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Jews Parachuting Behind Enemy Lines

Part VII

Jews were also parachuted behind enemy lines in Europe, after being trained by the British. In May 1943, wrote Yehuda Bauer, Peretz Rosenberg, a radio operator, was parachuted into Montenegro with the first British mission to the headquarters of Josip Broz Tito, the leader of Yugoslavia. For several months, Rosenberg was the only link to the outside world. In October 1943, he was sent to Italy.

Two parachutists, Bauer said, were dropped into Romania on October 1, 1943. In January 1944, Rehaveam Amir, another radio operator, was dropped onto the island of Vis to work at Tito’s headquarters until April. In May, he parachuted into Slovenia to establish radio contact between the Yugoslavs and the British in Italy. He returned to Bari, Italy, in August where he was given equipment and dropped back again to Slovenia. After teaching a group of Yugoslav fighters how to transmit, he went back to Italy in September 1944.

In March 1944, four Jews were dropped into Slovenia, Bauer added. Two were on their way to Hungary. Hannah Senesh, a young poet, was betrayed to the Hungarian authorities, and was arrested in June once she crossed the Hungarian border. After she was tortured and given a show trial, the fascist Szalasi government executed her on November 7, 1944. In May, two additional men were sent to Slovenia en route to Hungary. The Germans murdered one; the other escaped and found refuge in Budapest.

Ten parachutists were scheduled to go to Romania, Bauer noted. One group of Communist Yugoslav partisans refused to help one of them to reach her destination, forcing her to return home. Two were mistakenly dropped where they were immediately apprehended by the Romanian secret police. Two more were caught before they reached Romania. Four arrived in late July and early August 1944, but by that time the Romanian king had already changed allegiances and began fighting the Germans. They helped an entire prisoner camp of American and British pilots escape Romanian captivity.

In September 1944, five parachutists were dropped into an area liberated by the Slovak National Rising, Bauer noted. When the Germans occupied the town of Banská Bystrica on October 28, the commandos organized a group of Jews and fled to the mountains to fight as partisans. Two days later, Russians collaborating with the Nazis arrested four out of the five and executed them. The fifth joined a Soviet partisan group until the Red Army freed the territory.

For the most part, Bauer opined, the project did not succeed as planned by the British. Most of the parachutists were apprehended. Seven were killed. Many did not engage the enemy in combat until the Russian Army liberated an area, and sometimes even later. Yet a number of military operations in Austria, Romania and Yugoslavia, and to some degree in Slovakia, were successful. They were also able to help Jews immigrate, particularly from Romania and Bulgaria. After the war, they helped re-establish Jewish life and Zionist activities in these countries.

The Jews had hoped to organize an anti-Nazi Jewish underground, thwart the destruction of European Jewry and actively fight the Germans, but the restrictions imposed by the British precluded this from happening. Bauer posits that from a symbolic perspective, the operation demonstrated that the Yishuv had not abandoned the Jews of Europe, and encouraged the yearning for Jewish sovereignty.

A Jewish-Arab Comparison

The contrast between the two communities could not be clearer. While Palestinian Jewry actively aided the Allies to defeat Hitler at all costs, the Palestinian Arabs not only supported the Nazis, they energetically engaged in their own campaign to rid the world of the Jews. As has been noted, Haj Amin el-Husseini shared Hitler’s and Eichmann’s goal of annihilating the Jewish people and even organized a Muslim SS unit in Yugoslavia to accomplish this task. Following the defeat of Germany, the Mufti and other Arab leaders continued to harbor pro-German sympathies and sought to finish the sacred mission Hitler began by trying to destroy the fledgling Jewish state. Having sided with the defeated powers in Europe in ideology and practice, the Palestinian Arabs had lost an opportunity to establish their own state.

To compare, Jewish leaders vigorously supported the British, despite British limits on Jewish emigration to Palestine, restrictions on Jewish land purchases and uncertainty about the extent of British commitment to establishing a Jewish state. Their zealous volunteerism, knowledge of the Middle East and energetic commitment to the defense of Palestine demonstrated enormous goodwill.

‘As Much As We Could Do’

While many Arabs were working with the Nazis to defeat the British, the Jews in Palestine volunteered to protect the British position in the Mediterranean. The precarious nature of the situation was described by David Horowitz, an ardent Zionist and a UN correspondent:

“The Middle East has been completely isolated from the West and the Mediterranean line of communication cut. Civilian and military supplies have arrived in Palestine via the Cape of Good Hope and Port Said. Thus there was no way of escaping an effort to turn the Middle East into an almost self-sufficient economic unit.”

Historian Charles D. Smith acknowledged that despite Britain’s limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine, restrictions on their land purchases and vagueness about recommitting itself to the Balfour Declaration, members of the Yishuv knew they had to join forces with the British to fight their mutual adversary. David Ben-Gurion, chairman of the Zionist Executive, expressed this commitment clearly: “We shall fight with Great Britain in this war as if there was no White Paper, and fight the White Paper as if there were no war.”

By Alex Grobman, PhD

 

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