Sunday, July 10, 2022

"In Our Own Hands" Tells the Heroic Story of the Jewish Brigade

The 1998 documentary "In Our Own Hands: The Hidden Story of the Jewish Brigade in World War II" describes and shows how Jewish soldiers organized into their own distinct units within the British military not only contributed to the Allied war effort during World War II but also provided hope for and help to Jewish Holocaust survivors. Jewish Brigade soldiers wore a yellow Star of David insignia, turning the Nazis' symbol of hatred, persecution, and murder into a symbol of Jewish pride, Jewish strength, and Jewish survival.

Chuck Olin, Chuck Cooper, and Matthew Palm produced the documentary. Cooper's cousin Burt Guttmann served in the Jewish Brigade and used to tell family members about the Jewish Brigade's exploits. When Cooper realized that most people had never heard of the Jewish Brigade, he became determined to produce a movie to fill that information void. After Cooper connected with Chicago producer Olin, the pair attended the Jewish Brigade's 50th anniversary celebration in Israel in 1994, which provided them the opportunity to do many interviews with surviving members. In a 1998 Jerusalem Post article, Moshe Kohn declared that the movie "will remind you what Israel is about, and it will cause you to feel good about it and to continue to work toward that original dream."

"In Our Own Hands" connects the dots between the Jewish Brigade's experiences during World War II and the work conducted by Jewish Brigade veterans after the war ended. Some Jewish Brigade members sought justice/revenge against Nazi war criminals who eluded the legal system, but the primary post-war focus of the Jewish Brigade was helping Jewish refugees escape to Israel, and rebuilding Jewish national sovereignty in the Jewish homeland. 

The Nazis killed six million Jews during the Holocaust, wiping out two thirds of Europe's Jewish population, but after the Allies defeated Nazi Germany the displaced persons' camps throughout Europe did not recognize the Jewish people as a nation. Therefore, the Allies determined that each displaced person would be sent back to his or her country of origin, which meant that Jewish refugees who had survived the Nazi extermination camps would be sent back to Poland, Hungary, Romania, and other countries where Jews had not only been massacred--often with the enthusiastic participation of their non-Jewish neighbors--but the entire infrastructure of the Jewish communities had been destroyed. One scene in "In Our Own Hands" recounts that the commander of a displaced persons camp stated simply to a member of the Jewish Brigade that on his board was a list of countries, Jews don't appear on that list, and therefore there are no Jews in his camp. 

The Jewish Brigade conducted covert (and illegal) operations to help Jews escape from the displaced persons' camps and emigrate to the Land of Israel, and the Jewish Brigade continued this important humanitarian work until the British disbanded the Jewish Brigade. Eventually, the Allies acknowledged that the Jewish people should have their own displaced persons' camps, but the British--who controlled the Land of Israel under the terms of the Palestine Mandate--refused to permit Jewish immigration (in violation of the solemn British promise to facilitate the creation of a Jewish State) until the British withdrew their forces from the Land of Israel, after which the Jewish people had to withstand devastating attacks from neighboring Arab states in order for the nascent Jewish State of Israel to survive. Israel would not have won her War of Independence without the bravery (and the military training) of the members of the Jewish Brigade.

Nazi Germany was an apartheid state that tried to exterminate the Jewish people. The spiritual heirs to Nazism are the Arab and Islamic states that openly admire the Nazis and that seek to emulate the Nazis by murdering Jews. It speaks volumes that the Nazis killed Jews specifically because they were Jews, and then the Allies denied that the Jewish people even exist as a distinct entity. It should be obvious why the rebirth of the Jewish State is not only important, but necessary. John Lennon may have dreamed of a world with no countries, but unless/until that world exists each national group around the world must have its own homeland as a place of refuge.

Modern viewers who are familiar with the tactical acumen and the bravery under fire displayed by the Israel Defense Forces over the past few decades may be surprised to learn that the British officers who commanded the Jewish Brigade were skeptical that Jews could fight effectively. The soldiers of the Jewish Brigade proved that they were brave and intelligent warriors; many members of the Jewish Brigade became high ranking officers in the Israel Defense Forces, including Shlomo Shamir, who eventually served as the commander of the Israeli Navy and then as the commander of the Israeli Air Force. After World War II ended, many members of the Jewish Brigade fought in Israel's War of Independence as the Jewish people restored sovereignty in their homeland nearly 2000 years after the Roman Empire conquered the last independent Jewish state in the land of Israel. It is unfortunate that many of the most prominent media outlets ignore the Jewish people's connection to the land of Israel

This is the history that the "Squad" and other self-proclaimed "progressives" not only deny but invert when they term Israel's creation to be a "catastrophe" and when they slander Israel as an "apartheid state." 

The Holocaust is a uniquely horrific event in human history, and the emergence of Israel as a world leader in science, technology, and other fields is a uniquely impressive event in human history. What other nation has been cast into exile for two millennia before not only being reborn but making significant positive contributions to the world community? Israel's unparalleled success has led to much consternation, confusion, and fear because that success refutes many popular notions, as I noted previously in The Fear and Shame at the Heart of Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism:

Israel has accomplished so much in just a few decades despite being surrounded by large, hostile neighbors who have repeatedly attacked Israel with the stated goal of destroying Israel--and several of the countries in the region still actively finance and foment terrorist attacks against Israel and against Jews around the world. 

Why has Israel been so spectacularly successful while so many other former British colonies are mired in poverty and ruled by totalitarian regimes? Israel's neighbors--and developing countries around the world--too often do not look at Israel as a role model, but rather as a success story that they fear, and that makes them feel ashamed at their own failures. As a result, many have decided to demonize Israel and to discount Israel as an illegitimate country whose successes are not the product of hard work and ingenuity. Israel has become the personification of the Jew in the world. The irrational fears that many people have about the disproportionate success of individual Jews have now also been directed against the disproportionate success of the Jewish State. 

In the February 1988 issue of Commentary, Hilton Kramer noted that deep-seated hostility toward Israel often emanates from "the political culture of the international Left. It is based on, among other things, that lethal combination of guilt, fear, cynicism, and sentimentality toward the Third World that is now one of the most destructive and disabling issues in world affairs--destructive and disabling, that is, to the democracies (It is a boon, of course, to totalitarianism.). As a model of post-colonial democratic government, Israel is a standing reproach to the ongoing political debacle of the Third World. That isn't the only reason Israel has become a target of the international Left, but it is one of the primary reasons."

An ideology focused not on promoting equal opportunity for all but rather on the (impossible) goal of creating equitable outcomes for all will inevitably take a dim view of a nation that in just a few short decades has accomplished more than so many other older and more established nations. People on the political Right who hate the Jews and Israel typically do so for the same xenophobic reasons that they hate other minority groups, but people on the political Left who hate Jews and Israel first designate Jews and Israel as oppressors to justify their hatred. In short, Neo-Nazis and their fellow travelers deny that Jews can be classified as white people, while self-proclaimed "progressives" insist that Jews not only are white but are part of a majority group that is oppressing people of color around the world. The reality that a Jewish person can be any race--and that many Israeli Jews are not white and are not of European descent--is ignored by both groups of antisemites. Media members tend to focus on right-wing antisemites because media members tend to support (and thus justify) left-wing causes, and because right-wing antisemites tend to be more direct in their hate speech while left-wing antisemites cloak their hatred in superficially attractive rhetoric that does not withstand close attention.

Both forms of antisemitism must be condemned and fought against. One step in that direction is to celebrate the inspiring story of how the Jewish Brigade proved that Jewish people can fight for their freedom and can rebuild their ancient nation into a thriving modern state.

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