After learning of her uncle’s role aboard a UK destroyer that denied Holocaust survivors sailing to Israel aboard the Exodus from reaching the soon-to-be Jewish State, violinist Verity Steele finds a unique and touching way to apologize.
By Yaniv Halili & Israel Moskowitz
British citizen Verity Steele was shocked to discover that her uncle had taken an active role in forcing the Exodus—the famed ship carrying Holocaust survivors seeking to come to the Land of Israel, then called Palestine—to turn back to Europe. As a supporter of Israel, his niece Verity has found her own way to apologize.
The event itself took plane on July 11th, 1947 when the SS Exodus sailed from the south of France with some 4,500 Holocaust survivors on board. After a hardship-filled journey characterized by horrifying humanitarian conditions, the ship had almost reached the shore, when it was attacked by several British destroyer ships in an attempt to prevent its arrival.
As the battle raged on, several British Navy soldiers managed to climb aboard the Exodus where three Jewish immigrants were killed in the exchange that ensued. The incident, which became a centerpiece of historical and cinematic documentation, concluded with the surrender of the Exodus’s crew. The Jewish immigrants were forced to disembark and return to Europe.
Sgt. Douglass Steele, Verity’s uncle, was on board the British destroyer Checkers, which took part in the assault. He never shared this information with his family, and passed away 17 years ago.
However, two and a half years ago, it emerged that he had been part of the naval clash due to the uncovering of several documents that cast light on his participation.
For Verity, this revelation was an ignominious stain on her family history and an affront to her pro-Israel stance. However, it also helped her realize she had the opportunity to renew her past relationship with Israel and make amends for past injustices.
Verity came to Israel 30 years ago after she saw an ad saying that the Israel Kibbutz Orchestra was looking for a violinist. She moved to Israel and spent a year at Kibbutz Mishmarot when she learned about the SS Exodus. At the time she was still unaware of her uncle’s involvement but even then expressed her “shock” for actions of the British people.
On July 18th, a ceremony marking 70 years to the Exodus will take place at the Haifa Port. Decades since first learning about it, Steele will come full circle, accompanying singer Shuli Natan on her violin as she sings Jerusalem of Gold in her bid to repent for the actions of her uncle and his fellow naval soldiers.
Steele stated she will be coming to Israel to renew her connection to the Jewish people and “to say sorry” to the survivors who were on the Exodus. She added that she hopes British Prime Minister Theresa May will also find a way to apologize in the name of Britain, for stopping Holocaust survivors from reaching “the historic home of the Jewish people.”