In Our Own Hands (film & discussion)



In Our Own Hands: The Hidden Story of the Jewish Brigade in World War II

“We came as an angel of life to the Jewish people. Soldiers are supposed to fight, kill, or be killed, and what we did as soldiers, we found dead people, and we helped them go back to life.”

The Jewish Infantry Brigade Group, or the Jewish Brigade, was a military formation of the British Army composed of Jews from the Palestine Mandate (later the state of Israel), commanded by British-Jewish officers that served in Europe during World War II. The British, fearful of Jewish rebellion in the Mandate, fought its creation until late in 1944.  The Brigade fought the Germans in Italy. Then their real work began.

Saratoga Jewish Community Arts, through generous grants provided by the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York and the Golub Corporation, presents the film In Our Own Hands: The Hidden Story of the Jewish Brigade in World War II, directed by Chuck Olin, on December 16, at 7 pm, at Temple Sinai, Saratoga Springs, NY.

At the end of World War II, the Brigade was stationed at the border triangle of Italy, Yugoslavia, and Austria. They searched for holocaust survivors, provided survivors with aid, and secretly assisted in the survivors’ immigration to the British Mandate of Palestine. The Brigade played a key role in efforts to help Jews escape Europe for Palestine, a role many of its members were to continue after the Brigade disbanded. Among its projects was the education and care of surviving children. In July 1945, the Brigade moved to Belgium and the Netherlands.

Not only did the Palestinian Jews prove to the world that Jewish boys could fight, but they also had a tremendous psychological effect on the Jewish refugees in Europe. This included those who somehow survived the concentration camps and those who had been in hiding, as recalled by a Jerusalem attorney and an organizer in the effort.   “The remnants of Jewish communities, broken physically and emotionally, that the Brigade encountered saw the uniforms with the Magen David insignia and it became something of a symbol of hope,” says Phyllis Wang, Coordinator of Jewish Community Arts.

Even before the war was over, the Jewish soldiers saw, as part of their mission, to assist those surviving Jews. The Brigade soldiers confiscated and gave out food, blankets, clothes, and medicine, and once even “borrowed” 34 British Army trucks to move refugees to safer parts of the continent. They found Jewish children hidden in monasteries and convents and brought them back to their heritage. When special DP (Displaced Persons) camps were established for Jews, the Jewish Brigade soldiers began organizing classes in Hebrew, Jewish history, Land of Israel geography, and even army maneuvers.  They gradually organized a mass movement of these refugees to Mediterranean ports and shipped them to Palestine right under the noses of their British officers, despite the British blockade.

Amidst the chaos of post-war Europe and hidden in plain sight of the occupying Allied armies, the young Jewish soldiers masterminded one clandestine operation after the next: forming secret vengeance squads to assassinate Nazi officers in hiding and engineering the rescue and illegal movement of Holocaust survivors to the Palestine Mandate.  When the British became suspicious of their activities, they disbanded the Brigade. A daring plan was devised to replace the soldiers with young DPs who would adopt identities and pretend to be soldiers about to be demobilized. The DPs had their names changed and were trained by those who stayed behind to continue the refugee work.  Later in 1948, Brigade veterans once again helped organize and lead the fledgling Israel Defense Forces in their new country’s War of Independence.  From the trenches of Northern Italy to the refugee camps of war-torn Europe, In Our Own Hands unravels the tale of young Jewish soldiers who carried the weight of a people on their shoulders.

In Our Hands: The Hidden Story of the Jewish Brigade in World War II will be shown on December 16, at 7 pm, at Temple Sinai. Panel discussion and dessert reception to follow. $5 donation requested. For reservations please call 518-584-8730 option 2


Saratoga Jewish Community Arts presents this program through the generous support of a grant from the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York and support from Price Chopper’s Golub Foundation.