The most famous poem written in praise of Aliya Bet is “A Response [Speech] to
an Italian Captain” by the famous Israeli poet Nathan Alterman. The poem was written shortly after the Aliya Bet ship
managed to break the British blockade, run aground on the beach of Nahariya and
disembark 252 ma'apilim on Dec. 25, 1945. Palyam/Palmach units waited for
the ship on the beach and assisted the ma'apilim to get ashore (see the story of
one of the young Palyamniks who took part in the operation; pg. 2 & 3). The ma'apilim
were quickly moved to nearby Kibbutzim and thus avoided capture by British
search teams. Since the ship was grounded, the Italian crew, headed by captain Ansaldo, was also evacuated together with the ma'apilim and
the three Palyamniks who commanded the ship.
As a close friend of the Palmach leader Yitzhak Sade, Nathan Alterman was
invited to witness the operation. He was so moved by his experience that shortly after he wrote the poem about it.
There are few variations to the story, a common one goes that there was a celebration
in kibbutz Yagur to celebrate the successful disembarkation, and Ansaldo gave a moving speech there.
Alterman decided to construct the poem as a response to that speech, praising
both the young Palyamniks and Ansaldo - a gentile friend who risked his career and
freedom, potentially even his life, by working for Aliya Bet.
As usual in those days, the poem was published in Alterman's "The 7th Column" in the Davar
newspaper (Jan. 15, 1946).
The following is a translation of the poem from Hebrew by
Marie Syrkin, modified in few places
(the modifications are solely aimed at making the
translation more close to the original in Hebrew, possibly at the expense of the poetic quality;
for the unmodified translation, click here).
You can also hear the music that Yair Rosenblum set to the poem by following
this link (then click on song number 26).