Nine part must-read series that details the influence of the propaganda arena in the war between the Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews.
Part VII: For previous parts, click here.
Jews were 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.19
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.”
Part VIII Providing Jewish Technical and Professional Help to the British Military
In keeping with David Ben Gurion’s pledge: “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,” the Hebrew University in Jerusalem played an extremely important part in fulfilling this commitment.
Following a Jewish Agency appeal for mobilization on September 3, 1939, out of a population of approximately 600,000, 130,000 men and women enlisted for duty, including 400 physicians. In an effort to preserve a judicious “balance” between the Jews and the Arabs, the British Mandatory Government declined the offer. However, the exigencies of war forced the British army to circumvent political considerations and contact the staff of the Hebrew University through personal relationships and connections to ask for their help.
In As Much as We Could Do: The Contribution made by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Jewish Doctors and Scientists from Palestine during and after World War II, Rivka Ashbel, an Israeli scientist, documents the contribution the Jews of the Yishuv made to the war effort.
Ashbel, who worked with Professor Saul Adler in the Hebrew University’s department of Parasitology, noticed that there was never any written applications, agreements, requests, memoranda or thank you notes between the Allied medical officers taking courses at the Hebrew University and the Jewish staff at the university. All communication was verbal.
Attempts by Ashbel to obtain written records of this relationship were rebuffed by the faculty dean. To ensure future generations would know of the extent of the cooperation between the Hebrew University and the university’s Hadassah Hospital and the Allies, she conducted her own research. Ashbel had not realized the substantial, impressive and diversified assistance the Yishuv provided to the Allied forces. This essay is a condensed account of this immense support.
Maps, Compasses, Repairing Radio Tubes
When the British army encountered considerable difficulty with maps needing immediate modification, Ashbel said it approached Professor Ernst Rosenthal to manufacture compasses. After the success of this manufacturing venture, the British requested the repair of 500 watt radio tubes that were a meter long and 30 centimeters in diameter. There was only one radio station in the Middle East broadcasting messages to submarines, which were the only means to prevent supplies from reaching Rommel. The station had two transmitters installed with these tubes. Since they could not obtain new transmitters during the war, the British had to close down the transmitters while the tubes were being repaired. After finding the 500-watt tubes too difficult to repair, the British brought five kilowatt tubes, which were ten times more powerful. Repairing tubes was arduous and complicated requiring master-craftsmanship.
Airplane Transmitter Panels
Manufacturing airplane transmitter panels used in stabilizing transmission frequencies posed another challenge because a quartz panel in an electronic circuit helped it achieve maximum accuracy. Adjusting the thickness of the quartz panels enabled the transmission codes to be changed. Codes had to be replaced repeatedly to preclude the enemy from discovering them. Until the staff of the Hebrew University’s Physics Department was asked to cut the crystals and ground them, only two facilities—one in the United States and the other in England—had the needed expertise.
Bromide: A Fuel Additive
During the war, Palestinian Jewish scientists were the primary source of bromide, a chemical used in manufacturing a fuel additive that increases octane levels, and found in large quantity in the Dead Sea. British aircraft, with piston-propelled engines, required high-octane fuel to operate.
After the process of converting bromide to calcium bromide in solid form was developed by the Department of Physical Chemistry under Professor Ladislau Farkas at Hebrew University, the results were sent to the Dead Sea Works, where they extended the process. In this way, they were able to ship regular supplies to England without any danger
Camouflage, Insulation, Vitamin C, Methyl chloride, Cut iron Underwater
The Department also formulated means to camouflage the camps, storage facilities, tents and equipment of the British units based in the Western Desert opposite Rommel. Eight different types of paint were developed for use by soldiers. The university staff devised methods to insulate British tanks from the desert heat, prepared a process for delivering Vitamin C to British soldiers fighting in the desert, produced methyl chloride for refrigerators in ships (because unlike other gases it did not explode even when sustaining a direct hit), and developed an unconventional process to cut iron underwater to clear ships sunk by the Italians so that vital supplies could be transported to the region.
Repairing X-Ray Machines
When physicians in the Australian army arrived in Palestine with Allied forces, they approached the Mandatory Government about repairing their X-ray equipment, and were assured that no such resource existed. A number of the scientists who knew about the Hebrew University went directly to the staff, who agreed to help repair the machines. They soon learned that university scientists were able to assist them in other areas through their scientific discoveries.
Courses for Allied Physicians
Some of the information the Allied physicians received was in the form of courses focusing on relevant civilian medicine and issues they might encounter in the Middle East and the Near and Far East. They were allowed to attend lectures and staff meetings given by Hebrew University’s Pre-Faculty of Medicine and by physicians at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital. Among the most discussed topics at these sessions was viral hepatitis (then known as jaundice), a ubiquitous disease found in the military. Medical officers were especially worried about the disease since the chance of soldiers becoming infected increased significantly in their very cramped living space. There were also courses on malaria, disease-carrying insects, worms, snakes and dysentery.