were considered one Romania, but from data found in various sources it is obvious that Bessarabia had an important role in the Aliyah.

A survey done at the beginning of 1925 about potential immigrants shows that the Bessarabia natives were 64.5%, Bucovina natives 27.5% and Old Romania only 8%.[6] (In Transylvania the movement started later). Even if the numbers for Romania changed over time, it was a known fact that Bessarabia contributed 60%[7] of the immigrants and never went under 40%.

In the report to the 14th Zionist Congress in 5685 (1925), the Zionist leadership presented the following picture of the Aliyah from Bessarabia for the period September 1923 to July 1925:

Table A:

  Registered for Aliyah Authorized for Aliyah
Families People Families People
Professionals and trades 900 3,150 259 1,017
Professionals and trades 900 3,150 259 1,017
Workers and farmers 460 920 252 252
Workers (female) 240 240 196 196
Total 1,600 4,310 707 1,465

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Table B:

Distribution of the 99 permits received for Aliyah

Agriculture workers 19 permits for 52 people
Trades and professional 20 permits for 66 people
Workers 28 permits for 39 people
Workers (females) 32 permits for 32 people
Total: 99 permits for 189 people

Other permits were obtained for investors, tourists and returning citizen:

Investors (Second Class) 11 permits for 24 people
Other requests 55 permits for 77 people
Total 165 permits for 290 people


Permits for other categories

Tourists 57 66 people
Returning citizen 4 7 people
Total 226 permits 363 people


This report may include people from the Khotin region in Northern Bessarabia who used the Kishinev office for registration and also the people from Akkerman and Ismail in the South who used the Galatz office.

The report showed that Bessarabia had a healthy and experienced work force ready to work hard and students and professionals ready to flee Bessarabia because of the economic crisis.

The situation created by the Annexation and the economic crisis in the 1920s put a lot of pressure on the Jews to leave Bessarabia.

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In reality, only 165 Aliyah permits were distributed despite the great number of skilled people who applied. Because Aliyah to Eretz Israel was so slow, a lot of people immigrated to faraway lands in South America and this situation decreased the registrations for Eretz Israel.

A report of the Zionist leadership to the 15th Congress in 5697 (1927) provides the following information about the Aliyah in 1925, 1926 and the first four months of 1927 (January to April):

Table A:

for Aliyah
Received permits[8]
  Families Families People
Investors 385    
Professionals 410 375 625
Workers 72    
Total 1,520 375 625


Table B:

The Aliyah by categories

Permits from the Zionist Federation 1925 1926 1927 Total
Men 352 146 6 504
Women 72 47 2 121
Total 424 193 8 625
Investors 39 4 43
Requests 81 48 2 131
Students 2 2
Tourists 45 9 3 57
Returning to Eretz Israel 1 5 6
Total 592 259 13 864


The Jews of Bessarabia always felt discriminated when it came to the distribution of the permits, despite the many discussions at the He–Halutz International Congresses (see the chapter on He–Halutz) and in the offices of the Jewish Agency and other departments of Eretz Israel. The vast correspondence with these offices did not bring a satisfactory solution to the situation.

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Thousands young people who dedicated their lives to prepare for Aliyah and settling in the homeland had their dreams ruined and the only prospect available was to stay in the anti–Semitic Romania. After they finished the training a lot of young men waiting for their Aliyah papers reached the age of army and were conscripted and as a result their ambition to immigrate ended.


First Ha–Apalah (Illegal immigration) attempt

From the first days of the British Mandate of Palestine, the very limited legal immigration was accompanied by an illegal immigration through different channels on land and on water. Many crossed borders from the North aided by smugglers, some resorted to fictional marriages with people from Eretz Israel and some came as tourists. Tourism was sometimes done in groups to attend a special occasion such as: the opening of the University, the Maccabi games or the “Orient Exhibition.” Some came as pilgrims for the holidays.

The decline in the Aliyah possibilities for the youth and the middle class created a real resentment among the community and forced the Zionist Leadership in Kishinev to act and as a result on Pessah 5693 (1933) they organized a large group of tourists. An office named “The Tourist” was set up for this purpose.

A first group of 200 young people who had return tickets boarded the ship “Ardeal.” When the ship arrived in Eretz Israel they were interrogated by the custom officials and even if they had relatives in Eretz Israel, 121 were denied entry. Among them were 22 from the Regat, 9 from Bucovina, 1 from Transylvania and 89 (52 girls) from Bessarabia.

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The disappointment and anger grew when they received Matzah for the trip back to Romania. They refused and went on a hunger strike. A lot of personalities, among them Rabbi Kook, intervened, without success, for these unfortunate people. Representatives from the Haifa community Dr. I.L. Villenson and I. Ardeshtein tried personally to convince them to stop the hunger strike, to no results. Only when the ship was supposed to leave Haifa a telegram from Jerusalem announce that Rabbi Kook and I. Ben–Tzwi succeeded to put up 100 Lei per person guarantee and the people were allowed to disembark and stay in Eretz Israel for the holiday only! They were taken to jail and with great difficulty were allowed visits from their relatives.[9]

This event produced a lot of resentment towards the Zionist leadership in Eretz Israel who did not succeed in preventing the return of legal tourists to Romania. The Jewish Community in Bessarabia blamed the Jewish Agency for not preventing the return of the people. Even in the Report of the Zionist Executive to the 19th Zionist Congress this tragic incident was downplayed; the report stated “in 1933, 33 tourists and 50 illegal immigrants were denied entry.”

When the ship arrived in Constantza, the people stormed the Aliyah office and asked for immigration permits and refused to board the train to leave the city. The police intervened and threatened to close the office. The only way to make them leave was to promise that the permits from the next “Schedule” will be given to them.

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This first Ha–Apalah incident was resolved by allocating the permits to this group that finally made Aliyah.

The group of tourists who were allowed to enter Eretz Israel never returned to Bessarabia. They settled in Eretz Israel the best they could.

There were two more illegal Aliyah attempts one in August 1933 (Chaim Lazar–Litai: “Af–Al–PiDespite, p. 487) on the ship “Union” and in the summer of 1934 on the ship “Vallos”. The first succeeded to land 100 people and “Vallos” landed 350 people. (Sefer Toldot Ha–Haganah – History of the Haganah, page 529).


Feelings of unfairness in the allotment of Certificates (Permits)

The Jews of Bessarabia became very disheartened about the unfairness of the distribution of the Certificates, especially when the report from the Department of Immigration published the figures from October 1933 – March 1934 and April – September 1934. The local press was especially critical[10] about the discrimination of the Bessarabia community, “the step children,” as Ben–Abram called it. (D. Vinitzky[11])

Schedule of October 1933 – March 1934

Poland 885 Halutzim 300 Relatives 210 Middle class Total 1,400 Permits
Romania 200 Halutzim 15 Relatives 125 Middle class Total 340 Permits


Extra permits on this Schedule: 240 Permits for Poland and 15 Permits for Romania to a total of 1,640 for Poland and 355 for Romania (21.6%).

Schedule for April – September 1934

Poland 1,040 Halutzim 500 Relatives 310 Middle class Total 1,850 Permits
Romania 200 Halutzim 30 relatives 60 Middle class Total 310 Permits

Extra permits on this Schedule: Poland 145, and 200 for professionals with a capital of 250 Sterling Pounds and none for Romania.

Total: 2,195 for Poland and 310 permits for Romania (14.6%)

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These two tables show the following facts:

  1. Discrimination of the professionals on the basis of investment capital of 250 Sterling Pounds
  2. A large gap in the Permits for relatives and the unfairness to Romania
  3. In the Schedule of April– September 1924 the gap between Poland and Romania increased
The distribution of the Permits influenced the outcome of the Aliyah:

  Poland Romania Ratio
1932 2,987 377 12.60%
1933 12,879 1,374 10.67%
1934 (first half) 5,619 716 12.70%

The size of the populations, 3 million in Poland and almost one million in Romania, was taken in consideration when the Romanians (including Bessarabia) complained of discriminations. With the biggest pressure for Aliyah, Bessarabia was the hardest affected by the decline in permits. Negotiations took place between Dr. A. Goldshtein and Tz. Weishtock, representatives from Bessarabia and the heads of the Immigration department about this problem. When Dr. Hantke came to visit Kishinev and Bucharest in 1934, he faced the dire situation and the disappointment of the people.

He promised to correct the situation

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and to provide more permits for relatives and workers of Romania (at least a third of the number of permits in Poland). The promises did not materialize and the fight for permits continued.

In 1933, the dockworkers from South Bessarabia port cities Reni, Ismail and Kiliya requested immigration permits, but this issue was never resolved as the ports in Eretz Israel preferred workers from Salonika.

In 1935, agricultural workers received 400 permits, but because Bessarabia had many experienced and patriotic farmers it requested 100 additional permits; regrettably, it received only 34 and the rest went to Transylvania farmers.

The middle class of Bessarabia was also discriminated when it came to immigration permits. In general the middle class was poor and lived very modestly. The sum of 500 Sterling Pounds requested for this category was a large fortune at the time considering the weakness of the Romanian currency.

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Tzwi Liberman (Livneh) who visited Bessarabia in order to select the middle–class applicants, described in “Davar” of 4 February 1935, the very bleak situation of the Bessarabia Jewish farmers who have suffered for the last three years from drought and are facing famine.

At the end of 1937, the situation worsened due to the anti–Semitic policies of the authorities. The anti–Semitic Government of Goga–Cuza with the enactment of its new anti–Semitic legislation conducted a policy of excluding the Jews from all sectors of the economy and public life. Even after the fall of this short–lived government (44 days) the situation did not change; not only that the laws remained in place, other more severe restrictions were imposed.

Prime Minister Armand Calinescu, one of the biggest opponents of the Iron Guard, together with the Minister of Foreign Affairs Gafencu, tried to distance Romania from the influence of Germany. They tried to find a “humanitarian” solution to the Jewish Problem and hoped to deport the Jews to safe countries, unfortunately they did not succeed. The Foreign Minister tried to convince the British Government

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to help Romania implement the plan to deport 150,000 Jews over the next five years.[12] This plan was not accepted by the London Government and the Immigration gates were closed for the Jews of Romania.

In 1938 two representatives of the Zionist leadership I. Greenboim and A. Dobkin visited Romania and promised to try to get more permits. In April 1938, a delegation of Romanian Jewish leaders from Bucharest came to Eretz Israel to plead before the Zionist leaders about the situation in Romania and to facilitate the immigration. The delegation was led by Dr. Yacov Nemeirover from Romania and Advocate Itzchack Koren from Bessarabia. Unfortunately, the delegation did not achieve its goal to increase the Aliyah permits for Romania workers from 9% to 13%[13] and to integrate Romania with the “Aliyat Ha–Noar” (Youth Aliyah).[14] The Jews of Romania were left facing an immigration ban and the approaching disaster of WWII.


Students Aliyah

Ary Even–Zahav, from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, visited various cities in Romania in 1938 and presented a summary of the situation of Students Aliyah.

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He came to Kishinev accompanied by M. Orlovsky, the director of the office in Eretz Israel. They visited the Tarbut schools and met with the students and the student union members and explained the requirement for registration to the University.

M. Orlovsky lectured about the University and about higher education institutions and high schools in Eretz Israel.

The hopeful students learned very soon the costs of registration, the university tuition fees and the cost of living in Israel and realized that even the wealthier parents could not afford them. Another critical problem was the Matriculation High School Diploma that was very difficult to achieve in these difficult time in Romania.

All this caused a decline in the requests for University registration.


Youth Aliyah

Complaints about the selection requirements of students were expressed in a vast correspondence with the education institutions and as a result, 29 permits were allocated instead of the 50 requested. Poland was allocated 64 in the previous Schedule and 75 in the present Schedule, a situation that created more discontent among the youth and their parents in Romania.

The 29 permits were given for the following institutions: 5 students who were admitted to the school in Talpiot, Jerusalem,[15] 20 male students and 4 female students to the Meier Schpeiyah Kfar Noar.[16]

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Photograph no. 126: Members of the first Aliyat Ha–Noar group from Romania on the ship deck

From bottom to top, row 1, from right to left: Reuven Noiwelt (Nabat) far right, Menashe Nusinov, Shaul Itzkovich (Yaron), Amnon Spector (Doron), Unknown
Row 2: Moshe Bicham, Riva Porer (Yanai), Mrs. Zilberman, Naftali Rabin, Jeniya Buganov, Isaac Bendy (Dove)
Row 3: Leah Goldstein, Wily (student), Heine Silverman (escort), Zee Higher, Arise Shaindel, Meier Salomon


Photograph no. 127: Members of the first Aliyat Ha–Noar group from Romania arriving in Beth Shan

From bottom to top, row 1, from right to left sitting: Saul Itzkovich, Isaac Bendy, Jenny Baranov
Row 2, standing: Yaffa Kaufman, Moshe Nisbacher, (Nusboim?), Amnon Spector (Doron), Meier Salomon, Moshe Bicham (Eilgy), Reuven Noiwelt (Nabat), Chanah Noiwelt (Nabat), Miriam Weinshtein (Livnat), Asiya Karolik, Menashe Nusinov, Nissim Iancovich, Riva Porer (Yanai), behind Riva Yanai, Jeniya Buganov's father (with hat), Sarah Marmelshtein, Unknown

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Photograph no. 128: The Maapilim (illegal immigrants) boat “Colorado” was stopped on its second run on July 1939 and arrested in Haifa


Photograph no. 129: Maapilim (Illegal immigrants) disembark

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Distribution of the 24 permits of the Kfar Ha–Noar students according to location and affiliation:

Affiliation Total Bessarabia
Gordonia 9 9
Zionist Youth 5 5
Ha–Bonim 4 4
Maccabi 2 2
Unaffiliated 4 2 2
Total 24 13 9 4

The students arrived in Eretz Israel on November 1938.

In the first part of 1939, Romania did not receive any permits from the Schedule. Only in the second half of 1939, 21 permits were allocated to Romania and were intended for the students of the agricultural school in Ben Shemen. They came to Eretz Israel in two groups – 17 at the end of November and the rest in December 1939.[17]

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Distribution of permits according to location, affiliation and gender:

Affiliation Girls Boys Total Bessarabia
Gordonia 1 4 5 4 1
Dror 1 1 1
Ha–Bonim 2 3 5 4 1
Zionist Youth 2 2 2
Shomer Ha–Tzair 6 6 2 2 2
Unaffiliated 2 2 2
Total 13 8 21 7 8 6

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The Illegal Aliyah

The illegal Aliyah (Haapala) at the end of 1930s, also known as Aliyah Bet turned out to be the life saver for the East European Jewry. The ports of Romania and Bessarabia, among them, were important gates for the Jews to flee. Half or the 6,000 maapilim (illegal immigrants) who arrived in 1939 with the help of Aliyah Bet exited through the ports of Romania. From the 5,000–6,000 maapilim who came until the start of WWII, only 685 came through others ports in Europe. During March–September 1939 from the 35 boats that arrived in Eretz Israel, 30 came from Romania. They were financed and organized privately and brought 14,634 illegal immigrants.

Only one boat with 269 passengers was returned on March 22, 1939 after eight days at sea without enough food or fuel.

The British Government pressured the Government of Romania not to allow the boats to leave the ports. On the other hand, the fascist governments of the countries like Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia pressured Romania to help rid their countries of Jews. Romania wanted to have little to do with the refugees from these countries, but also wished to get rid of its own Jewish population. It required that 10% of Romania Jews be included on these shipments.

Unfortunately, there is no data about how many Jews from Romania or Bessarabia succeeded to leave, but it is known who these maapilim were:

From Bessarabia most of the maapilim were the graduates of the Youth Unions' Hachshara programs who waited long for the legal permits and from the Beitar movement who felt somehow discriminated by the Zionist movement and the allocation of permits. As for the majority of people, the cost to make Aliyah was simply unreachable.

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It is a known fact that the economic situation in Romania was better than in Bessarabia. The centre for immigration was in Bucharest and that in many cases funds were collected to help the refugees from the Nazi governed countries leave Romania.

The safest ports to leave Romania were Bugaz (Buhaz) on the Black Sea not far from Akkerman, followed by Reni and Kiliya on the Danube.

The organizers of the Illegal Aliyah in Romania used various tactics, sometimes contradicting each other. The Revisionist movement cooperated with Etzel (Irgun), led by Ery Jabotinsky (son of Zeev Jabotinsky) and used a combined method where wealthy people had to pay and the Beitar people travelled for free. A lot has been written about the transactions between the representatives and the local police and the dealings of Ery Jabotinsky with the British authorities. They were even accused of making money from the Aliyah. As a result, many private companies started to deal in the transport of people from Romania and from the Nazi governed countries. These companies did not trouble to ensure that people disembark peacefully and safely on the shores of Eretz Israel and not fall in the hands of the police.

It was a known fact that British spies infiltrated Romania and followed the boats docked on the ports.

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A completely opposite method was followed by the Aliyah Bet organization of the Haganah (The Defence) led by Joseph Barpal, assisted by Ruth Klinger, and Alexander Shapira. The candidates for immigration, the majority from the He–Halutz movement, were submitted to a strict and secret selection process. This method ensured the success of all phases of the operation. From the 16 boats that came to Eretz Israel until the start of the war, only 3 were detained by the British authorities.

Many books have been written about the illegal Aliyah, but here the author would like to present two incidents from Bessarabia; one from the Bugaz port at the Black Sea and the second at Sulina on the Danube, near the town of Kiliya.

The first boats from the Mossad, the “Colorado” and the“Atrato”, were anchored at Bugaz, a remote and deserted little port on the Black Sea, on 1 Sivan 5699 (19 May 1939). 700 maapilim travelled by train from Warsaw without any incidents and only made two or three stops in Bessarabia to collect more people. The supplies were loaded on the boats under the supervision of Alexander Shapira from the Romanian headquarters of “Ha–Yhud.”

On Sefer Ha–maapilim, edited by Moshe Bassuk, Sifria ha–Zionit Publisher, p. 125 there is a description of how the local community greeted the train.

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“The local population came to the train in droves in order to greet and to bless the immigrants. They sang the Hatikvah, and cried of happiness. The police tried to disperse the gathering, but no one left, they formed a compact body. They looked at us with much envy and followed the train after it left the station. At each station we were greeted by the locals and at the end we arrived at the deserted port.”

The 234 ton boat “Atrato” made six successful trips from different ports in Europe, but on this trip, with the 401 passengers on board it was apprehended by the British Navy on 28 May 1939. All passengers were taken to Haifa. They were released; the numbers were deducted from the next Schedule of permits.


Illustration no. 14a: Telegram to the agents in Eretz Israel signaling that the “Atrato” and the “Colorado” passed through Istanbul, (from the Sefer Toldot Ha–Aganah (History of the Hagana), p. 1034

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The 591 ton “Colorado” successfully sailed pass the Turkish police which monitored the traffic from Romania and the 377 passengers arrived safely in Eretz Israel.

The “Colorado” returned to Romania and picked up other 325 halutzim from Poland and 53 from Romania (210 men and 168 women), but it was seized by the police on 28 July 1939 and escorted to Haifa, two weeks after sailing from Romania.

At the same time, the Mossad agents finished the arrangements for bringing 800 maapilim from Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. The owners of the “Atrato” supplied a third boat the “Tiger Hill” despite the loss of the“Atrato” and the “Colorado” seized by the British police. Concurrently, the British Government pressured the Romanians to stop the passage of refugees from Poland. The group of 1,200 people organized by the revisionists were stopped at the border town Sniatyn and had to return home. The group from Poland expected to board the “Tiger Hill”, but was arrested in the train in Constantza. Joseph Barpal and Ruth Klinger tried with all their power to save the refugees and intervened with the Foreign Minister Gafencu. Ruth Klinger went to Gafencu's villa in Constantza and spoke directly to him about the fate of the refugees who cannot return to their countries. Gafencu was impressed by her courage and by the plight of the refugees and approved the passage.

The boat left Constantza on 27 July, but it was apprehended by the police when it arrived in Eretz Israel. Only 100 people disembarked during stormy weather. The boat had to flee to sea where it wandered for a long time. However, it rescued 600 people from the boat “Frossoula” that was stranded at sea.

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The 1,417 people crowded in the boat endured appalling condition where panic and chaos reigned. The Mossad people had to order the boat to go close to the Tel Aviv shore and commanded the people to disembark and flee. 200 people succeeded to escape and the rest were arrested by the police.


Beginning of WWII

When the WWII broke out on 1 September 1939, attempts were still made to bring maapilim to Eretz Israel through the Romanian ports, but the conditions became very difficult and many plans had to be abandoned. Only in Decenber 1939, Joseph Barpal from the Aliyah Bet organization, succeeded to transfer to the port of Balchik (now in Bulgaria) two refugee convoys, mostly halutzim; 400 from Germany and 400 from Czechoslovakia. They boarded the 2000 ton cargo boat “Hilda.” As it left Istanbul the boat was seized by 2 British Navy boats and tugged to Haifa. After many interventions by the Eretz Israel leadership the passengers were freed on January 31, 1940.

One of the most difficult actions undertaken by the Irgun (revisionists) together with a private company was to send the boat “Skaria” on 1 February 1940. The boat took in 2,500 people – 500 Beitar members from Czechoslovakia, Austria and Hungary, Romania and a number of refugees from Poland. Michael Gorenshtein (Goren), one of the revisionists from Kishinev, played an important role on this undertaking when he was in Bucharest.

One of the convoys of 525 people, among them 300 Beitar members from Vienna, embarked on 15 October on two steam boats and left Bratislava on the Danube. When they arrived at the Romanian territory, the passangers were transferred to four riverboats to wait for their chance to sail on the sea. They were stuck in the icy river and the refugees had to spend the entire winter there.

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The second convoy of 810 people was organized by Dr. Perl, a revisionist, who, because of a conflict with the movement, decided to act on his own. (Dr. Lazar–Litai: Sefer Af–Al–Pi (Despite), p. 396) The convoy sailed on a German boat under the Nazi flag, the organizers being responsible to return the boat empty. Dr. Perl, being well known by the Romanian secret police (Siguranta), asked M. Gorenshtein to help in obtaining permits to let the boat sail.

The third convoy of 450 people from Vienna and Budapest; 100 from Agudah and the rest Beitar members and unaffiliated, was organized by the Jewish community and by the Agudah leaders. They were helped by Hertz Hecht to obtain visas and to organize passage through Romania and the Jewish Community became responsible for the sea passage.

The fourth convoy of 450 people was organized by Beitar Romania to transport Romanians and some Polish refugees.

Gorenshtein as agent of Dr. Perl was now in charge to obtain safe passage for more than 2,000 people. He had to find a large boat to accommodate all the refugees gathered on the Danube banks in Romania. He made a deal with Ery Jabotinsky to take in some of the Beitar people if he will help disembark the passengers, at no cost, in Eretz Israel.

“Skaria” was an old cargo boat used to transport coal. Their owners took advantage of the situation and raised the cost; and instead of the 7,000 Sterling Pounds for the rental as agreed, they charged 14,000 Sterling Pounds. It took almost 5 weeks to clean up the boat and to make it suitable to carry the 2,300 passengers.[18] “Skaria” left Romania

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on 1 February 1940 from Sulina. When it crossed the Dardanelle Straits in Turkish territorial waters 10 days later, it was intercepted by the British Navy and brought directly to Haifa (13 February 1940). The passengers were arrested and jailed for six months, except for 300 women and children who were let go free. Ery Jabotinsky and M. Gorenshtein were arrested; Jabotinsky served 6 months in jail and Gorenshtein 9 months.

This was the biggest convoy that made it to Eretz Israel since the war broke out.


Veteran Zionists'Aliyah

After long years of keenly working for the Zionist cause, many activists decided that it is their time to immigrate. The war in Europe and the imminent annexation of Bessarabia to the Soviet Union precipitated their decision. The Immigration Department requested 50 permits, but only 5 permits were received at the end of the Schedule on March 1940, with a promise to get more on the next Schedule. Unfortunately, the next Schedule happened after the Soviet Union annexed Bessarabia in June 1940. Most of the Zionist leaders were arrested and deported to Siberia and some were jailed for a long time.


Summary of the Aliyah

It is difficult to have an accurate account about the immigration from Bessarabia, especially in the period between the two world wars. Based on the numbers from the Jewish Agency, on numbers from various reports and from the author's familiarity with the situation due to his work, the following table consists of the official numbers of immigrants from Romania.

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Year Number
of People
Year Number
of People
1920 331 1931 196
1921 424 1932 377
1922 285 1933 1374
1923 364 1934 1705[19]
1924 431 1935 3,596[20]
1925 1,701 1936 1348
1926 693 1937 278
1927 126 1938 466
1928 24 1939 379
1929 282 1940 955[21]
1930 286    
Total 15,621    


  1. The first four years (1920 to the end of 1923) are marked by new political conditions and an awakening towards immigration. 1,404 people immigrated.
  2. The next three years (1924 until the end of 1926) are marked by a rapid economic development and growth in construction in Eretz Israel. 2,825 people immigrated.
  3. Despite the economic boom during 1927/1928, there is an increase in emigration and only 150 people immigrated.
  4. During 1929 to the end of 1931 the immigration increased to 764 people, mostly due to the events of 1929
  5. During 1932 to the end of 1936 the immigration reached 8,400 people
[Page 316]
  1. In the last four years 1937 to the end of 1940 the immigration decreased by 30% compared to the previous years. 2,078 people immigration despite the great demand.
During this period 1,300 tourists from Romania were allowed to settle and the illegal immigration reached 2,000 people.[22]

During the 1920s and until the end of 1940, the Romanian immigration reached 19,000 people. The estimated Bessarabia immigration numbers of 8,500 to 8,800 people. Until the beginning of 1930s the halutzim immigration constituted 60–65% from all Romanian immigrants; after that it decreased to 40–45%.


The Eretz Israel Bureau (Palestine Bureau)

The annexation of Bessarabia, Bucovina and Transylvania to Romania after WWI did not result in one block economically, culturally and socially, therefore each province set up separate public institutions and also separate Zionist organizations, parties and factions.

An immigration office was set up by the Zionist Federation in Kishinev, as early as 1920, when the first refugees from Ukraine came. At the forefront was the newly elected executive of Tzeirei Zion who was in charge of financing and organizing immigration together with He–Halutz Union.[23]

Due to the influx of refugees from Ukraine and from Poland to Bucovina and Bessarabia, a special Congress of the Immigration Bureau was called on 2–4 Sivan 5681 (1921) to deal with coordinating assistance to the refugees. Here a decision was taken to allocate responsibilities to the various offices.

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The Chernovitz office became in charge of registering the people for immigration, to liaise with the Zionist leadership and to receive and allocate the permits.

The Bucharest office became in charge of negotiations with the government and with the operators of passenger ship companies. The office in Constantza helped the passengers from the Romanian S.M.R.(Societatea Maritima Romania) ships as well as from the Polish ships “Polonia” and “Koschushka” and “Har Zion” and “Karmel” ships owned by Maritime Lloyd of Eretz Israel (company founded by Eliezer Lazar Bercovici from Bucharest). The office in Galatz helped the passengers from Faber Line and others. This office also operated as a liaison with the British General Consulate that was moved from Chernovitz to Galatz in 1925. The head of the Galatz office was I.L. Toibman (Jonathan), who moved to the Constantza office after the Galatz office downsized.

The Eretz Israel Bureau in Kishinev was managed by Tzwi Bonfeld until his immigration in 1925. He was assisted by Yitzchak Schwartz from Tzeirei Zion and He–Halutz (Labour Department).

An independent bureau was established in 1924 with representatives of all Zionist parties as a result of the decision from the 13th Congress in 1923. The manager was Engineer Joseph Beigelman. Moshe Orchovsky served as secretary and was appointed manager after Bonfeld immigrated.

The Congress of all Eretz Israel bureaus that took place on 28 Adar – 3 Nissan 5685 (24–27 March 1925) decided to move all the responsibilities of the Chernovitz office to Bucharest. All responsibilities were transferred to the Bucharest office which was managed by Dr. Iulian Zilberbush since 1928.[24]

The Immigration Department wanted to set up one central office for the entire country, but it was opposed by all the Zionist factions because they did not want to lose control of this important power tool. This was solved in 1932 when a central special bureau was set up by M. Orchovsky,[25] who came from Kishinev. The offices for Bessarabia, Bucovina and Transylvania still operated on a reduced load. In 1933

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David Vinitzky was appointed director of the Bessarabia Bureau. Tzwi Cohen, secretary of the Keren Hayesod of Bessarabia, was elected Chairman of the Bureau which operated until the end of June 1940, when Bessarabia was annexed by the Soviet Union.

The representatives in the bureaus were elected proportionally according to the numbers of the delegates of each party at the Zionist Congress.

The 11 delegates at the 18th Congress in 1933 were: 5 from the Working Eretz Israel Block, 3 from General Zionists, 1 Revisionist Union and 1 from the Halutzim Unions.[26]

At the 19th Congress, 1935 the 11 delegates came from: 5 the Block, 3 General Zionists, 1 Mizrachi, 1 Jewish State and 1 from the Halutzim organizations.


  1. The Agrarian Reform after the February 1917 Revolution did not benefit the Jewish farmers. Some farmers were allocated only 2 hectares, but in most cases they were denied the plot of land altogether. Return
  2. Ha–Olam (The World), no. 18, 28 Nissan, 5684 (1924) Return
  3. From the testimony of Kopel Shaposhnik, a member of the cooperative (Haifa) Return
  4. Israel Yekutiely:“The Third Aliyah” p. 640 indicate the date of 8 September 1921 as the arrival date Return
  5. Yekutiely, Israel: “The Third Aliyah,” Am Oved Publisher 5724 (1964) and Yekutiely, Israel: “B'Havlei ha–Aliyah ve ha–Apalah”, Tel Aviv, Sifriat Ha–Pakid Publisher, 5727 (1967) – Details about the two cooperatives. Return
  6. Erd und Arbeit, Kishinev, no. 1(40), 1925 Return
  7. See the chapter “He–Halutz”, p. 253 Return
  8. Not counting the halutzim who were transferred by the He–Halutz Central Return
  9. Davar, 9,10 and 12 of April 1933 Return
  10. Undzer Zeit, no. 3610, 18 October 1934 and no. 3639, 3649, 3651 Return
  11. Idem, no. 3648, 30 November 1934 Return
  12. The banker Aristide Blank promised to finance a billion Lei for this plan and the Government of Romania promised to cover 30% of the cost. “Zion, Journal for the Study of History of Israel” issue 1–2, Jerusalem, 1934 Return
  13. Report of the 21st Zionist Conress, 1939 Return
  14. Stiri (News) Bucharest, issue 219, May 1938 Return
  15. Among the students: Berta Gotlieb, Sarah Hachamovich, Selina Margalit, Magda Rosenfeld Return
  16. “Note to Hentrieta Szold from the Aliyat Ha–Noar office in Bucharest names these students:
    Aizik Averbuch (Lipcani, Maccabi), Zosiya Oculist (Romanovca, Gordonia), Zigmund Engelberg (Targul Mures, Zionist Youth), Elizabeta Appel (Brasov, Ha–Bonim), Zelig Erlichman (Beltz, Gordonia), Mordechai Buiokansky (Kishinev, Unaffiliated), Gitel Voliovich (Kishinev, Unaffiliated), Alexander Weiss (Timisoara, Zionist Youth), Joseph Haiyat (Bender, Gordonia), Gloria Tenenbaum (Beltz, Gordonia), Leibovici Adam (Dov) (Dichiosan–Martin, Ha–Bonim), Chaim Lampert (Bucharest, Unaffiliated), Malia Maidanik (Romanovca, Gordonia), Andrei Marx (Shlomo Mordechai) (Reghin, Zionist Youth), Yohan Seni (Bucharest, Unaffiliated), Andrei Chaim Solomon (Timisoara, Zionist Youth), Gersh Farfel (Kishinev, Maccabi), Shifra Procupetz (Romanovca, Gordonia), Tiberiu Klein (Cluj, Ha–Bonim), Fishel Kastelman (Bricheva, Gordonia), Moshe Rosenthal (Romanovca, Gordonia), Zoltam Roth (Satul Mare, Zionist Youth), Emanuel Ribalnik (Akkerman, Gordonia), Arnold Shtern (Cluj, Ha–Bonim)” Return
  17. List of students prepared by Dr. Reuven Nabat (Noiwelt) and Miriam Livnat (Weinshtein): Dov Isaac (Targul Mures, Shomer Ha–Tzair), Shaul Itzkovich (Yaron) (Bucharest, Shomer Ha–Tzair), Moshe Beicham (Ilani) (Oradea, Zionist Youth), Jeniya Buganov (Bucharest?, Gordonia), Leah Goldshtein (Cluj, Ha–Bonim), Zeev Hagger (Viseu, Zionist Youth), Miriam Weinshtein (Livnat) (Kishinev, Dror), Nissim Iancovich (Yllon) (Galatz, Somer Ha–Tzair), Moshe Maidanek (Midan) (Romanovca, Gordonia), Sarah Marmelshtein (Shachor) (Zguritza, Gordonia), Moshe Nusboim (Cluj, Gordonia), Menashe Nusinov (Kishinev, Shomer Ha–Tzair), Reuven Noiwelt (Nabat) (Timisoara, Ha–Bonim), Chana Noiwelt (Lazar) (Timisoara, Ha–Bonim), Amnon Spector (Doron) (Kishinev, Shomer Ha–Tzair), Riva Porer (Yanai) (Bricheva, Gordonia), Yaffa Koifman (Jassy, Ha–Bonim), Asiya Karolik (Akkerman, Gordonia), Naftali Rabin (Bucharest, unaffiliated), Meier Shpigel (Bucharest, Unaffilieted), Meier Solomon (Cluj, Somer Ha–Tzair) Return
  18. Gorenshtein estimated that 2,400 people were on board, 2300 legal passengers and about 100 stowaways Return
  19. Up to here the numbers are according to citizenship Return
  20. From here on – according to country of origin Return
  21. For Bessarabia the numbers reflect the period until the Annexation by the Soviet Union (end of June 1940) Return
  22. Dr. M. Kotik: Golah be'maavakah (The Struggles of the Diaspora), Massada Publ. 1944 Return
  23. 12th Congress report, 1921 Return
  24. Reports of the Zionist leadership to the Zionist Congresses of 1923, 1925, 1927 Return
  25. Orchovsky was murdered in his office Bucharest by the Iron Guard thugs in 1941. Return
  26. Report to the 19th Congress, 1935 Return


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