Jews in World War 2

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As the title suggests, this blog is about Jews in WWII. However it is not about Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust. This is about the Jews who fought on both sides, for the allied troops but also for the Axis powers.

This may sound crazy but some Jews even got awarded an Iron Cross.

Major Leo Skurnik was a Jewish soldier/medical officer in the Finnish army.

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In September 1941 he organized an evacuation of a German field hospital when it came under Soviet attack. In excess of  600 patients, including SS soldiers, were evacuated.For this action he was awarded the Iron Cross.

Skurnik was one of  three Finnish Jews who were bestowed the Iron Cross class 2 . All refused to accept the award.

More then 300 Finnish Jewish soldiers found themselves ‘allied’ to  the Nazis when Finland, who had a mutual enemy in the Soviet Union, joined the war in June 1941.

Despite Germany demanding that Finland introduce anti-Semitic laws like in the rest of Nazi-controlled Europe, the Finns refused, treating their Jewish soldiers with respect. They even allowed the Jewish soldiers to practice their religion.

There was even a field synagogue for these soldiers,  some German soldiers  sometimes even visited the synagogue and showed respect for the Jews who prayed there, despite the propaganda they had subjected to for years.

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It was not so much the case that these Finnish Jewish soldiers subscribed to the Nazi philosophy ,but more of a case of fighting an enemy which was feared more in Finland, the Soviet Union.

On the other hand there were Jews fighting for the allies. About 500,000 American Jews served in the various branches of the United States armed services. approximately 52,000 of these received U.S. military awards/ They fought in Europe and the Pacific.

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One of the American Jewish soldiers was private Leo Lichten. He was killed in action just outside the village of Prummern,in Germany near the Dutch border.

On November 20,1944.Leo’s company, Company A, received the  order, 1944, to attack pillboxes (small bunkers).The weather conditions were severe , and the ground was muddy, making the battle even more difficult than it might otherwise have been. Leo stormed one of the pillboxes, and was killed by machine gun fire. His body was laid to rest in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten. Last year I visited his grave and paid my respects.

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The Jewish Infantry Brigade Group,also  known as the Jewish Brigade Group or Jewish Brigade, was a military division of the British Army during  World War II. It was formed in late 1944 and consisted of  recruits  of  Jews from the then Mandatory Palestine and was  commanded by Anglo-Jewish officers. It served in the latter stages of the Italian Campaign.

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In October 1944, led by Brigadier Ernest F. Benjamin, the brigade group was sent to Italy where it  joined British 8th Army in November 1944, which was engaged in the Italian Campaign under 15th Army Group.

The brigade group did partake in the Spring Offensive of 1945.  On March 19–20, 1945, it initiated two attacks. It moved to the Senio River sector, where it fought against the German 4th Parachute Division commanded by General lieutenant Heinrich Trettner. On April 9, the brigade crossed the river and established a bridgehead, widening it the following day. At the duration  of the  operations in Italy the Jewish Brigade suffered 30 casualties and 70 wounded.

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Sources

The Telegraph

Haaretz

Wikipedia

 

Friend and Foe- The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.

Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact

Bad as World War II and all its horrors were it could have been a lot worse if the Germans didn’t break the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.

The impact it would have had if Hitler and Stalin had remained “friends”would have been unfathomable. In all likelihood it might have saved a lot of Soviet and German lives but the outcome for the citizens of the other  European nations would have probably been more devastating.

Molotov–Ribbentrop_Pact_(German_copy)

Japan probably would not have allied themselves with Germany and may not have attacked Pearl Harbor.

These of course are speculations stemming from a “what if ?” scenario, the fact is that Germany and the Soviet Union were allies at the start of the war. at a high cost for Poland.

Following are some impression on how that Soviet -German friendship looked like.

Soviet and German officials having a friendly conversation in the newly captured Polish city of Brest, September 1939.

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German–Soviet military parade in Brest-Litovsk on September 22, 1939

Polen, Siegesparade, Guderian, Kriwoschein

Rolling Soviet tanks and German motorcyclists.

Polen, deutsch-sowjetische Siegesparade, Panzer

Common parade of Wehrmacht and Red Army in Brest at the end of the Invasion of Poland. At the center Major General Heinz Guderian and Brigadier Semyon Krivoshein

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German and Soviet personnel amid parade display material.

Polen, deutsch-sowjetische Siegesparade

Soviet and German soldiers in Lublin.

Polen, Treffen deutscher und sowjetischer Soldaten

Polish hostages being blindfolded during preparations for their mass execution in Palmiry, 1940.

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Ribbentrop taking leave of Molotov in Berlin, November 1940

Berlin, Verabschiedung Molotows

Germany terminated the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact at 03:15 on 22 June 1941 by launching a massive attack on the Soviet positions in eastern Poland which marked the beginning of the invasion of the Soviet Union known as Operation Barbarossa.

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The tragic death of Szmul Zygielbojm-The man who exposed the Holocaust to the allies.

Szmul-Zygielbojm-1023x946My heart was broken when I heard about this Hero. If the allies just would have listened to him and taken him serious so many lives including his own could have been saved. What make this even more tragic and poignant that he did not die by direct Nazi violence but by his own hand due to grieve and frustration.

When Szmul Zygielbojm stood up and denounced ‘the greatest crime in history’ in 1942 the Polish politician was revealing to the world for the first time the full horror of the unfolding Holocaust.

Three years before the liberation of the death camps, Zygielbojm issued his clarion call but also sowed the seeds of his own destruction warning it would ‘be a shame to go on living’ if nothing were done.

Szmul Zygielbojm (February 21, 1895 – May 11, 1943) was a Jewish-Polish socialist politician, leader of the Bund, and a member of the National Council of the Polish government in exile.

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He committed suicide to protest the indifference of the Allied governments in the face of the Holocaust.

When the Nazis ordered Jewish leaders to help with the creation of a ghetto in the Polish capital, Zygielbojm publicly opposed the command – and was subsequently smuggled out of the city.

After travelling to Belgium, France and the US, where he spoke at a series of meetings to raise awareness about the plight of Jews, he eventually found himself in London in March 1942 to join the National Council of the Polish government in exile.

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Realising that he was dealing with a sceptical non-Jewish public, Zygielbojm used British newspapers and the BBC to pass on detailed information he was being supplied with from occupied Europe.

In June 1942, The Daily Telegraph headline read ‘Germans murder 700,000 Jews in Poland’ and readers were told it was ‘the greatest massacre in the world’s history

WWII Warsaw Ghetto 1943

In April 1943, the US and UK governments met in Bermuda, supposedly to come up with answers to the unfolding plight of Jews in occupied Europe.

Ironically this happened just as the Jewish resistance rose up the Warsaw Ghetto despite facing overwhelming numbers of well armed Nazi troops.

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An estimated 13,000 Jews died during the uprising and the 50,000 or so survivors were immediately shipped to extermination camps.

Stroop_Report_-_Warsaw_Ghetto_Uprising_06b

In May, Zygielbojm realised that the Allies were not going to act and then, to compound his despair, he learnt that his wife Manya and son Tuvla had died in Warsaw.

On the 12th of May he took an overdose of sodium amytal at his home in west London and left a long and detailed suicide note, explaining his decision to take his own life.

In a long, detailed “suicide letter”, addressed to Polish president Władysław Raczkiewicz and prime minister Władysław Sikorski, Zygielbojm stated that while the Nazis were responsible for the murder of the Polish Jews, the Allies were also culpable:

The responsibility for the crime of the murder of the whole Jewish nationality in Poland rests first of all on those who are carrying it out, but indirectly it falls also upon the whole of humanity, on the peoples of the Allied nations and on their governments, who up to this day have not taken any real steps to halt this crime. By looking on passively upon this murder of defenseless millions tortured children, women and men they have become partners to the responsibility.

I am obliged to state that although the Polish Government contributed largely to the arousing of public opinion in the world, it still did not do enough. It did not do anything that was not routine, that might have been appropriate to the dimensions of the tragedy taking place in Poland….

I cannot continue to live and to be silent while the remnants of Polish Jewry, whose representative I am, are being murdered. My comrades in the Warsaw ghetto fell with arms in their hands in the last heroic battle. I was not permitted to fall like them, together with them, but I belong with them, to their mass grave.

By my death, I wish to give expression to my most profound protest against the inaction in which the world watches and permits the destruction of the Jewish people.

Szmul_Zygielbojm_suicide_letter_1943

He wished his letter to be known not only by the Polish President and prime minister in exile. He wrote: “I am certain that the President and the Prime Minister will send out these words of mine to all those to whom they are addressed, and that the Polish Government will embark immediately on diplomatic action and explanation of the situation, in order to save the living remnant of the Polish Jews from destruction.”

After his death, Zygielbojm’s seat in the Polish exile parliament was taken over by Emanuel Scherer.

Zygielbojm’s younger son, Joseph, survived the Ghetto’s destruction. After taking a leadership role in the Polish resistance during the war, he immigrated to the United States, where he became a scientist at NASA. He died in 1995, survived by his sons, Arthur and Paul.

Donation

I am passionate about my site and I know a you all like reading my blogs. I have been doing this at no cost and will continue to do so. All I ask is for a voluntary donation of $2 ,however if you are not in a position to do so I can fully understand, maybe next time then. Thanks To donate click on the credit/debit card icon of the card you will use. If you want to donate more then $2 just add a higher number in the box left from the paypal link. Many thanks

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