The Consul at Jerusalem (Steger) to the Secretary of State

No. 1096

Sir: Illegal immigration into Palestine, I have the honor to inform the Department, continues in spite of war conditions. The purpose of this despatch is to point out briefly the changed aspects of the problem as a result of the war and at the same time to bring up to date the Consulate General’s chronology of events in this field, the last chapters of which were given in despatches Nos. 978 of June 26,17 1018 of July 21, and 1031 of August 7, 1939.18 I shall further take advantage of this opportunity to include, as of probable interest to the Department since the Consulate General represents the interests of Panama, a list of Panamanian ships which are known to have engaged or are suspected by the Palestine authorities of being involved at present in this traffic.

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Before proceeding with a discussion of illegal immigration, it will perhaps be helpful to review very briefly, for background, the current regulations governing the legal entry of immigrants. Legal immigration for the period April 1 to September 30, 1939, is governed by an immigration ordinance dated June 15, 1939, the details of which were reported in the Consulate General’s telegram of June 16 and despatch of June 26, 1939. This ordinance provides for the issuance, during the semester of 10,950 immigration certificates, of which 10,350 are for Jews. Of this total of 10,350 for Jews, 5,000 represents one half the annual Jewish quota of 10,000, the remainder being for refugees as part of the 25,000 to be admitted in accordance with the provisions of the White Paper. The 1,300 Jews known to have entered the country illegally between April 1 and May 24, date of the drafting of the ordinance, were deducted from the total of certificates for Jews, making 9,050 certificates available for them for the semester in question. As a result of the increasing rate at which Jews were entering the country illegally, the Colonial Secretary announced in the House of Commons on July 12, that all Jewish immigration into Palestine will be suspended during the next quota period October 1, 1939, to March 31, 1940, and perhaps even longer. The Consulate General’s despatches of July 21 and August 7, 1939, reported the extreme bitterness and disillusionment caused in Jewish circles by this announcement and endeavored to give a picture of the two contending, Jewish and British, forces drawn up to do battle over immigration.

This, then, was the situation in Palestine’s perennial problem when war was declared on September 3rd. How will war conditions affect it?

As to legal immigration, there is no indication at the moment that the status quo will be altered by war. It is considered very unlikely that the Government’s determination to suspend Jewish immigration during the next quota period will be changed. With regard to illegal traffic, however, the situation is quite different and a number of possibilities must be considered. Some such uncertain elements are: whether the German government will permit, or even assist, Jewish women and children and aged to leave via Italy or the Danube; whether the Rumanian government will permit Polish Jews to cross Rumania for departure via the Danube; whether the German and Russian occupation of Poland will force Polish Jews to leave the country to find refuge where they can; whether other governments will seize this opportunity to deport Jews; and whether Rumanian and Hungarian Jews, in view of the sad fate of Jewry in Czechoslovakia and Poland, will flee before the menace.

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Whatever the answers to these questions, it would appear from weighing all of the factors and possibilities that there is little likelihood of diminution in the traffic in the near future. As the officer of the Criminal Investigation Department in charge of illegal immigration work expressed it “I do not see that the war has put an end to our illegal immigration problem”. This viewpoint is confirmed by the fact that three shiploads of illegal immigrants have entered Palestine since the outbreak of hostilities and that others are known to be cruising in the Eastern Mediterranean seeking refuge. It is probable that the principal ports of embarkation for illegal immigrants will now be Black Sea ports of Bulgaria and Rumania.

War conditions may bring about a change in the type of immigrants entering the country, both legally and illegally. Immigrants will probably come increasingly from Hungary and Rumania whereas they formerly came predominately from Germany and Poland. The entry of immigrants specially trained for life in Palestine and of others selected for political reasons by the Jewish Agency and the Revisionists will be made more difficult, if not impossible. Indeed, the Colonial Secretary had already, before the outbreak of war, called the attention of the Jews to the fact that illegal immigration was making the entry of selected immigrants difficult. It is also expected that the percentage of men among illegal entrants will decrease due to restrictions imposed in belligerent countries. Finally, practically all of the immigrants who arrive under these conditions will be utterly destitute, placing an even greater financial burden on Palestine and American Jewry. The conditions cannot be ascribed to the war, however, for most of the immigrants who have arrived since the beginning of mass illegal immigration have been destitute.

As to the long range effect of the war on Jewish immigration and the National Home, no prediction can, of course, be made. The Jews generally seem to be adopting an opportunistic attitude and, while still being adamant in refusing to accept the provisions of the White Paper, appear to take the line that cooperation with Great Britain in the present crisis offers the best chance of obtaining their ultimate objective. Arabs, on the other hand, show increasing apprehension that Great Britain will, as some of them put it, “sell out” to the Jews because of the importance of international Jewry in the prosecution of the war.

Illegal immigration, to take up again the recital of events left off in the Consulate General’s despatch of July 21, has increased in intensity. Some 5,000 more illegal immigrants have entered Palestine on the following seven ships:

The SS Colorado, 519 tons, flying the Panamanian flag, arrested and taken into Haifa with its 378 immigrants on July 29.

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An unknown ship placed its 297 illegal immigrants in small boats outside territorial waters and sent them to shore on August 10.

The SS Aghios Nicolaus, Greek owned, transferred 840 immigrants at sea to a motor vessel, a sailing ship and a schooner and sent them to shore on August 19.

The SS Parita, 800 tons, flying the Panamanian flag, was deliberately beached at Tel-Aviv on August 23 with 700 immigrants on board. It was beached by the passengers, the captain and crew having fled in a small boat.

The SS Tiger Hill, flying the Panamanian flag, was beached at Tel-Aviv on September 2 with 1,205 immigrants on board. The ship was fired on by the authorities as a result of which two passengers were killed.

The SS Rudnitchan, 160 tons, of Bulgarian registry, transferred 364 immigrants outside territorial waters into five lifeboats and sent them to shore on September 16.

The SS Noemi Julia, 1,300 tons, flying the Panamanian flag, cast anchor at Haifa on September 19, 1939, with more than 1,200 illegal immigrants on board.

Thus, since the Consulate General’s despatch of July 21st, some 5,000 persons are known to have entered Palestine illegally, making a total since April 1, the beginning of the quota period, of more than 9,700. Actually this number will be larger for it does not include persons who evaded frontier control individually or those who entered as temporary visitors and stayed illegally. Of the more than 9,700 known to date to have entered illegally, 1,300 were deducted from the current quota leaving some 8,400 to be deducted from future quotas. Hence, as predicted on page 6 of the Consulate General’s despatch of June 26, about 20,000 Jews will enter Palestine legally and illegally during the present quota period, or more than one fourth of the five year quota established by the White Paper.

Prevention of the entry of illegal immigrants is becoming increasingly difficult in the face of new tactics adopted by transporting ships. Those new tactics consist of either transferring the immigrants at sea to small boats or of permitting the passengers to beach the ships themselves, after they have been abandoned by the crew. In neither case is there anyone to arrest, other than the immigrants who can seldom be deported and are usually released soon after arrest, nor is there any vessel worth confiscating as the beached ships and small boats are almost worthless.

There follows a list of Panamanian ships already apprehended or believed by the authorities still to be operating. These ships are said to have been transferred from the Greek to the Panamanian flag because of a recent Greek law prohibiting the use of Greek ships in traffic in illegal immigrants. This list was furnished the Consulate General confidentially by the officer of the Palestine Government in [Page 806] charge of illegal immigration work in the Criminal Investigation Department.

SS Fossoula, formerly Kilbane, formerly Leman, believed to be carrying illegal immigrants but whereabouts unknown.
SS Dora, formerly Tsaldur, whereabouts unknown, said to have several hundred on board.
SS Noemi Julia, 1300 tons, flying the Panamanian flag, cast anchor off Haifa on September 19, 1939, with more than 1200 on board, is being detained by the authorities.
SS Varko, formerly Nelson, whereabouts unknown, believed to be carrying immigrants.
SS Parita, beached at Tel-Aviv and confiscated as indicated earlier in this despatch.
SS Tiger Hill, formerly Kypros, beached at Tel-Aviv and confiscated as mentioned earlier in this despatch.
SS Rim, burned off Rhodes on July 6, its passengers having eventually entered Palestine on the Aghios Nicolaus on August 19.
SS Colorado, detained pending hearings after having been arrested and taken into Haifa on July 29 with 378 immigrants on board.
SS Las Perlas, captured near Nathanya on July 2 with 378 on board, confiscated by the Palestine Government.
SS Liesel, formerly Myconos, apprehended on June 1 with 906 on board, confiscated by the Palestine Government (reported in the Consulate General’s telegram of June 3 and despatch of June 26).
SS Attrato, formerly Irini, formerly Vernicon, apprehended May 29, with 401 on board, being detained pending hearings (also reported in telegram of June 3 and despatch of June 26).

Respectfully yours,

Christian T. Steger
  1. Not printed.
  2. No. 1031 not printed.