Transport Ship Patria Is Sunk SS Patria pictured in 1918. Photo: Public Domain

November 25, 1940

A Haganah bomb does more damage than intended to the SS Patria, which sinks within 16 minutes of the explosion in Haifa’s harbor, killing 267 people, including members of the British crew, and injuring 170 others.
The Haganah’s intent is to disable the French-built ship to prevent the British from using it to carry more than 1,700 Jewish refugees away from Mandatory Palestine to Mauritius, a British-controlled island in the Indian Ocean. Jewish organizations also are protesting the British ban on Jewish immigration to Palestine despite the spread of the Nazis across Europe. A Haganah inquiry finds that the poor condition of the Patria’s superstructure makes it unable to withstand the force of a fairly small bomb.

The refugees, mostly from Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland, are among some 3,600 who set out on three ships from the Romanian port of Tulcea to try to reach Palestine. Warned that the ships were coming, the British intercepted two of them, the Pacific and Milos, and escorted them to Haifa early in November, then transferred the refugees to the Patria. Some of the refugees from the third ship, the Atlantic, also were moved to the Patria after arriving in Haifa on Nov. 24. A former ocean liner converted to a troop transport, the Patria could carry 1,800 passengers but lacked lifeboats for most of them.

After the sinking, the British allow the Patria survivors to stay in Palestine, but the remaining 1,560 refugees from the Atlantic are transported to Mauritius.

The disaster is initially blamed on the Patria’s passengers, who are said to have sunk the ship themselves out of despair. But Munia Mandor reveals in 1957 that he planted the bomb for the Haganah to disable the ship.