The Odyssey of the Ship with Three Names
In the spring of 1948, Israeli agents of Haganah, the main Jewish underground in Palestine, bought the cargo ship S.S. Kefalos. Purchased in the United States and registered in Panama to a fictitious company, the ship had a daring plan: carry arms collected in Mexico to Israel. In June, the Kefalos sailed from New York to Tampico under false pretenses. Arms, both bought from the Mexican government and smuggled in from the United States, were loaded and the ship departed from Tampico in August. Once at sea, it quickly changed its name and appearance to sneak past Gibraltar and U.N. Observers in Tel Aviv. The secret mission was carried out through vital cooperation between two apparently odd bedfellows: Jews (Israeli, European, U.S., and Mexican) and a crew of mainly Spanish/
Basque exiles from Franco’s dictatorship. Afterdelivering the arms, Israeli authorities decided to repurpose the Kefalos to rescue refugee Jews from the Balkans. After a layover in Naples, two voyages were made from Bakar (modern-day Croatia) to Haifa in late 1948 with over 7,700 refugees. This is the improbable saga of the “Rust Bucket”—as it was known endearingly by those who sailed on it. Through moving narration and careful attention to detail, this history illustrates an important crucible of two seemingly disparate diasporas.