Pioneers and the Jewish Brigade #general
Michael Bernet clarified that the "Pioneer" in Pioneer David SHITRIT was
not part of the name, "but referred to his military status as part of the
Pioneer Corps of the British army, a group that was expected to do the
heavy laboring for the "real" soldiers". Michael wrote that "In WW 2, the
British long relegated many Jews (including volunteering European Jews who
had found refuge in England) to this function."
I recently enjoyed "In our Own Hands: The Hidden Story of the Jewish
Brigade in World War II" - a wonderful documentary about the Jewish
Brigade, the all-Jewish fighting unit in the British Army in the Second
World War, and about its activities immediately after the war
I was wondering - without checking it out - if this relegation of Jewish
volunteers to Pioneer activities defined in an American dictionary as
"making roads, dig intrenchments, etc., in advance of the main body" was
connected to the attitude of the British command towards the Jewish
There was a three year postergation in the case of the members of the
Jewish Brigade, late to receive weapons training as well as delayed in
going into action.
In an on-line review of the documentary it is said that for three years,
the Jews of Palestine were not granted permission by the British
Government to form a Jewish unit, until in 1944, Churchill overrode the
War Office's objections. It was established only in Sept. 1944. The
Brigade saw action against the Germans in Italy when the war was nearing
its end - its members returning to Europe, to fight and to save.
The script of this documentary can be found at director Chuck Olin's
With a resource center online, the website includes the very interesting
script, where one of the interviewed veterans explains, for example, that
they didn't have a chance to train proper soldiers. It was illegal, and
they were not supposed to carry weapons, so if they wanted to drill
themselves, they had to do it undercover. Things changed in 1944, when
they were finally treated as a combat unit. In 1945, the Jewish Brigade
disembarked in Italy and entered combat against the Nazi troops in the
late battle of the Senio River in Northern Italy, under the flag that
later became the Israeli flag.
A covert part of the Brigade made incredible efforts to help displaced
persons after the war to reach Mediterranean ports and sail to Palestine,
while the visible part kept going with the "official" activities. They
forged orders and papers and arranged the logistics to "dissappear" trucks
from their official missions and help survivors reach the ports and crossthe closed gates in Palestine. They evaded controls in a hurry before the
survivors were forced back by the Allied decision to their destroyed towns,
and also mounted covert operations to smuggle weapons to Palestine.
Many veterans later utilized the British training in Israel's War of
Independence and started building the Israeli Defence Forces.
A search for "Jewish Brigade" will help you learn more.
Purchasing the documentary at JewishGenMall, as announced in Sandra and
Donald Hirschhorn's Jan 13 mail, you will own a very interesting
documentary and will help support JewishGen!
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