"Chartered for History: President Warfield to Exodus 1947," an exhibit that tells the story of the Chesapeake Bay luxury steamer that made history attempting to deliver Jewish immigrants to Palestine, opens April 15 at Ohef Sholom Temple in Norfolk. Drawn from the collections of The Mariners' Museum Research Library, the archives of Ohef Sholom Temple, the Jabotinsky Institute in Israel, and private collections, the exhibit will travel to several venues in Hampton Roads during 1997.
The President Warfield returned home to the Chesapeake Bay after her war service
to join the James River Idle Fleet in 1946. The exhibit of more than 20 photographs, postcards, news accounts, books, and memorabilia recounts the history of the ship, which began its career in 1928 as the President Warfield, a luxury steamer transporting passengers between Baltimore and Norfolk. The "aristocrat of the Bay" was drafted into service as a troop transport during World War II, surviving a U-boat attack and German air raids during the Normandy Invasion to return to Hampton Roads in 1945. Outdated and war-battered, the President Warfield was decommissioned and joined the James River Idle Fleet in Lee Hall in November 1945. The following year, the ship was purchased for scrap by the Potomac Shipwrecking Company.
The dilapidated ship was granted yet another life in November 1946 when it was purchased by the Weston Trading Company, a front for Haganah, a group procuring ships to carry Jewish refugees to Palestine. In March 1947, following veiled efforts to refurbish and register the President Warfield in Baltimore, the ship departed for France where her human cargo awaited. After smuggling aboard more than 4,500 refugees at Sete, France, the ship was renamed Exodus 1947 and set off on its dangerous voyage to Palestine. Followed by eight British warships, the overloaded vessel was rammed and boarded off the Egyptian coast in a bloody incident that left three dead and more than two hundred injured. The passengers eventually were taken to refugee camps in Hamburg, Germany, and the Exodus 1947 was later towed to a maritime graveyard off the coast of Haifa. Following a fire in 1952 that destroyed the vessel to the waterline, the hulk was towed to Israel 's Bay of Shemen, where it remains today.
Although the journey of Exodus 1947 was unsuccessful, the incident drew international attention to the Jewish situation in Palestine, and the ship eventually became a symbol for the cause that fueled her historic journey. The exhibit contains a first-edition copy of Leon Uris' Exodus, a poster from the movie of the same name, and other memorabilia inspired by Exodus 1947.
The exhibit while displayed at Ohef Sholom Temple in Norfolk, Virginia. "Chartered for History" will remain on display at Ohef Sholom Temple, 530 Raleigh Avenue, through June 27. Visitors may view the exhibit from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, and 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Sundays. For information or directions, please call Ohef Sholom Temple at (757) 625-4295. The exhibit will be on display at the Jewish Community Center in Norfolk from July 7 through September 12 and at The Mariners' Museum in Newport News from September 29, 1997 through January 1998.