A Response To An Italian Captain

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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 Hannah Senesh 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 Moshe Dafni, 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).

A Response To An Italian Captain

Nathan Alterman

Aliya Bet

באתר מפורסמים סיפורים אישיים רבים; אין למערכת האתר אפשרות לאמת את כל פרטיהם ולכן הכתוב בהם באחריות בלעדית של כותביהם.

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