Tel Aviv (Sep. 4)
The first eye-witness account of the British interception of the refugee vessel Four Freedoms, and the resultant fight when armed marines boarded the ship, was told today to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency by one of the visaless immigrants who jumped overboard during the melee and swam for nine hours before reaching shore.
While recuperating at the colony of Nathanya, he described the 12-day trip on the overcrowded 750-ton steamer which carried 1,200 passengers including 160 pregnant women and 200 children. Although there was sufficient food an board, the water ran out well before the refugees sighted Tel Aviv. It was after their first view of the all-Jewish city that a low-flying reconnaissance plans discovered them and called the British destroyers.
After being discovered, the Jews raised a huge blue-white Zionist flag and a large poster, easily visible from a distance, which read: “We are unarmed, do not arrest us.” As the first destroyer approached it ordered the refugee vessel to haul to, but the summons was ignored. The destroyer opened fire with machine guns and small arms and steamed in front of the ship, forcing it to halt,
A party of 20 armed marines boarded the vessel and began pushing their way through the massed Jews toward the captain’s bridge. A fight ensued and the marines were disarmed and their guns tossed overboard. In answer to a call for help, a second party boarded the vessel and subdued the refugees with water hoses, after which they smashed the ship’s engines to prevent its escaping.
Many of the Jews realizing that they were to be barred from Palestine just when they had come so near to it, became frantic and jumped overboard. The destroyer lowered lifeboats and most of the Jews were pulled in. The refugee who reached Nathanya was accompanied on his long swim by a comrade who also eluded the British.