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For other Jewish regiments, see Jewish legion .




The Jewish Infantry Brigade Group was a military formation of the British Army that served in Europe during the Second World War. Although the brigade was formed in 1944, some of its experienced personnel had been employed against the Axis powers in Greecemarker, the Middle East and East Africa. More than 30,000 Palestinian Jews volunteered to serve in the British Armed Forces, 734 of whom died during the war.

The brigade and its predecessors, the Palestine Regiment and the three infantry companies that had formed it, were composed primarily of Middle Eastern Jews. The brigade was nevertheless inclusive to all Jewish and non-Jewish soldiers so that by 1944 over 50 nationalities were represented. Many were refugees displaced from countries that had been occupied or controlled by the Axis powers in Europe and Ethiopiamarker. Volunteers from the United Kingdommarker, many of which participated in the Jewish Lads Brigade Camp which operated since 1894, its empire, the Commonwealth, and other "western democracies" also provided contingents.

Background

The disintegration of the Ottoman Empire following the end of the First World War and its replacement as the pre-eminent power in the Middle East by the British and French empires brought much closer to realisation the Zionist movement's goal of creating a Jewish state or National Home in the region that became the British Mandate of Palestine ("Eretz Yisrael"). The "Balfour Declaration" of 1917 signified the first official approval of such a proposal, providing the impetus for a surge of Jewish emigration known as the "Third Aliyah". Progressive emigration through the 1920s and 1930s followed the League of Nations sanctioning of Balfour's statement, expanding the Jewish population by over 400,000 before the beginning of the Second World War.

On May 17, 1939, the British government under Neville Chamberlain issued the White Paper which abandoned the idea of establishing a Jewish Commonwealth or State in Palestine. After the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, the head of the Jewish Agency David Ben-Gurion declared: "We will fight the White Paper as if there is no war, and fight the war as if there is no White Paper."

The President of the World Zionist Organization Chaim Weizmann offered the British government full cooperation of the Jewish community in the British Mandate of Palestine and tried to negotiate the establishment of identifiably Jewish fighting unit (under a Jewish flag) under the auspices of British Army.His request was rejected, but many Palestinian Jews joined the British army, some in Jewish companies. Fifteen Palestinian Jewish battalions were incorporated into the British Army in September 1940 and fought in Greecemarker in 1941.

Palestine Regiment

The then emigration policies that favoured the European Jews in prejudice of Arabic local population, the colonial behavior of many of these emigrants against the their new Palestinian neighbours and the design of the brigade's insignia did not help the British goal to enlist an equal number of Jews and Arabs into the Palestine Regiment; even so there was one Arab volunteer to each three Jews. As a result, on August 6, 1942, three Palestinian Jewish battalions and one Palestinian Arab battalion formed the Palestine Regiment. At this time, the Regiment was principally involved in guard duties in Egyptmarker and North Africa. The British also wanted it to undermine efforts of Hajj Amin al-Husayni, who was struggling to obtain Arab support for the Axis Powers against the Allies.

Formation of the Jewish Brigade

After early reports of the Nazi atrocities of the Holocaust were made public by the Allied powers, the Prime Minister Winston Churchill sent a personal telegram to the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt suggesting that "the Jews... of all races have the right to strike at the Germans as a recognizable body." The president replied five days later saying: "I perceive no objection..."

After much hesitation, on July 3, 1944, the British government consented to the establishment of a Jewish Brigade with hand-picked Jewish and also non-Jewish senior officers. On September 20, 1944, an official communique by the War Office announced the formation of the Jewish Brigade Group of the British Army. The Zionist flag was officially approved as its standard. It included more than 5,000 Jewish volunteers from Palestine organized into three infantry battalions of the Palestine Regiment and several supporting units.

  • 1st Battalion, Palestine Regiment
  • 2nd Battalion, Palestine Regiment
  • 3rd Battalion, Palestine Regiment
  • 200th Field Regiment (Royal Artillery)


The contemporary newspapers dismissed it as a "token" (The New York Times on page 12) and "five years late" (The Manchester Guardian).

Battles and Berihah

400 volunteers from the Brigade fought in Libya in the battle of Bir-el Harmat. During the battle, Erwin Rommel, commanding the Afrika Korps, received orders from Hitler to shoot captured Jewish soldiers. Rommel disobeyed the order.

From Palestine Regiment, two brigades, one Jewish, under the command of Brigadier Ernest Benjamin, and another Arab were sent to join allied forces on Italian Front having taken part of final offensive there fighting against the 4 Fallschirmjaeger Division commanded by Generalieutenant Trettner . In addition, they were among representatives of the liberating Allied units at a Papal audience. The Jewish brigade then was stationed in Tarvisiomarker, near the border triangle of Italymarker, Yugoslavia, and Austriamarker. There it played a key role in the Berihah's efforts to help Jews escape Europe for Palestine, a role many of its members would continue after the Brigade disbanded. Among its projects was the education and care of the Selvino children.

In July 1945, the Brigade moved to Belgiummarker and the Netherlandsmarker.

After the war members of the Jewish Brigade formed assassination squads in order to execute former SSmarker and Wehrmacht officers who had participated in atrocities against European Jews. Information regarding the whereabouts of these war criminals was either gathered by torturing imprisoned Nazis or by way of military connections.

After assignment to the VIII Corps District of the British Army of the Rhine (Schleswig-Holstein) the Jewish Brigade was disbanded in the summer of 1946.

Legacy

Out of some 30,000 Jewish volunteers from Palestine who served in the British Army during WWII, more than 700 were killed during active duty. Some of the Jewish Brigade members subsequently became key participants of the new State of Israelmarker's Israel Defense Force.

Partial list of notable veterans of the Jewish Brigade



Resources

  • With the Jewish Brigade by Bernard M Casper (Edward Goldston, London 1947. No ISBN) Contains a foreword by Brig. E F Benjamin, CBE, former commander of the Jewish Brigade. Casper was Senior Chaplain to the Brigade.
  • The Brigade. An Epic Story of Vengeance, Salvation, and WWII by Howard Blum (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2002) ISBN 0-06-019486-3
  • The Jewish Brigade: An Army With Two Masters, 1944-45 by Morris Beckman (Sarpedon Publishers, 1999) ISBN 1-885119-56-9
  • In Our Own Hands: The Hidden Story of the Jewish Brigade in World War II (1998 video) Film resource center


See also



References

External links




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