Jewish Brigade-established

Event Details :

Ivri Date: 3 Tishrei, 5705

English Date: 20 September, 1944

Additional Details:

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 Greece, 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 Ethiopia. Volunteers from the United Kingdom, its empire, the Commonwealth, and other "western democracies" also provided contingents.

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 renewed the Zionist movement's pursuit of a Jewish state in a 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".[2] 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.[2]

On May 17, 1939, the British government under Neville Chamberlain issued the White Paper which abandoned the idea of partitioning the Mandate. 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." [3]

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 Greece in 1941.

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.

400 volunteers from the Brigade fought in Libya in the battle of Bir-el Harmat.

Under the command of Brigadier Ernest Benjamin, the Jewish Brigade fought against the Germans in Italy from March 1945 until the end of the war in May 1945, including the liberation of Rome, and a Papal audience for representatives of the liberating Allied units. Then it was stationed in Tarvisio, near the border triangle of Italy, Yugoslavia, and Austria. 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 Belgium and the Netherlands.

After the war members of the Jewish Brigade formed assassination squads in order to execute former SS 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.[4]

The Jewish Brigade was disbanded in the summer of 1946.

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 Israel's Israel Defense Force.

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Jewish Brigade-established