An action-packed, real-life drama featuring the first Jewish army to go into combat for 2,000 years.
Blum (The Gold of Exodus, 1998, etc.) writes more like an omniscient author of fiction than as a historian, and with good reason. In chronicling this little-known niche of WWII, the former New York Times journalist interviewed the living members of His Majesty’s Jewish Brigade, a Jewish cadre from British-controlled Palestine who fought with honor in Italy at the close of the war. While many of his scenes are worthy of a blockbuster movie—as when Peltz, a tough-as-nails brigade member, reconnoiters a German encampment in the dead of night—the deeper story lies in the emotions these Jews felt about their relation to the Holocaust. Many of them, recalling families slaughtered in concentration camps, saw their arrival in Germany in 1945 as payback time. Between battles, Blum evokes the men’s thoughts. They wonder about their families, who lived in countries formerly occupied by Germany, and blame themselves for not being there to save their parents.That sorrow quickly turns to anger, however, and once the war is over the brigade seeks vengeance. While the soldiers are on guard duty on the Austrian border, a covert group of Jews hunts down and executes former SS members, then gradually form an underground railroad that shuttles Jews out of Europe toward Palestine. Interspersed with these events are many stories like the one about one of the men’s sisters who escaped the Nazis in the Ukraine to become a partisan and eventually a nurse in the young state of Israel. Her trajectory is replicated for nearly all the brigade members, who wind up using their military talents in Israel’s wars with its Arab neighbors.
Military historians, fans of war stories, and lovers of Judaica: all will all be pleased.