Presentation on theme: "In the summer of 1939, as war clouds gathered over Europe, Jewish right- wing leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky checked the feasibility of Avraham (Yair) Stern’s."— Presentation transcript:
In the summer of 1939, as war clouds gathered over Europe, Jewish right- wing leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky checked the feasibility of Avraham (Yair) Stern’s plan to land a Jewish army on the shores of the Land of Israel, take over and replace the British rule by a Jewish government, and enable European Jewry to escape the Nazi terror by immigrating to the country. Thanks to the sympathetic attitudes of the Polish government, the plan could have been carried out in 1940, and preparations for it had even begun. However, on 1 September 1939 the Nazis invaded Poland and instead of independence, the horror of the holocaust fell upon the Jewish people.
The official name of the country which is now Israel, at the time that this presentation is about, is reflected by the inscription on 2 Mils coins, like the one on the right, struck by the British Mandate government in the years On top, in Arabic, is falastin. In the centre, in English, is PALESTINE and under it, in Hebrew, palestina (a”y). The a”y is an abbreviation of “the Land of Israel” in Hebrew. As Israel did not exist at the time, the name of the country used in this presentation is either Palestine or the Land of Israel. In this presentation the abbreviation IZL (Irgun Zvai Leumi), stands for the Jewish right-wing militant nationalistic organization which fought to oust the British from Palestine in the 30’s and 40’s of the 20 th century.
In the midst of the “Arab revolt” in Palestine, during the “unrest” period of , the Jewish armed underground movements, primarily the IZL, suddenly got a generous support from a most unexpected quarter: the anti-Semitic Polish government. This support was not out of naive love. Behind it was the idea that if Poland would help the Jews gain control over the Land of Israel and establish an independent state there – the Jews of Poland will immigrate there en masse and free the Poles from their presence... To reach such a decision the Polish government needed a great deal of political courage: In view of the increasing threats from Nazi Germany at the time, Poland needed all assistance possible from France and Britain and it was clear that any Polish arms transferred to the IZL and to the Haganah could be used not only defensively for protection from Arab gangs, but also offensively against the British in Palestine. However, the desire to have the Jews emigrate from Poland, outweighed other considerations and very quickly the plan reached operational stages. The Polish government preferred contact with the IZL, since its leaders, such as Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the head of the New Zionist Organization and the Revisionist movement, spoke in terms of conquering Palestine immediately, or within a short time, and transferring one million Polish Jews to the Land of Israel soon after. This was in contrast to the leaders of the original Zionist Organization, such as Haim Weizman, who spoke of a much more limited plan, in which independence would be gained only after a longer period and that after the establishment of the State, only up to 30,000 Polish Jews per year would be absorbed. In addition, most of the leaders of the prominent Histadrut (the workers union) in the Land of Israel, such as Ben Gurion, were socialists, and most of the right-wing generals who then controlled Poland, did not approve of them politically. Contrary to this, the Revisionist ideology was close to their hearts and this enhanced their sympathy towards the IZL. Source of background photo:
The charismatic personality of Ze’ev Jabotinsky drew large crowds of Jews to his talks in Poland. In the photograph: Jabotinsky delivering a lecture in Warsaw to a hall full of Jews, in the 1930s. (Beit Lohamey Hagetaot archive) Yosef Shofmann, who was later a Herut Member of the Knesset, described the magic spell cast by Jabotinsky on the Polish leadership in these words: “The style of Jabotinsky’s political Zionism, with the demand for Jewish independence in the Land of Israel and large-scale Aliyah, aroused the interest of groups in the Polish government, which increased and developed into true admiration, firstly for the resistance activities of the IZL against the Arabs during the Arab riots. The Poles, for their limitations, are a romantic people.... who understand and appreciate a revolt against a foreign conqueror. And when they first encountered a similar attitude amongst the Jews, that is from Jabotinsky and his disciples, it touched their heart-strings and inspired their imagination. And they showed their admiration for Jabotinsky himself. Count Lubienski, the Head of the Polish Foreign Office at the time, liked Jabotinsky in particular. He really had a rapport with Jabotinsky. He told me, that the most interesting hours of his life he spent in discussion with Jabotinsky...”
Count Lubienski also expressed his support in practical ways and organised many important meetings between Jabotinsky and the heads of the Polish government. Firstly, he organised a meeting with Count Lubiensky’s boss, the Polish Foreign Minister, Jozef Beck. Jabotinsky presented to Beck the ambitious plan for the “evacuation” from Europe of one and a half million Jews, 750,000 of them from Poland, to the Land of Israel, within ten years. Beck liked the plan and arranged for Jabotinsky to meet the other leaders of Poland. Jozef Beck. (Photo: NAC)
Polish premier, General Felicjan Sławoj Składkowski. (Photo: NAC) Jabotinsky’s next meeting was with the Polish Prime Minister, General Felicjan Sławoj Składkowski. At that meeting Jabotisnky asked the Polish government to put pressure on the League of Nations to influence Britain to open the gates of the Land of Israel to mass immigration of Polish Jews. The Poles agreed, and at Poland’s request a discussion was held at the council of the League of Nations on the migration of Jews to the Land of Israel. However, the British, in fear of an Arab reaction, forcefully objected to opening the gates of Palestine for the Jews, and prevented the acceptance of any resolution on the subject.
The Polish attitude to the problem was clarified to the council by Foreign Minister Beck. The newspaper “Davar” reported about it in , as follows: Beck (Poland): …”The special interest of my government in the problem discussed here is a result of the fact that a large percentage of the Jews living now in the Land of Israel came from my country… Historical and sentimental reasons are responsible to the fact that the Jews are showing special interest in the The council of the League of Nations in session. (Photo: UN and LON Archives, Geneva) immigration to the Land of Israel. Moreover, during the lastyears a lot of technical experience accumulated in this field by the Histadrut workers union, who already showed its precious achievements in these matters… …”I am sure that the members of the council, primarily the Mandate Government of Palestine will be good enough to consider my government’s point of view… I must say, though, that my government’s main concern will be to insure that Palestine – whatever its regime – will have the maximum possibility to absorb immigration in the future. “The uncertainty among the Jews today about the future of the country, and the temporary immigration limitations by the Mandatory government are of course disturbing the constructive politics regarding immigration (to Palestine) which prove how much interest the Polish government and the Jews are showing in finding a swift solution to the problem.”
The pinnacle of the meetings that Jabotinsky had in Warsaw was with Field marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły, then the de facto ruler of Poland. This meeting also ended in full understanding. The positive impression Jabotinsky and his plans made on the Polish rulers soon went from the planning stages to practical endeavours. The Poles began assisting the “Af Al Pi” illegal immigration network, which was organized by Jabotinsky’s New Zionist Organization. The supply of Polish arms to be smuggled to Palestine by the IZL was initiated at this time. Also, training members of the Betar Jewish youth movement and IZL fighters began. The Poles advised Jabotinsky that they were willing to supply the IZL considerable quantities of arms, for the price of 212,000 Zloty (then $40,000), that they will personally loan Jabotinsky in exchange for “an honourable understanding” that the money will be returned once the Jewish State is established. After a time the Poles gave the IZL a grant for an additional 100,000 Zloty. To this amount was added approximately 125,000 Zloty, a private donation from Markovic Klez – a Romanian Jewish millionaire, who was a “groupie” of Jabotinsky and who contributed a great deal to the Revisionist Movement and to the IZL (in 1938 he donated to the IZL an amount sufficient to cover the whole operational budget of the organization for six months). However, the Poles were so generous that the quantities of arms they gave to the IZL far exceeded what they had originally committed to. Fieldmarshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły. ( Photo: NAC)
While Jabotinsky was conducting high level talks in Warsaw, a new line of communication was opened in Jerusalem between the IZL and the Poles. Avraham (Yair) Stern, a senior commander of the IZL who spoke fluent Polish, made close contact with the Polish Consul in Jerusalem, Witold Hulanicki. and the two became close friends. Yair pointed out to the Consul the mutual interests between his organisation and the Polish government and expressed his belief that the more the IZL increased the reprisals against the Arab terror in Palestine the more the Arabs will be weakened, and thus mass Jewish immigration to the country will be possible. Thanks to Yair’s efforts, Hulanicki became an avid supporter of Zionism and of the IZL. The two even wrote a draft agreement between the IZL and the Polish government, according to which the IZL will undertake the tasks of organizing training camps for Jewish youth in Poland and once graduated, move them to Palestine. The Government of Poland, for its part, would provide the IZL arms and training camps and would even try, as much as the political government situation would allow, to put pressure on the British to allow the entrance of Polish Jews to the Land of Israel. For his part, Hulanicki transmitted the IZL’s requests to the Polish Foreign Office in Warsaw. The request was approved. So at the end of 1938, Yair set out to Warsaw, to organize the training camps. In the spring of 1939 the Poles opened a special military course for senior commanders of the IZL while concurrently the supply of Polish arms to the IZL continued. The Polish Consul in Jerusalem, Witold Hulanicki (Photo: NAC) Avraham (Yair) Stern (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)
Yair’s activities in Warsaw were aided a great deal by Dr. Henryk Strassman and his wife, Alicja (pronounced Alitsya). The two came from assimilated Jewish families. Henryk completed his Law studies at Warsaw University with honours. He received a doctorate in law, and in great part due to the strength of his personality, he was appointed to the Warsaw Judiciary – a very senior position, and a level which few Jews were able to reach in the Polish public service at the time. He also taught criminology at the university. In her youth, Alicja studied political science and literature in Paris, where she was drawn to cosmopolitan left-wing activities and drifted away from Judaism. On her return to Poland, she married Henryk. The rising Polish anti-Semitism in the first half of the 1930s did not miss the Strassmans and in reaction to it they became active in the Jewish political arena, preferring the Revisionists. When Yair arrived in Warsaw in 1938, he was invited to speak at a meeting in the home of the couple. The impression he left on those present was so great, that they established a political club named “Yordan” (Jordan), where they met regularly. The high level of the discussions in the club drew many and it became a most desirable place to be for many of the prominent Jews in Warsaw. Alicja Strassman Henryk Strassman
Yair offered Alicja to publish for the IZL a bi-weekly in Polish and she agreed. The magazine, which later became a weekly, was called “Liberated Jerusalem” and contained highly intellectual articles on various Jewish topics, including information of the armed Jewish struggle in the Land of Israel. On the cover of issue 5 of the magazine appeared for the first time the drawing of the hand holding a rifle, with the map of an undivided Land of Israel in the background. Its caption was “Tylko Tak!” (Only Thus!) – the motto of the Polish Legion, which fought in WWI on the German side, for the liberation of Poland from the Russians. The logo was drawn by the magazine’s graphic artist, Dr Bauer, following a suggestion by Alicja. Soon after the IZL adopted it as its official logo and henceforth it appeared on all the publications of the organisation. The weekly had a circulation of 4,000 copies and was in great demand by prominent Jews in Warsaw and even senior Polish officials. The enthusiastic support of his influential readers and followers helped Yair greatly in his activities in Poland. At this time, Yair began drifting away from Jabotinsky, because he thought his policies towards the British were too compromising. He did not even report to him that he had agreed with the Poles on the special military course for the IZL commanders. This caused Jabotinsky a great deal of embarrassment when he was asked by the Poles for his views on the course while he knew nothing of it... The IZL logo (Copy:Jabotinsky Institute Archive)
True to their word to Jabotinsky the Poles started to supply the IZL large quantities of arms. At this time, 24 different types of old rifles were used by the Polish army, and a decision was made to discard all of them and use only a Polish copy of the German “Mauser 98” rifle. As a result, the depots of the army were filled with many thousands of French WWI rifles, which became available immediately to the IZL, together with hundreds of French Hotchkiss machine guns (which were also taken out of military service), millions of bullets and a large quantity of explosives. A Hotchkiss machine gun crew in action
The weapons were stored in a building that was rented by the Strassmans at 8 Ceglana Street, in a distant suburb of Warsaw. Yaacov Meridor, a senior commander of the IZL, dealt with smuggling the weapons to Palestine. In his memoirs, he stated that the weapons in the warehouse would have been sufficient to arm a complete Polish infantry division. However, the exact quantity of arms supplied by the Poles to the IZL is not known, as most of the Polish military archive was lost during WWII. According to Meridor, cached in Ceglana street were 20,000 rifles and about 500 machine guns, of which 200 were the Hotchkiss model. In a somewhat different version, Alicja Strassman relates in her memoirs that the Poles supplied the IZL with a number closer to 8,000 rifles and 1.2 million rounds of ammunition by the end of the summer of In fact they were both right: the Polish army indeed undertook to supply the IZL 20,000 rifles, but managed to supply only 8,000 before WWII broke out. Ceglana 8 nowadays. (Google satelite photo)
In the photo at left is the Polish version of the German “Mauser 98” rifle. There are only a few differences between the two versions. One of these is the indentation on the side of the Polish rifle (shown by the white arrow), intended to improve the grip on the rifle while firing Even if Strassman’s version is the more accurate one, the amount of arms supplied was enough to generate a great deal of excitement. Meridor relates that “when I first entered the warehouse I almost fainted. That narrow building stored hundreds of crates of weapons and ammunition - and I was ready to kiss every one of them”. Alicja Strassman relates in her memoirs, that the Poles supplied the arms in three deliveries. The first of them was in the autumn of 1938, the second in the spring of 1939 and the third, which was the largest, in the summer of the same year. She also relates that at some stage the Poles stopped supplying the old French rifles and instead delivered the new, Polish made version, of the “Mauser 98” rifles that were manufactured in Polish factories for the Polish military. According to her, the name of the factory and the serial number stamped on each rifle were erased before being handed third and final shipment ultimately remained in Warsaw. She also relates that at some stage the Poles the over to the IZL, to prevent the British intelligence from finding out their origin, in case they were seized on their way to Palestine. A Polish army document that survived the war states that one of the deliveries contained 500 rifles “without bayonets or straps and without factory markings, packed in regular boxes at a price of 125 Zloty per rifle” and one million rounds of ammunition, as well as 40 sub-machine guns, and 250,000 rounds of ammunition for them.
On the shoulders of Meridor lay the task of smuggling the Polish arms to Palestine. One way he devised was to hide it inside heavy machinery, such as the drums of industrial dry- cleaning machines (like the one below). The machines were transported overland to the port of Constanza in Romania or the port of Varna in Bulgaria where they were loaded on ships sailing to Haifa. This method turned out to be so efficient that the British did not discover any of the arms smuggled in this way. Alicja Strassman writes about one shipment of 15 Hotchkiss machine guns and 300 rifles, smuggled via Constanza. Of course there were other shipments which for reasons of secrecy, there is no record of them. The last of the “contraband” shipments was a crate containing two Hotchkiss machine guns and 130 French rifles, as well as a few hundred Polish pistols. The crate was sent to Merridor’s residence in Ramat Gan three weeks before the Nazi invasion and it arrived at its destination after the outbreak of war. Merridor hid this crate in his backyard. It should be noted that he Poles also supplied arms to the Haganah, but only as a normal commercial transaction, at full price. In total 2,250 rifles and 225 light machine guns were transferred to the Haganah. However, British intelligence discovered this trnsaction and the British Government demanded that the Poles cease the shipments immediately. The Poles had no choice but to comply – and this source of arms for the Haganah was blocked.
Along with the supply of arms, Polish officers also started training members of Jewish Betar youth movement in the use of guns and explosives. The trainees were members of IZL secret cells, who infiltrated the ranks of Betar in Poland with the encouragement of Yair. A Polish army officer (standing on the right) instructs Betar members how to shoot a rifle. (Photo: Jabotinsky Institute)
Pre-military training was compulsory in all secondary schools in Poland, including Jewish secondary schools. Students who completed this training, and passed their matriculation examinations, were sent to officer’s training courses upon military induction, and were exempted from regular basic training. In the photo above, students of the Jewish secondary school “Klara Ehrlich” in Kovel (today in Ukraine) in a pre-military camp during their summer holidays in the mid 1930’s.
Military drill at a Polish secondary school in the 1930’s For members of Betar who were not part of the IZL secret cells, pre-military courses similar to those at the secondary schools were taught, instructed by Jewish veterans of the Polish army.
The jewel in the crown of the training that the Poles gave to the IZL was the advanced officers’ course, which lasted for four months in the summer of Twenty five senior IZL commanders attended this course. In order not to arouse suspicion, they left Palestine separately and gathered in Krakow, being warned not to be conspicuous. One of them, Eliahu Lankin, who was later to become the commander of the “Altalena”, related that “one morning we travelled by train to an obscure station, where horse-drawn carts waited for us... After a slow journey in snowy forests we arrived at the peak of a mountain to a three-storied building with a wide yard. All around it was dense forest. Not a living soul to be seen. This was the site of the course.” The mountainous area, where the senior commanders of the IZL passed an advanced officer’s course. (Photo: Marek Silarski, Wikipedia Commons)
The site was in the Beskid Mountains, in Southern Poland, about 15km south of Andrychow. This site was chosen for two reasons: the sparse population and the Judea and Galilee like scenery. The course was conducted very strictly by the “second division” (the Intelligence service of the Polish army), and two agents from the Polish Foreign Office: Polonius Zarychta and Viktor Drymmer. The course consisted of two parts: regular military training and guerrilla warfare. The first part included self-defence, individual, unit and divisional field training, lectures on the management of larger groups, military tactics and topography. The second part included explosives, methods of partisan fighting and the building of underground cells. Lenkin and others reported that “Every day we went into the forest for training. The area resounded of loud explosions, automatic gunfire and rifle shots. The program was very elaborate and as time was short, the training was very intensive. “We would set off on long excursions early in the morning and return to the base after nightfall, exhausted, freezing, filthy…but feeling extremely satisfied. Our spirit was lifted and the Polish officers were very surprised by our determination and our great desire to learn.” The Polish officers lectured in Polish, as expected, a language understood by most of the trainees, who then translated for the rest who didn’t understand Polish. Polish infantry training in the 1930’s
General Kazimierz Fabrycy (Photo: NAC) The course ended In August Polish General Kazimierz Fabrycy and two colonels from the “second division” – Joseph Smolenski and Thaddeus Pełczyński – came over to watch over the final exam, which was followed by a parade and other festivities. Lankin recalls that “the General and Avraham Stern, who also came for the event, inspected the guard of honour. The General spoke with the cadets and to his surprise discovered that they came from all corners of the earth, from China to South America. (Eliahu Lankin himself was the head of Betar in China before he made Aliyah in 1933).” The exam went extraordinarily well and the Polish officers did not hide their amazement and appreciation for the cadets’ achievements. The head trainer said enthusiastically, that he taught many courses before to his countrymen, but never had he received as much satisfaction from the results, as from this course. “In the end it was Stern’s turn to speak. Beginning in Polish, he expressed appreciation of the course and compared the Jewish struggle in Palestine with the Poles’ war of independence. Turning to Hebrew he told the cadets of the plan to conquer the Land of Israel by armed and well trained Jewish youth (see next page)… This was the first time the cadets heard about the acquisition of large quantities of arms for the IZL in Poland”.
systems of the IZL, which were incorporated into later IZL missions. In the initial stages of the military operations against the British, the knowledge gained from the course was used to prepare electrically triggered landmines and pressure triggered landmines. Other areas of knowledge gained from the Poles included the preparation of hidden transmitters, delay tactics, and additional techniques related to underground activities.” Most of the cadets returned to Palestine immediately after the course ended. Only four of them remained in Poland to oversee the military courses for Betar members. But a few weeks later war broke out and they all had to escape back home. The IZL started already in 1936 to produce crude armaments, including mines, in workshops owned by sympathisers of the organisation in Palestine. In 1939, following Polish instructions, the IZL started to produce more sophisticated armaments,. Also probably under Polish influence, the IZL saw much importance in clandestine broadcasts to the population in Palestine. Since 1939 it operated the “Voice of Fighting Zion”, until mid Historian Professor Yehuda Lapidot concludes that “The commanders’ course in Poland brought a fundamental change to the educational and military training The leaflet above says: The Voice of Fighting Zion. The broadcasting station of the IZL in the Land of Israel. Transmitting every Sunday and Wednesday at 7.45 on wavelength. Listen! Such leaflets were pasted in the streets at night, to make people aware of the broadcasts. (Photo: Jabotinsky Institute)
The large quantities of arms delivered by the Poles and the growing number of Betar members receiving military training in Poland, were surely behind Yair’s “40,000 Plan”. According to this plan, the IZL was to establish an army of 40,000 Jewish fighters in Poland, ship them to Palestine in as many ships as required, land them on the shores, take over the country by force, oust the British and establish an independent Jewish State. In Yair’s opinion, it was possible to carry out the plan within two years of its approval. Initially Jabotinsky was not in favour of the ambitious plan, as he doubted its practicality. However, following the publication of the anti Jewish “White Paper” by the British government in May 1939, and the winds of war gathering strength in Europe, he decided, nevertheless, to look into the possibility of such an invasion – though in a more modest version. As per his plan, the armed Jewish force would sail with Jabotinsky as its leader, in one large ship and land on the Tel Aviv shore. On landing, the IZL in Palestine would announce an armed uprising, take over the government buildings in Jerusalem, raise on them the Jewish national flag and declare the establishment of an interim Jewish government. Should the British suppress the uprising, the new Jewish government would move to another country and operate from there. Jabotinsky entrusted Yochanan Bader (later to become a member of the Knesset) to check the feasibility of the plan. Bader concluded that the plan was practical and that it could be implemented by the summer of Above: One of the triggers to Jabotinsky’s plan to invade Palestine - the anti-Jewish “White Paper” published in May 1939 by the British government.
The architects of the Jewish invasion must have known what awaits them after landing on the beaches of Tel Aviv: Due to the Arab Revolt at the time, many British troops were rushed into the country. A British report on the situation in 1938 indicates that “two infantry brigades were deployed to Palestine from the United Kingdom in With tensions increasing and terrorist acts taking place regularly, the military forces were increased to a total of about 20,000 troops in Two new infantry divisions were formed, the seventh… during September 1938 and the eighth… on the 28 October 1938.” It was a formidable force, and the planners of the invasion surely relied (maybe naively) on a surprise landing, to reach their goals with as little fighting and as few casualties as possible. A British machine gun post overlooking the Jaffa coast, just a few miles south of the Tel Aviv beach, during the Arab riots of (Photo: The American Colony)
The many preparations to carry out the invasion plan even reached the stage in which the IZL and the Polish shipping line “Gdynia-America”, started discussing the purchase of one of the company’s largest ships, “Pulaski” (photo above), to transport the Jewish force to Palestine. However, the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 put an abrupt end to the plan. (Photo: Mare Nostrum, Gdynia)
German planes bomb Warsaw and set it alight, during the siege of the city in September At the end of August 1939 the Strassmans were at the peak of their preparations for sending a large shipment of arms to Palestine, via the port of Gdynia near Danzig. However, this shipment was cancelled when the Nazis invaded Poland. Henryk Strassman, who was a poruchnik (lieutenant) in the reserves, was called up and sent to the Carpathian army which was stationed on the Polish-Soviet border. Alicja stayed in Warsaw with their two children, 8 years old Andrzej and 5 years old Pyotr. When the Nazis besieged Warsaw and started shelling it, she understood that the arms under her supervision will never get to Palestine. She also knew that the city’s defenders needed every rifle and bullet that they could get, so she decided to hand the arms back to the Polish army. Many years later Alicja related that “during a heavy bombardment I left the basement and went to the headquarters of the city commander, General Czuma, at Pilsudski Square, but I was not allowed to meet the general. With difficulties I persuaded a sergeant to bring me any officer. Eventually a captain came out to see me. I told him: ‘I know a place in town where a large quantity of arms and munitions is cached’. “’You are mad’, uttered the captain. ‘That is the truth and you can check it yourself’, I answered. Finally I succeeded to persuade a major and some other officers to come with me to Ceglana Street. They broke the door open and you should have seen the officers’ faces (and mine) at the sight of so many weapons... I said to the major: ‘I understand what I am about to say may sound unusual, but I need a receipt from you… I need proof that I have handed over to you these arms’. I got a receipt, which later I left with a certain gentile’... “On leaving the major said to me: ‘I can assure you that after this war, neither you, nor your friends nor we, will forget you, and you will never regret this’.”
Alicja Strassman added that “The officers took me home in their car. I sat in the car with a most terrible feeling… When we parted it was after the bombardment. All of Warsaw was burning.” The city stood heroically against the Nazi army for almost three weeks, but when the number of deaths reached 30,000, it became clear to the defenders that their situation was hopeless. On 27 September a cease fire was arranged and on 1 October the Germans entered the city. In January 1940 Alicja managed to escape from Warsaw to Italy with her two children. They waited four months in Trieste for an immigration certificate which was arranged for them in Palestine and they managed to reach Haifa by boat, ten days before the Italians entered the war on the side of the Germans. Henryk Strassman was not as lucky. When the Russians took control of Eastern Poland according the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, all the personnel of the Polish army of the Carpathians, including Henryk Strassman, was interned by the Russians as prisoners of war. But in April 1940, by the order of Stalin, about 22,000 Polish POW officers were shot in Katyn Forest near Smolensk and other locations. Henryk Strassman was one of them. He was executed while being held in Kharkov prison. Alicja raised their sons by herself in Israel. Andrzej’s name was changed to Gabriel who eventually became a senior editor in “Ma’ariv” newspaper, and later in life served as a judge. Pyotr’s name was changed to Avniel and he changed his family name to Latar. For about thirty years he was second in command of El Al security. The rifles of the defenders of Warsaw in 1939 lying in piles in the streets after the capitulation to the Nazis. Some of them are surely the rifles given to the IZL – but returned to the Polish army.
The Nazi invasion, not surprisingly, put an end to the “Liberated Jerusalem” weekly. Despite the fighting, one more issue of the weekly – number 50 – was ready for print, but then the Germans lashed out on Warsaw with a wave of air raids. One bomb hit the printing press building, and the trays of lead type for the latest issue were dispersed all over the place. A violent end and a harbinger of what was to follow... On the left: Issue 49, the last of the “Liberated Jerusalem” magazine issues to see the light of day. The date on it - 1 September 1939 – is eerie to see. It was the same day the Germans invaded Poland, started the Second World War and brought the Holocaust upon European Jewry.
The military training of Betar members in Poland under Yair’s leadership, left its mark on the Warsaw ghetto uprising during the Holocaust. According to the diary of SS General Jurgen Stroop, who commanded the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto, the toughest fighting centred on Muranowski Square, where fighters of the Jewish Military Union (ZZW), most of them graduates of Betar military courses, dug in. At the outbreak of the uprising, on the eve of Passover 1943, the commanders of the ZZW, Pawel Frenkel and his deputy Leon Rodl, hoisted two flags on the roof of the house at Muranowski 7: the red and white Polish flag and the Jewish blue and white flag. (According to another version of the event, the two flags were hoisted by Yatzek Eisner and his girlfriend Helena,two young members from the ranks of the ZZW). The flags were seen all over Warsaw and the furious head of the SS, Himmler, ordered General Stroop to “remove the flags immediately, regardless of cost”. However, despite all the Germans’ efforts they did not succeed in reaching the flags immediately. Only after four days of bitter fighting, when the machine gun post near the flags was destroyed, did the Germans succeed in removing the flags. At Passover of 2013, 70 years after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the Israeli Post office issued a stamp (see above) showing the ZZW commander, Pawel Frenkel, and in the background the Muranowski 7 building in flames, while the two flags fly above.
The Second Polish Corps, also named General Anders’ Army, arrived in Palestine from the Soviet Union, via Iran, in 1942, in preparation to be sent to fight the Nazis in Italy. The hardships its soldiers endured in the USSR were clear: their uniforms were torn, and they were in need of complete physical recovery and training, before being sent off to fight. Amongst them were a few thousand Jews, and about 4,000 of them deserted shortly after they arrived. It seems that the Polish army officers had little problem with the illegal departure of their Jewish soldiers. At any rate, they did not make a fuss about it and no measures were taken against the deserters. Some Jews, though, did not desert, fought bravely eith their comrades in Italy and even were killed in action. The fortunes of war again brought together Yaacov Meridor and General Fabrycy in 1942, this time in Palestine. Meridor was then commander in chief of the IZL while Fabrycy arrived with the Anders army. During the many months that the Polish army stayed in Palestine, the rapport between Meridor and Fabrycy, forged already in the days of the commanders’ course in Poland, was renewed. Meridor asked Fabrycy to help finding solutions to operational problems that troubled the IZL – and the Polish general responded willingly. Soldiers of the Anders army, dressed in a various mix of uniforms, photographed on leave at Tel Aviv beach. (Photo: Franek Rymaszewski collection)
The unit that was formed was called “The Reds”. Members of the unit, which was less than 200 strong, maintained strict secrecy, even towards other members of the IZL who were not members of the unit. They were chosen carefully, acted in small groups – up to seven fighters each – and underwent training for special operations. With the declaration of the uprising against the British by the IZL, at the beginning of 1944, the Polish training and advice bore fruit in the impressive results of the sabotage attacks that the IZL fighters carried out on British government and army facilities all over Palestine. The British central intelligence HQ in Jerusalem, after it was sabotaged by the IZL “Reds” in one of their first operations, in March 1944 (Photo: The American Colony) One of the problems of the IZL at the time was the necessity to adapt its fighting force to the conditions resulting from the Second World War. Fabrycy looked into the matter and recommended to carry out bold underground attacks, by a relatively small force, comprised of brave, young fighters, to be chosen from the ranks of the entire IZL. This recommendation was approved by Meridor and the IZL high command.
One of the architects of the agreement between the IZL and the Poles – the Polish Consul in Jerusalem, Witold Hulanicki – was mysteriously murdered during the War of Independence. Hulanicki, who was supporter of the Polish government in exile in London, was removed from his post by the new communist government in Warsaw. However, he continued to live in Jerusalem and worked for the Mandate Government, as a civil servant. All that time Hulanicki maintained good relations with the Jewish leaders in Palestine and with the underground movements. He even helped the JNF get property of Jews who perished in the Holocaust. When the War of Independence broke out, Hulanicki decided to move to London with his wife and three daughters. But on , the day before they were set to depart, while walking along Benjamin Mitudela Street in Jerusalem, where he lived, he was approached by two people who told him they were from the Haganah, and asked him to accompany them. The following day his body was found with hands tied and riddled with bullets, near the Arab village of Shiekh Badder (today Givat Ram). An anonymous informant phoned the press and told them that Hulanicki was executed by the Lehi (abbreviation for Lohamei Herut Israel, also called “the Stern gang” by the British) because of his assistance to the Arabs. The message was very strange in view of Hulanicki’s support of Zionism and the friendly relationship he had with the founder of the Lehi, Yair. When Nathan Yellin-Mor, one of the Lehi leaders then, was asked years later what was the reason for the murder, he answered evasively. In 2011 suddenly appeared the real reason for the murder: Historians Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez from the Truman Institute at the Hebrew University, who research the subversive activities of the Soviet Union in Israel, determined that Yellin-Mor simply lied and that the people of the Lehi knew exactly what they were doing. After WWII Hulanicki assisted the anti-communist activities of the US Intelligence, believing that by this he was helping his country. According to the researchers, many members of the Lehi felt sympathy towards the Soviet Union in the 40’s because of its anti-British stand as part of its cold war policies. Members of the Lehi also believed that the Soviets would support a Jewish State after its establishment. The murder of the “American spy”, Hulanicki, was carried out therefore, as a service of the Lehi to the Soviet Union… Hulanicki in his last years
Despite the saying “There is no ‘what if’ in history”, it is difficult not to speculate how different the area of the State of Israel might have been today, if at the outbreak of the War of Independence, the Israeli defence forces had all the armament donated by the Poles to the IZL. In April 1948, about four months after the outbreak of the War of Independence, the IDF set out on its first major endeavour in that war: the “Nachshon” operation. The most difficult problem encountered by the planners of the operation was the shortage of arms. Yosef Avidar, who was at the time in charge of IDF supplies, relates that “in order to adequately equip the fighters it was necessary to strip the other units of half their arms, which were rather sparse anyway... When the commander of the ‘Kiryati’ Brigade left my office at 4am, he was as white as chalk, because I took from his brigade most of the rifles and machine guns and left him with only a few rifles for policing... To our great joy that same night landed the long awaited plane... with the first shipment of weapons purchased in Czechoslovakia. It brought 200 rifles and 40 machine guns with ammunition. On the following day the supply ship ‘Nora’ arrived, with the rest of the Czech weapons: 4,300 rifles and 200 machine guns, with about five million rounds of ammunition.” Within a few weeks of these shipments, every combat soldier in the IDF had been provided with a rifle and every unit was provided with the appropriate number of machine guns. These weapons enabled the IDF to reach its stunning achievements in the War of Independence. Now it remains to speculation what would have happened if four months prior to the “Nachshon” operation, the IDF had four times the quantity of arms from the Czech deal – those 20,000 rifles, hundreds of machine guns and millions of bullets, that Poland gave the IZL, but never made it to their intended destination. Israeli soldiers of the Givati brigade, fully armed with Czech rifles, towards the end of the War of Independence in (Photo: Zoltan Kluger collection, LIM)
Hotchkiss machine gun. Since the 1950’s to be found in Israel only in museum displays, like this one. With the dissolution of the IZL after the “Altalena Affair”, in 1948, all the organisation’s arms were transferred to the IDF, including the rifles and machine guns sent from Poland. The last remnants of these arms were probably the French rifles and machine guns mentioned in the IDF arms report after the War of Independence. The IDF hardly used the old French weapons. Initially Fading Away in Silence they were distributed to outlying settlements for self-defence, but quickly replaced by newer weapons. And if they were not sold afterwards to some third world country – they were scrapped, except for a few specimens kept in museums. This presentation is based primarily upon – “A marriage of convenience: the New Zionist Organization and the Polish Government ”, by Dr. Laurence Weinbaum. “The Birth of an Underground” (in Hebrew) by Prof. Yehuda Lapidot, published in the internet site “Daat” by the Herzog College at Gush Ezion. [http://www.herzog.ac.il/]
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