Film Synopsis of IN
OUR OWN HANDS
Who were the men of the Jewish Brigade? Where were they from? Where did they serve? What flag, and what passion,did they carry into battle in World War II? What combination of courage and daring earned them the reputation they have? And what unique role did they play after the war in saving Holocaust survivors--and later helping to found the state of Israel?
To answer these questions, and to capture this unique piece of history while it can still be told by those who lived it, we have brought the story of the Jewish Brigade to life for the first time in a powerful new television documentary.
The year was 1941. War raged across Europe and North Africa. Eager to face the Germans in battle, Jews in Palestine, living under British rule, sought permission to form an all-Jewish fighting force. The British War Office, rife with anti-Semitism, knowing the Haganah (self-defense unit of the Jewish Agency in Palestine) secretly wanted military training for a future Jewish Army, and fearful of offending the Arabs, refused.
For three years the Jews in Palestine continued to ask. And to wait. Finally, with the horrors of the Holocaust now well-known, Winston Churchill overrode the objections of his War Office, and in September, 1944, the Jewish Brigade was formed. Within the Brigade, the Haganah had its own secret leadership and a separate agenda that would not be revealed until after the war.
In late winter of 1945, the Brigade went into action against the German Army in the Senio River Valley near Bologna, Italy. After two months of fighting, taking heavy casualties, the Brigade emerged victorious.
"After the Holocaust, and after the fact that so many million Jews went to their death without fighting, I think this is the most important facet of the Jewish Brigade. We broke a taboo. We proved to the world that we can fight. We proved to ourselves that we can fight." -- Jonathon Peltz, Jewish Brigade
Within weeks of their victory, the war in Europe was over. Stationed on the Italian-Austrian border, individual Brigade soldiers, often going AWOL, fanned out across Europed to look for surviving family members; in camp after camp, they learned the worst. Mourning their loss but full of rage, these young Jewish soldiers returned to base, soon forming secret vengeance squads within the Brigade. Though never official policy, within months the squads identified scores of Nazi officers and collaborators in the area, and executed them.
Despite feelings of revenge, the brigade's paramount mission, carried out illegally, was to look for Holocaust survivors--and bring them home.
"This was something which I think if I live a thousand years I will not be able to forget, because their reaction was as if they saw the Messiah. First of all they didnÝt believe, then they started to physically touch us, if we are real." -- Hanoch Bartov, Jewish Brigade
"We cried. We screamed. We jumped. We kissed one another. Can you imagine, from the ghettos and the fires, to see Jewish soldiers?" -- Lisa Derman, survivor
The Allied command, not recognizing Jewish refugees as having their own identities, was intent on returning them to their former countries where new and violent anti-Semitism has already claimed hundreds of lives. Alarmed, David Ben-Gurion, head of the Jewish Agency, designed a bold and secret plan to move Jews into camps of their own.
The Jewish Brigade, under its Haganah leadership and under the noses of the British, put the plan to work. They stole trucks, forged papers and bribed border guards to bring survivors to Jewish camps where they were fed, clothed, cared for, and made ready for a longer journey--to Palestine.
"We had a net over the whole of Europe which was then about five million people of all nations and denominations who were moving from place to place, and we directed our streams toward Palestine." -- Meir Zorea, Jewish Brigade
At the same time, under orders from the Haganah, increasingly concerned about their lack of weapons to effectively fight a future war in Palestine against either the Arabs or the British, some members of the Brigade began stealing arms and ammunition from military ordance depots throughout Europe ˝ later smuggled back to Palestine.
The more they learned, the less the British could tolerate the magnitude of the continuing illegal operations within the Brigade. Wanting these troublesome young Jews out of Europe, in April of 1946 the British War Office ordered the Brigade to disband, its soldiers sent home. Some men, though, secretly stayed behind--and helped thousands more refugees escape to Palestine.
Two years later, in 1948, when Israel did fight its own War of Independence, many Jewish Brigade veterans, including thirty-five who became generals, served with distinction. Their military training within the British Army, their experience under fire in World War II, their help in rescuing the remnants of European Jewry, and the role they played in Israel's many struggles for survival have earned the men of the Jewish Brigade Group a unique place in history.
"Without these soldiers and officers it is doubtful we could have built the Israeli Defense Forces in such a short period and such a stormy hour [to fight and win our War of Independence]." -- David Ben-Gurion, first Prime Minister, State of Israel