The final weeks of World War II. His Majesty's Jewish Brigade - the only all-Jewish fighting unit in the war - goes into combat against the hated Nazis...and comes away victorious. It is after the war, though, that the real story of the Brigade begins. Amidst the chaos of post-war Europe, and under the noses of the occupying Allied armies, the young Jewish soldiers mastermind one clandestine operation after the next: forming secret vengeance squads to assassinate Nazi officers in hiding...engineering the rescue and illegal movement of Holocaust survivors to Palestine. Later, in 1948, Brigade veterans help 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 thrilling tale of young Jewish soldiers who carried the weight of a people on their shoulders.Written by
A Little Known Piece of World War II and of Courage and Ingenuity
The 1998 documentary, "In Our Own Hands," dramatically chronicles the creation, deployment and experiences of the British Army's Jewish Brigade in World War II. Formed of volunteers from Palestine, the young men entered British service with an agenda the King's ministers and generals sensed but could not completely comprehend. Yes, the men wanted to come to grips with Germans and kill as many as possible. Even before the full unfolding of the Final Solution, Palestinian Jews were often emigres who had experienced Nazi savagery. That Jews were being murdered was hardly a secret.
But these young soldiers also coveted - and needed - British military training to prepare them for the increasingly inevitable clash with the colonial power unwilling to permit unrestricted Jewish migration and ready to abandon the Balfour Declaration's promise of a national Jewish homeland in Palestine. One veteran, still speaking the argot of Old Blighty, comments on how important it was to benefit from England's four centuries of army experience, remarking that "[the British Army] was a bloody good army."
Scenes of training, combat and post-hostilities operations of the Brigade, with over 5,000 troops, alternate with interviews of the elderly veterans of what became not only a cohesive force but also the only World War II unit exclusively comprised of Jews. With one or two exceptions virtually all the veterans interviewed speak English very well reflecting what must be successful careers in education, business or the arts.
After proving themselves in combat, the Brigade was assigned to Occupation duties. There, they encountered dazed, ill and now rootless concentration camp survivors. Initially, Jewish Displaced Persons were not recognized as a discrete group but were lumped together with others based on nation of origin. A problem. These Jews, survivors of death camps, had no homes to return to and could face (and many did) unrestrained anti-Semitism from former neighbors who found little to fault with the German oppression: a different solution was in order.
Brigade members, and others, brought about a change in Allied policy whereby Jews were treated as a separate cohort. More interesting, from the perspective of the film, was the Brigade's covert establishment of brazen operations to spirit away Jewish survivors to Italy where they might have a chance to sail to Palestine. In one operation, which reduced me - a former Army officer fairly experienced in unorthodox diversions - to loud guffaws, Brigade members stole over thirty-five British trucks which they then marked so as to duplicate their own vehicles. With these doppelganger trucks, many survivors were taken on long and arduous trips to Italy with army authorities vaguely aware that something was amiss but...all the requisite trucks were always there!
The film briefly but directly covers what a number of articles and books have laid bare over the past decade or two: the vengeance operations of Jewish Brigade soldiers who sought out hiding Gestapo members and concentration camp officers and killed them. Of course such acts were illegal but it's hard to feel that those retributive acts can not be justified by an extralegal conception of moral justice.
This is, of course, a one-sided film. The British had to walk a delicate balance in Palestine between Arabs and Jews, especially in the early years of the war when possible Arab support of a seemingly invincible German Afrika Corps would have been a disaster for the British.
Whether a Jewish National Homeland in Palestine should have been promised in the first instance is a fair historical question but one that "In Our Own Hands" does not and need not explore. This is the story of brave men seeking a chance to fight a foe whose atrocities against Jews provided a unique motivation to kill Germans.
The film is very well put together and interest never flags. While, obviously, of interest to Jews it's equally compelling for students of the Second World War.
Well worth renting or buying.
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